Gears of War 2ESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: 3rd Person: Action
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Cooperative Play Offline (1-2 Players)
System Link (2-10 Players)
10 MB to Save Game
Online Multiplayer (2-10 Players)
Cooperative Play Online (2-5 Players)
Approximately two years ago the original Gears of War was unleashed to the public. This Xbox 360 exclusive title was to be Microsoft’s next big thing, and was hyped along the same lines of their famed Halo series. Developed by Epic Games, what gamers got in the original title was a great looking and great playing third person shooter that garnered lots of positive reviews. It was only a matter of time before a sequel was finally finished and passed on to gamers looking for that next big thing. Well that time has come, and Epic has once again crafted a masterpiece in Gears of War 2 which not only plays great, but has enough additions to make veterans of the series smile ear to ear.
Visually speaking Gears 2 is a stunner. I remember the first time I played this sequel, which was at the Gears of War 2 party at E3 in July. Even then I noticed what I thought to be upgrades in the visuals. Well now that I have had time with the final product I have to say that Epic Games did indeed do a lot of work in upping the on-screen eye candy. That being said, one needs to take a close look to really appreciate what they have done with the Unreal 3 graphics engine.
What really caught my eye was the texture work in Gears 2. I think the biggest thing that drove this home for me was looking at the actual suits that the Gears characters wear. Marcus’, Dom’s, and all the other character’s suits are stunning. They have a look and texture to them that I don’t think was nearly as evident during the original Gears. Each of these suits is somewhat different too so you will notice details on each that are not on other characters outfits. This may sound like a weird thing to first point out, but given that I noticed it so quickly it is my hope that by directing other people to this fact that it will allow all to appreciate how this game looks.
Character design and animation is once again top notch. Gears 2 introduces new enemies along with the familiar ones that return from the first game. The new ones are pretty cool and the predator like Sire is one of my favorite with his dual chainsaw staff. Of course all characters, both Gears and Locust alike, move pretty fluidly with out a stutter in their step.
Of course one of the most impressive feats in Gears 2 is all the new levels. You will find that you are playing on a lot more open areas during the single player campaign. Ruined cities are much more open while underground caverns seem so much larger this time around. The details in each are phenomenal as well. I noticed a lot more destruction this time around and a lot more clutter on the streets (e.g. abandoned and destroyed vehicles, collapsed walls, etc). Along these same lines you will find that the cover you or your enemy hide behind during battle also crumbles when shot up. It does not break up as much as the cover does in Brothers in Arms, but at least pieces of brick or concrete go missing as you shoot or get shot at. Each level looks different and there is not a whole of repetition. Epic Games put in a lot of detail into each level too, right down to the little things. Take a look at the hospital you make your way through in the first level. There is impeccable amount of detail in each hallway and room you come across. And trust me; this type of detail is all over the game. After being inside a giant worm you will totally understand what I mean. All I can say here is “way to go Epic”.
As with the graphics, the sound in Gears 2 is top notch. Actually, the sound really caught me by surprise. The first thing you will notice is the quality in every piece of audio. From the voice acting and music right down to the sound effects, everything just oozes quality.
I found the voice acting pretty darn good. Sure, it won’t win any academy awards, but each characters dialog has a role to play and the way they interact with one another is somewhat believable, if not cheesy now and then. Each voice is crisp and clear and the lip syncing is pretty bang on. I had the chance to meet the people behind the main character’s voices at E3 earlier this year, and I would have to say that these gentlemen did a great job. Not to be outdone though, the Locust seem to have a bit more dialog now and then too. It was pretty cool to come across them during battle only to have them call out to their brethren that Marcus and company had come and it was time to fight.
In terms of the music, I would have to describe the soundtrack as epic, no pun intended. The music makes you feel like you are in a true Hollywood blockbuster. Each track matches the mood or actions that it is paired up with. This is very evident from the opening of the game where you hear a speech from one of the COG’s higher ups as he speaks to his troops about having “take the battle to the locust” in order to save humanity. The music that accompanies his speech is actually inspiring enough to make you believe you are truly going to try to save humanity. It is like this through the whole game as each scene that adds more to the overall plot, or each action sequence where something pivotal happens, is accompanied by music that adds to the overall experience. I would have to say that a heck of a lot of work went into the music choices that occur over the span of this game.
The sound effects that accompany your gameplay experience makes for an even more engaging experience. From the sound of your various weapons, the environmental effects, to those of all the action around you, everything makes for a very engrossing sound field. A lot of this has to do with the Dolby Digital encoding that went into this game. If you play your Xbox 360 through a full surround sound system be prepared for an audio experience second to none. The sounds that come from each and every speaker really convey all the action that is going on on-screen. I was fully amazed how localized everything was. As you make your way through the levels you come to appreciate each and every audio byte included in this game.
