December 2, 2008 The original Gears of War arrived to universal acclaim in 2006, including our Game of the Year award, for it's gritty look and feel, beautifully tuned gameplay mechanics and ridiculously addictive multiplayer game. Two years later (to the day) Epic's beast is back - and it's badder than ever. Read on for our full review.
The Lightmass bomb deployed at the end of the first game didn't do the job the COG had hoped. (Lucky, because we get to play this sequel and the inevitable third game in 2010.) The Locust are sinking cities left right and center, and the humans still holed up in Jacinto, the last great city of Sera, have only one choice - attack. Luckily, the Gears of the first game are joined by some new characters - Carmine's younger brother Benjamin, the Maori-influenced Tai Kaliso, and the one-dimensional yet endearing Dizzy.
Much like the original, you can quickly navigate a training course to get you up to speed on the game mechanics, or just dive in. A "Casual" difficulty level is available, and it's perfectly tuned for someone who hasn't played a shooter before - indeed, I watched someone who had never used an Xbox 360 controller smash through the first level without dying once.
Gears of War 2 still feels like the first game, so much so that you might not realize how technically superior this iteration is until you pop the Gears of War disc back in your Xbox 360. The scale, variety, eye candy...indeed, just about everything has been expanded, tuned, and perfected.
We all love to complain about the endless dark corridors that some shooters rely on for their environments - so I'm glad to say that Epic has pulled off the antithesis of this incredibly well. The settings themselves might strike some as cliche - but they're always full of jaw-dropping, well-lit and colorful imagery.
The campaign will last somewhere between 10 and 15 hours depending on your skill level and whether or not you have a friend helping out as Dom. You'll run into new, bigger and badder enemies, including showdowns with the massive Brumak, and fight several times more on-screen Locust at once than you would have imagined possible in 2006.
Surprisingly, Epic have managed to add a number of weapons to the game without them feeling like an afterthought, or paling in comparison to the undeniably awesome carry-overs from the original game. There's the Boltok, a semi-automatic pistol that fires bursts of five rounds, "Ink" (read: poison gas) grenades that are thankfully effective against the Locust you've stolen them from, and three heavy weapons that you can carry in addition to the rest of your arsenal, but hinder your speed greatly - a flame-thrower, a chain-gun and a mortar.
In a majority of console shooters, the multiplayer game contributes more to the overall lastability of the game than the campaign - the fact that a good chunk of my friends list was still playing the original Gears of War online mere days before the sequel hit shelves is testament to this. Gears of War 2 is no different - you'll have barely scratched the surface of what's there in your first 20 hours online and you're still likely to find a challenging opponent after 200 hours online.
To combat the fact that the ultra-competitive adversarial modes are not conducive to new players (and some veterans), Epic has added Horde mode - a co-operative mode with up to five players. Horde mode consists of five waves of ten levels, with the tenth level of each wave being stuffed to the brim with Locust, and each wave tacking on additional difficulty to each Locust. Strategizing and working as a team is an absolute must, so this mode works perfectly in a number of ways - you'll meet new players, make friends and find people that play well with you - and a Horde veteran will likely be able to transfer a lot of their friends list and their new skills to the adversarial modes should they feel the need.
The Warzone (straight up team deathmatch) and Execution (players can only be eliminated with close-quarters execution moves) modes make the jump from the first game, alongside the territorial Annex mode that was added to Gears of War post-launch and the King of the Hill variant that first appeared in the PC port, which require a team to gain and keep control of certain points on the map to win. There's also Submission, a play on the common Capture the Flag mode where the flag is an AI controlled human character that needs to be downed and carried back to base, and Wingman, which puts five teams of two players against each other in a free for all, where tight teamwork and communication is king.
While Gears of War was patched countless times, the end result was as close to a perfect online experience as I've experienced - consistent, skill-based, and the only game on Xbox Live that allowed you to find and play virtually lag-free games with people from your own country. The Gears of War 2 experience is different, and while the added game mechanics and modes are great, the added glitches and issues detract from the experience greatly. To elaborate on these points, we'd need to double the length of the review and probably lose the interest of more than a few Gizmag readers along the way - so that portion of the review got posted at our game blog The Gamer Gene instead, under the title "How Epic broke Gears of War 2 multiplayer". However, despite it's flaws, it's still a lot of fun and definitely our "go to" Xbox Live game of the moment.
Gears of War 2 features the best single-player/co-operative campaign out there. If you own an Xbox 360, you absolutely must have this game. If you don't own an Xbox 360, find someone who does and experience it for yourself. Just one last thing before you go out and buy this for your eight-year-old - this is an incredibly violent game (incase you haven't already gathered) - with themes like horror, torture, suicide and euthanasia. I'm not a parent, but I'd recommend keeping the little ones on games like Banjo and Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts for a while yet.
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