Review by Premonition2035

"Superior to the original in every way (offline review only)"

Gears 2 is such a good game that I was compelled to write this review. In it, I'll discuss the major focal points of the game. Note, however, that I do not cover the online multiplayer, as the only online component I play often enough to know anything about is Horde. I will still dedicate an entire section to the offline multiplayer, which is more extensive than in the first game (complete with bots!). That said, let's begin.

Story

At the end of the original Gears of War, Delta squad (led by Marcus Fenix) successfully deployed the Lightmass bombs, which were designed to burrow into the heart of Locust controlled territory and detonate. They apparently failed to deal a fatal blow to the Locust Horde, as they have returned bigger and badder than ever. They bring with them a force capable of sinking entire cities. Even Jacinto, humanity's final bastion, is now at risk. Soon humanity will have nothing left to defend, and that leaves only one option – attack. The Coalition of Ordered Governments (aka the COG) have developed a plan to transport Gears directly into the Hollow, on the Locust's doorstep. They intend to use large trucks (derricks) as the launching platform for mobile drilling machines called grindlifts, which Gears will ride down into the Hollow in an all out assault on the Locust Horde.

Whereas the original Gears' story was short and difficult to follow at times (among other problems such as very limited action in the first half of the third act), the story in Gears 2 is well developed and fully satisfying, taking you on a wild ride worthy of a true blockbuster hit among games. New characters are also introduced along the way, including Benjamin Carmine (Anthony's brother), Tai Kaliso, and Skorge, a Locust bigshot on par with RAAM, who wields a chainsaw staff. The only thing I can express frustration with as far as the story is concerned are the many mysteries introduced and then left unanswered. For example, you will encounter new factions throughout the campaign, but the question as to how those factions came to be will never be fully explored. On this matter I cannot say more lest I risk spoiling the story for you. Suffice it to say that, despite having these unanswered questions, you will still be blown away by an excellent campaign.

Graphics

The graphics in Gears 2 are as breathtaking as in the original, except that environments are much more varied and fleshed out. The Hollow, for example, is a complex network of caves with beautiful, bioluminescent flora. This is quite the change from the bland, uninteresting cave network in the latter half of the third act of the original Gears. Environments and large creatures such as the Brumak are also highly destructible. As you shoot at stonework large chunks will fly off; as you pummel Brumaks with chain gun turrets large pieces of flesh will fall off and you will see the muscles underneath. This high destructibility is a result of further improvements made by Epic to their already amazing Unreal engine. Another improvement to the Unreal engine is in the number of enemies the game can display on screen at any one time. The Locust are finally a horde – countless enemies will swarm in the vehicle sections and in the cutscenes. There is literally nothing I can find fault with in regards to the graphics.

Audio

There are no dramatic melodies here as in the Halo games, but the music does its job and does it well enough to not warrant criticism. The sound effects, on the other hand, distinguish themselves as being fantastic – every weapon firing sound and every active reload will resonate with you. The voice acting is also well done. There are little touches as far as the voice acting is concerned that you may come to really appreciate. First, a random member of your team in multiplayer will yell out at the beginning of the round (e.g., "Get out of my way!", "Why don't you take point?"). Characters are also aware of where enemies are located in the campaign and will yell out their positions (e.g., "At the sandbags!", "At the barricade!"). These are subtle touches, but they work real well.

Core Gameplay

Wow, where to begin? The essence of Gears 2's gameplay is "doing more, doing it better." New weapons and enemies keep the gameplay fresh and exciting. Examples of new weapons include the Gorgon Pistol (a machine pistol), Ink Grenades (which fill an area with poisonous gas for a short time), the Scorcher flamethrower, and the Mortar, a heavy weapon that does not replace one of your two main weapons but will slow you down. Examples of new enemies include the Kantus monk (a tall, skinny Locust belonging to the ruling class right below the Queen herself – Skorge is their leader), the Bloodmount (a large creature ridden by the Locust), and not one but four new Boomer variations.

Many new gameplay features are also introduced in Gears 2. At the top of the list are the many new executions on downed enemies. In addition to the old curbstomp, you can beat enemies with your weapon using B in a quick kill that does not limit your movement, you can use Y to perform a prolonged execution where you beat the enemy to death with your bare hands, and you can pick up the enemy with A and use them as a meatshield in conjunction with your pistol. When downed in Gears 2, you can also crawl away from danger and to your teammates so that you might be revived, whereas in the original Gears you had to just sit there with your view fixed. If you get downed with a grenade in your hand, you can also detonate it, taking out any nearby enemies with you.

Speaking of grenades, you can tag them to walls and floors using the melee button to set them up as proximity mines. Another new gameplay feature is the heating up of turrets. You must watch the bar in the upper right hand corner of the screen – if it fills completely, the turret overheats and is unusable for a short time. Turrets automatically cool down when not being fired; you can cool them down faster by holding RB. This is a somewhat mundane fact that I point out merely to illustrate how comprehensive the changes have been. One last notable feature is the addition of helpful progress popups that let you know when you have reached a certain milestone in completing a given achievement, such as when you hit 15 out of 30 active reloads for "Once More, With Feeling."