I am of the belief that sound in gaming is just as important as graphics and gameplay, and Epic has done a stellar job in this department and wholly deserves the high marks in this area.
Gears of War 2 continues the story about six months after the first game’s ended. General Raam has been defeated and Marcus and company have successfully deployed the Lightmass bomb. Unfortunately the Locust have survived what was supposed to be a crippling attack and they now seem stronger then ever. The remaining cities around humanity’s last stand, the city of Jacinto, are being sunk into the ground. It is once again up to Marcus, Dominic, Cole and a host of other gears to battle the Locust in an all out effort to save what humankind has left. Along with the battles that come along with saving the human race Gears 2’s story seems to have more drama this time around. Without giving any of the plot away there is a lot of focus on Dominic’s search for his missing wife and how he deals with the pain of such. For a game like this to interweave the love a gears has for his wife, it actually proved to be a compelling addition. At the end of the day you will find yourself following the deeper story even closer then that of the first as the dialog between all the characters really tells a great tale.
The gameplay in Gears 2 has not changed a whole lot since the first game, and in many ways I applaud this as the first one did a whole bunch of things right. For rookies to the series, Gears 2 is a third person shooter whose emphasis is on a cover and shoot style of gameplay. You are able to take cover behind most objects while encountering the varying enemies in the game. The Gears series is also known for its sprint feature, which has been aptly nicknamed “Roadie Run”. You can sprint from cover to cover, or roll from cover to cover, simply by using the A button.
Upon playing through the first few hours of the single player campaign I found that the cover system seemed more refined. I was not having as much difficulty sticking to cover as I did in the first, nor was I always sticking to areas I did not want to. The sprint feature is pretty much the same, however for some strange reason I even found myself more proficient this time around and it isn’t from past playtime with the original as I had not played any Gears for quite sometime. It just seems that Epic has tuned the sprinting a bit more this time around. I should also note that there are also some changes in the revival system too. When you are injured to the point of falling to all fours you have the ability to crawl around for help before you ‘bleed out’. This is crucial in both the single player and multiplayer modes as you are not just a sitting duck at these times.
As anyone will tell you, the original Gears was a violent game, hence the mature ESRB rating. Well Gears 2 manages to continue this legacy and even ups the violent factor a few notches, and it is not just for the sake of being violent either. This time around you have four different ways to execute your enemy, and they can vary depending on which weapon you have equipped. The standard ‘curb-stomp’ is still performed by hitting the A button, but now you can also press the B button to perform a quick blow to the head or press the Y button which actually flips your downed opponent over in preparation for repeated punches to the head. The final way you can execute your enemy is not only painful, but useful as well. By pressing the A button you grab the wounded enemy and he will become a ‘meat shield’ which affords you some much needed protection. He can either be shot to bits as he soaks up bullets destined for you, or you can finish him off with a gut-wrenching neck snap. These four different types of executions make the game even better then the original as an alien death never looked so good.
Along with the standard executions, even the famed chainsaw which has become as staple of Gears fans everywhere has been changed somewhat when battling AI enemies in single player to battling human foes in adversarial multiplayer. The biggest difference in the chainsawing is that if two opponents start to saw at the same time a contest of sorts occurs and whoever taps the B button the fastest wins this duel. It makes for even more competition and adds a bit more drama to the game.
So that is it in terms of additions right? Nope, there is even more.
The weapons in Gears 2 feel better this time around. Your standard Lancer assault rifle is your tried and true weapon, and I found that I was able to get more kills this time around as it seemed more balanced. Sure, there are still some superior weapons to be found but compared to the original Gears the Lancer feels so much better in terms of its power, accuracy and kill ability. Of course along with the regular weapons carried over from the first game there are new weapons this time around too. There are some newer heavy weapons for your killing delight. These weapons are termed ‘heavy’ for a reason; they do not allow you to run with them as their weight and size slow you down but their stopping power is quite effective. There is the gun known as the Mulcher, a high powered chain gun whose spray of bullets can mow down any size of enemy. The first time I actually used this was in the new Horde mode, and let me tell you it is quite an effective weapon. There is also a mortar which rains down a shower of explosive shells from afar. This weapon takes some time to perfect but when you do get use it effectively the rewards are outstanding. Epic has also added a new flamethrower too. Although its range is limited it has the ability to take out multiple enemies who are in a group close to you. Mmmmmmmmm barbeque time. Even grenades have been fine tuned somewhat. You can now place grenades on surfaces to turn them into proximity mines and smoke grenades now pack a punch. Bottomline, there are a lot of new ways to kill your enemies and each method is as good or better then those found in the first game.
If I had any complaints it would only be one, and that is the vehicle segments that break up some of the action. I found that they just didn’t keep to the smooth flowing feel that the rest of the game has. They seemed somewhat out of place and they did not control as well as I hoped. I also noticed that the framerate during these times did not seem as silky smooth as the rest of the game either. It is too bad because you’d think after the first Gears that Epic Games would have been able to make this an interesting part of the game and have it blend in with the rest of the action. Oh well, I guess this one complaint is not a lot given how vast and enjoyable the whole gameplay experience is.
