Reviewed by Evil Andy
Available on Xbox360
Developed by Epic Games
Published by Microsoft Game Studios
At this point in time, nearly two months past the Gears of War 2 release date, there’s not a whole lot to say about the game that hasn’t already been said. The Coles (or is it Coletrain’s?) Notes version of the review is basically “If you liked the first Gears of War, this is the same thing, only better. “ The graphics are amazing, literally the best ever seen in a console game. The gameplay is tight, responsive and fun. The story delivers for fans of the original, but maintains plenty of room for sequels. Finally, Cliffy B’s marketing mantra that Gears of War 2 is bigger and badder is true in nearly every respect. That being said … I expected more.
The one way in which both the original Gears and its sequel completely fail is in the writing department. I’m sure Cliffy B and the rest of his Lamborghini driving buddies at Epic are utterly immune to criticism, no doubt shaking off the repeated lambasting of the Gears story and dialog, chalking it up to people not getting their tongue in cheek sense of humor, but the writing really is atrocious. Hell, I even found myself able to laugh at the frat boy humor in Army of Two, but apart from the excellent delivery on the line “They’re sinking cities with a GIANT WORM!”, pretty much all of the dialog comes across like Penthouse letters for the couch commando set. It’ll be interested in seeing what the movie version of Gears of War turns out like, because frankly a war for oil against an enemy of our own creation, themselves caught in a civil war, is really just a mashup of ideas that have already been better executed elsewhere. Gears of War cribs from Halo for chrissakes! Note to game writers – read a book once in a while!
Story gripes aside, Gears of War 2 is a technical marvel. The first Gears was impressive, mainly owing to its unique Venice meets Brooklyn art design, but the sequel ratchets things up a notch with unbelievably crisp visuals and an amazingly effective soft focus depth of field technique that imparts a matte painting effect to many of the backdrops. One issue many folks had with the first Gears of War was that many of the environments were overly similar. Some of that feeling remains, but it’s clear that the team has made an effort to distinguish the various levels, both in terms of color palette, architecture, and level design.
The enemy design remains much the same, as you’ll battle the same cadre of grunts, snipers, boomers, with a handful of new humanoid enemies throw in. The official list of new enemies is actually fairly large, but apart from the gun they’re carrying, you won’t notice, as they pretty much all feel the same. That said, there are a few neat, new enemies like the exploding Tickers, and the very badass Bloudmounts, both of whom will mess you up. The big boss enemies are also back, including the Brumak, Reavers, and Seeders. The difference this time around is that you’ll get to fight them a lot more frequently, and in the later levels those enemies will be tackled in very exciting ways that it would spoil to speak more about (if you haven’t finished it twice over by now!).
Ultimately, Gears of War’s imprint on the history of game design will probably be that it was the game that finally brought co-op to the forefront of console gaming. The success of the first Gears led to a glut of games with full campaign co-op. Gears 2 continues to lead the way by providing a few key co-op set pieces that are more engaging than simply splitting the players up and sending them down separate paths. Blasting away at Reavers on a chain gun while your buddy chunkifies Locust grunts trying to board your out of control mining derrick is incredibly fun, and it’s probably the least exciting set piece of the entire game.
Finally, Gears of War 2 offers a robust online multiplayer mode that unfortunately is currently beset by cheaters and griefers. The one multiplayer game that is truly worth mentioning is the new Horde mode that pits you and your friends in an arena beset by wave after wave of Locust. It’s Gears of War 2’s zombie mode, and for horror fans may be the single most enjoyable part of the game. (if you can tear yourself away from Left 4 Dead!).
And that might sum up feelings about Gears of War the best; there are games that are far more unique and fun, and for horror fans, more steeped in the genre. Somehow the Gears of War franchise has evolved from innovative indie to a marketing driven Halo replacement. It’s still a pretty great game, and definitely a must play, but the changes have become incremental rather than revolutionary. Gears of War is already at the top of the graphical and gameplay heaps; it’s time the boys at Epic focused on the story.
3 1/2 out of 5
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