The gameplay has also been improved and not just expanded upon. The Hammerburst for one has been heavily revised: It now fires one shot instead of multiple, but the shots are more powerful, and the weapon has a slight zoom. Another improvement is the addition of stopping power, meaning that if an enemy is running towards you, you can fire at them head on to slow them down. This prevents players from rushing up half the map to confront you with the shotgun while you desperately ping away at them with the Lancer or Hammerburst. This is more along the lines of what the developers originally intended.

Core Gameplay – Multiplayer (Offline)

The campaign does not require further elaboration, as I have already discussed in depth both the story and the core gameplay. There are many specific features of the multiplayer that warrant exploration, however. First is that the number of players has been increased from 4v4 to 5v5. Another point of interest is that the menus (all menus, not just the multiplayer menus) are much more streamlined and mature looking. You will also get to decide before the match on whether you want to start with the Lancer or the Hammerburst. This makes the Hammerburst equal to the Lancer and removes it as a pickup from all maps, improving map weapon layout. Next, bots have finally been introduced, meaning that you need not go online to experience multiplayer (e.g., if you are not confident enough and want to test your mettle offline, or simply don't want to deal with quitters and lag).

It is also worth mentioning how many new modes have shipped with the game. In addition to Warzone, Execution, Assassination (renamed Guardian), and Annex (which did not even initially ship with the first Gears but was released later as DLC), there is Wingman (5 teams of 2), Submission (capture the flag-style gameplay with a Stranded as the flag – you must escort this "meatflag" to your capture point by taking him hostage), and King of the Hill, a variant of Annex where the capture location is fixed. The ultimate in gametypes, however, is Horde, where a team of 5 are pitted against wave after wave of Locust. The waves come in sets of 10, with each individual wave increasing in difficulty until the difficulty resets in the next set of 10, but with a twist (i.e., enemy health, damage, or accuracy is increased). Since only up to 2 players can play together on a single Xbox 360, and there are no friendly bots in Horde, you will have to go online to find a full group and have the best chance of surviving all 50 waves of Horde. If you don't have friends you can team up with, hope you get lucky and don't have to deal with quitters in public Horde. All in all, though, the (offline) multiplayer is a blast.

Controls

The game revolves around using cover. You can enter cover by pressing A near almost any wall or object. Use the left control stick in conjunction with the A button to navigate cover. If not near any useable cover, you can use A to dodge in the direction you tilt the left control stick; you can also roadie run (a combination duck and run) by holding A. B is the melee button – hold it to rev up the chainsaw bayonet with a Lancer equipped. X is for context sensitive actions, such as pressing buttons or picking up ammo. Finally (as far as the face buttons are concerned), Y is used to focus on any available point of interest.

Firing with RT while not holding down LT to aim will cause you to blindfire, firing from the hip. This is obviously grossly inaccurate, and while it is useful in certain situations, you generally want to be holding down LT. RB is the reload button. If you press it a second time while the weapon is still in the process of being reloaded, you will perform what's called an active reload, where you attempt to reload the weapon faster. Failing the active reload will cause the weapon to jam, where reloading will take longer than if you had not made the attempt. Lastly, as far as the gameplay crucial controls go, the D-Pad is used to switch weapons. You have slots for grenades, a pistol, and two main weapons. These controls are all the same as in the previous Gears, but that only means they have remained just as slick and well thought out as before.

Replayability

Replayability is fairly high, and there are various factors that contribute to this. For one, the campaign must be played through at least once to unlock Insane mode, the highest difficulty setting. There are also split paths at various points in the game, and you will want to play through at least twice to experience both routes each time. Lastly, there are collectibles scattered throughout the campaign that you can pick up to learn more about the backstory and earn achievements. This is a refreshing change from the previous game, where the collectibles were always COG tags with no associated backstory. The War Journal in the main menu will help you keep track of collectibles, unlockables (multiplayer skins awarded for completing certain acts of both this game and the previous one), and achievements, as well as provide access to the public, private, and Horde leaderboards. The multiplayer should also appeal to you as having a high replay value, for the reasons I have discussed in the section exclusive to the offline multiplayer.

I hate to include this as I wrap up such a positive review, but I would be doing the reader an injustice if I did not mention one very serious bug in terms of replayability. I don't know how it happens, but you can lose all of your saved progress, including campaign, unlockables, achievements, and online rank. I've had this happen to me once and it's awful. Fortunately it happened after I had already completed the single player game and earned most of the achievements, but if it happened to you while you were in the middle of the campaign or almost at the end I imagine that it could really ruin your day.

Conclusion

Well, there you have it, the most important facets of Gears 2, besides the online multiplayer. I've enjoyed writing this review and I hope that it has been a good, informative read. As a closing statement I wish to assert that, besides some minor issues (and the reset bug), the game truly is fantastic – it's superior to the original in every way. However, because the reset bug is so crippling to gameplay, I cannot award this game a perfect score, as I had originally intended. I therefore award it a 9.5, or a 9 rounded down.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/12/09

Game Release: Gears of War 2 (US, 11/07/08)


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