The single player campaign will take anywhere from 10 to 15 hours depending on your own skill level and the difficulty level you choose to play in. There are a total of five acts with six chapters per act. To add some replay value there are 41 collectible items to discover throughout these five acts. These are similar to the Cog Tags from the original gears but they range from different types of documents to the famed Cog Tags from the first. You will have to look high and low in some of the levels to find all 41 items.
Of course what is a Gears of War game without multiplayer? Returning once again is both cooperative and adversarial modes. I will speak about the cooperative first.
Gears 2 allows for drop-in cooperative play online. Something I found kind of interesting is the fact that you can allow your cooperative buddy to have a separate skill level of his/her own. Yep, you can now play cooperative with independent difficulty levels for each player. This is a nice option given that some people may not enjoy the higher difficulties. For those looking for incentive to play cooperatively, there are some co-op specific achievements that can be had. I am a big advocate of cooperative features in any game, so needless to say I enjoyed what Gears 2 had to offer in this area. Sharing the games story and experiences was enjoyable with a friend and it made the game that more enjoyable.
Adversarial online play makes a return to Gears 2 and Epic Games has made some great additions here. Back for the sequel are Warzone, Execution, Assassination and Annex modes; however there is some new play modes added this time around. These are King of the Hill (from the PC version of the original Gears), Submission, Guardian and Wingman. King of the Hill is self-explanatory. Submission is basically a Capture the Flag mode but the trick here is that you are carrying a civilian who is set in the ‘Meat Shield’ position and has a weapon of their own. You must get the civilian to the checkpoint to score. Guardian is a team based game where each team has a designated leader and your job is to keep your leader alive while trying to dispose of the other team’s leader. The key here is that as long as each team leader is alive players will respawn. The final new mode, Wingman, splits all the available players into teams of two. Here you need to stick together, revive each other when necessary, and take out the other teams to win. This is a great mode when you don’t have a lot of people to play with. I should also mention that the total count of players able to play in an online game is upped by two which allows for a total of 10 players, up from the original eight. With a total of eight gameplay modes, and more players able to enter a match, there is a lot added variety in Gears 2 over the original game when entering the adversarial online arena. Of course you can make private matches or join public ones if you desire.
Gears 2 also offers up another new online mode called Horde. The best way to describe it is that it manages to combine both cooperative and adversarial aspects when heading online. This is the mode I found myself playing a lot during the first night that the game was publically released as there were not too many online games to join prior to the actual release date. In Horde mode a team of up to five players face wave after wave of different Locust enemies. The goal is to survive each wave with a maximum of 50 waves offered. You need to have only one of your party members to survive to move on to the next wave. Should you all die you start the last wave over. Each wave gets progressively harder with different enemies thrown into each one. You’ll find that the first few are only a warm up and as you get further on bigger and more badass enemies start to appear. There is nothing like facing a large number of Sires and Flame Boomers all at one time. This mode takes a lot of communication and a lot of skill given that there are so many different enemies that the AI will throw at you. That being said, there is nothing more rewarding then beating each wave of enemies that the game throws at you. Trust me, try this mode on Hardcore should you want a challenge. I played with true Gears veterans the first night on Hardcore and the challenge was truly tough.
Three are a total of 10 multiplayer maps to choose from in Gears 2. Epic Games also included a code to download another five maps (Flashback Map Pack) from the original Gears that have been remastered. So you will find yourself with a total of 15 maps to choose from given that you are connected to the internet to download the additional five bonus maps. The 10 maps that are included on the disc are based on different levels found in the single player campaign. There are a few these levels that change looks as you play them. For example, when you play on Avalanche a snowstorm hits and events occur that result in the level changing (hint: the name of the level gives it away). It is these types of things that make the maps that more interesting. I give some kudos to Epic Games for releasing the number of maps they did, including the remastered ones, as they really do add some flair and excitement to the play modes offered.
On a final note, there are a total of 50 achievements for Gears 2. They range from completing the game on specific skill levels, completing certain chapters, pulling off all the different types of executions, to getting certain types of kills in muilitplayer or single player modes. One of the more insane achievements is the “Seriously 2.0” achievement which requires you to kill 100,000 enemies in any game mode (single player, cooperative or adversarial). Achievements that require a certain number of actions, like the “Seriously 2.0” one, are tracked throughout the game and once you hit specific milestones leading up to completing them you are given a little update during your gameplay in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. This little feature is pretty neat as it allows you to know as you play where you are at in finishing some of the achievements that require a specific number of tasks are completed (e.g. 30 active reloads or kill enemies with all 15 types of weapons found in the game).
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