Gears of War was quite the blockbuster when it first arrived on Xbox 360. The game offered solid controls, great visuals, intuitive third person camera and chainsaws. Though the plot wasn’t the main focus, Gears effectively brought us the memorable, wisecracking Delta squad members: Marcus, Dom, Cole and Baird. Fast forward to Gears 2 – the game takes everything that made the original Gears a solid shooter and takes it a step further on the epic scale. To quote Epic Lead Designer, Cliff Bleszinski, Gears of War 2 is definitely “bigger, better and more badass.”
Gears 2 continue right after the original shooter; following General RAAM’s defeat and the light mass bombing. Marcus and Dom fight with fellow COG soldiers fatally wounded defending the city after subsequent Locust attacks. It is there on the hospital grounds we meet the rook, Benjamin, brother to his sibling Carmine who died from an infamous sniper shot and Tai, a militaristic but calm leader. They quickly learn that the Locusts have quietly regrouped underground and have launched attacks in endless numbers. Entire cities have been sunk underground as the Horde employs powerful forces and tactical equipment and that’s not all; they’ve brought grotesque and far deadlier creatures this time around. Epic has placed a strong emphasis on the story behind the war that sheds light on Marcus Fenix’s history and Dom’s continued search for his missing wife, Maria.
As expected, the returning weapons are the Lancer, Sniper Rifle, Shotgun, Torque Bow, Pistol and the Hammer of Dawn. New weapons added to your arsenal include the Hammerburst Rifle (enemy weapon), Gorgon Pistol, Ink Grenade (emits poison), Mortar (distance artillery weapon), Mulcher (turret gun) and the fan-favorite, the Scorcher Flamethrower. Grenades can be stuck to walls and used as proximity mines to destroy enemies lucking around. If you are pinned in battle, you can crawl while bleeding to try to reach your teammates to be revived. The new weapons are available in the latter half of the game and can be found by looting Locust corpses. Each weapon is distinct and allows you to perform unique executions on fallen enemies crawling away. You can also grab a dying Locust for use as a meat shield to flank your enemies. Be warned that using the corpse for cover lasts for a very short time – limiting you to the use of a pistol. The shield will either explode into bits under heavy gunfire or be disposed of after breaking the Locust’s neck.
The original Gears saw players destroying their opponents with a chainsaw attack; granting them temporary invulnerability to gunfire or melee attacks. Pulling the attack off was often based on luck between two players with the one who revved up his chainsaw just a split second earlier winning the fight; which was infuriating. Epic has addressed the Chainsaw attack complaints with a new Chainsaw duel feature. Two players that rush one another with the Lancer will be thrown into a mini-game; quickly mashing the B button ensures victory. If a third player approaches two people engaged in a Chainsaw duel, the poor guy or gal on the receiving end will instantly be overpowered.
Both single player and coop campaigns allow you to finish the game by yourself or with a friend. The option to play at your own pace is simplified as campaigns can be played with two separate difficulty settings. An extra difficulty setting Normal can be selected with the Insane difficulty unlocked after the game has been completed. You can invite your friends with the “What’s Up” feature that lets you see the status and progress of your Gears’ friends online. Personally, I found the friendly menu list to be useful in keeping tabs with other online players.
The all new Horde mode is one of the highlights of Gears 2. In Horde mode, you join a team of five players collaborating to destroy Locusts waves on various maps. Eventually, your enemies grow stronger with more health, better weapons and increased numbers. A total of 50 waves are featured in Horde mode for which the difficulty level rises considerably after the tenth wave. Fighting together in groups, reviving teammates, giving cover fire and using key vantage points is crucial for your survival. Linked achievements play a big role in the Horde and multiplayer modes. Gears fans will be happy to hear that specific achievements (completed from the original) unlock new playable characters such as Anthony Carmine, Minh Young Kim (former Delta squad leader) and General RAAM. Your progress ultimately dictates your rank; which is used for matchmaking purposes. Horde mode is tough as nails but is easily the most satisfying and rewarding to play with everyone.
A War Journal is a handy tool that tracks your listed achievements, unlocked characters, and collectables. Rather than using COG tags, Epic has placed hidden files, newspapers, memos and personal letters throughout the game. They comprise a total of 41 collectables that provides a side story to the events surrounding the war. A magnifying glass signifies the item is found and is easily picked up by pressing the X button. You don’t need to guess how close you are to an achievement as the journal displays your progress towards obtaining it. This is a welcome change for fans wishing to complete the game in its entirety.
Multiplayer modes feature seven maps: Warzone, Execution, Annex, King of the Hill, Guardian, Submission and Wingman. Epic’s gift to its fans is a code for the Flashback Map Pack for those with preorders and for those buying Gears 2 at launch.This map pack includes five maps: Subway, Canals, Tyro Station, Gridlock and Mansion. While it doesn’t sound like much, each map is considerably different from the original Gears. The Subway is less dreary, Canals have been hit by a frozen icy spell, Tyro Station is more industrialized, Gridlock is filled with foliage and the Mansion has better lighting. A new Training Ground mode gives casual, novice and veteran players a brief tutorial on the basics of multiplayer controls and combat.
Gears 2 is a graphically intense game. Buildings, air-borne dust, the underground caverns and the city landscapes are very polished. Special effects ranging from hailing fire on your enemies with the Mortar to poisoning the enemy with Ink grenades are visually gratifying. The frame rate takes a severe hit at numerous checkpoint locations that could have used some tweaking. There is also a tendency for Locust corpses and weapon spoils to fall and to defy natural physics in its environment. Otherwise, Gears 2 is a game detailed to the core that manages to exceed the best visuals of the original Gears. With respect to audio, the soundtrack is top-notch and a great accompaniment.
Many of the flaws from the original Gears have sadly crept into Gears 2. The A.I. teammates tend to block your shots, run straight into enemy territory without cover, and get hopelessly pinned in a far corner amidst a group of Locusts. Regrettably, the vehicle stages are the most irritating part of many campaigns; especially on the higher difficulty settings.Despite its shortcomings, Gears 2 is an exciting game full of blood, action and suspense for anyone that enjoys a solid third person shooter.
Gears 2 is the highly anticipated sequel to Gears; the title that gathered quite a following with its impressive visuals, intuitive run-and-cover gameplay, and engaging characters. The game does not mess with its own formula of success but rather, it focuses on what it does best – delivering an intense, enthralling, adrenaline-pumping experience. The sinister violence and gore is a trademark of this game that has been well received by fans and one that Epic doesn’t shy away from. Though Gears 2 fails to revolutionize the genre, it has delivered on all fronts and more and has put the original Gears to shame. With more weapons, deadlier monsters, larger campaigns, more multiplayer maps and an incredibly addictive Horde mode, Gears of War 2 is the game to own on the Xbox 360.