Review by atjanus006

"Multiplayer is beast, no matter what the haters say"

If you are looking for a review of the campaign, go elsewhere. I played campaign on hardcore and insane in this game just so that I could get the achievements and say I beat it (as I did with Halo 3). Frankly, I find single player games, or co-op vs. bot games relatively boring.

That includes Horde mode, which is essentially you (and your buddies) fighting wave after wave of Locust. It's you versus bots, and bots are very predictable. Yes, it gets more and more difficult, but the problem is that the strategies bots employ are easily predictable once you've played the game for a while. If you are looking for a fun distraction with some friends then waste some time in Horde.

The reason you should be buying this game, though, is the online multiplayer. It is broken into seven different game types: execution (best of 9 rounds), which pits you and four other players against another team; warzone (best of 9), which is identical to execution except that after downing someone you can kill them from afar with body shots; King of the Hill (best of 3), which has you fighting for control of a single hill in each round and includes respawning; Annex (best of 3), which is similar to KotH except that the hill changes within the rounds and hills do not have to be continuously occupied to remain under a team's control; Guardian (best of 5), which is similar to Warzone in rules (for the most part), except that players continuously respawn until the team's leader is killed, at which point killed players are permanently eliminated for the round; Submission (best of 3), which has each team attempting to down a random computer player and drag him to a designated point on the map; and finally, Wingman (first to 15 points) which has 5 teams of two competing against each other in the context of execution rules. Some (Execution, Annex, Guardian) are better than others. In any case, each game type requires a different strategy. Ostensibly similar game types, such as Execution and Warzone, require a different approach. For instance, getting downed from afar in Execution is not the end of the world (unless it is your third down, in which case you are automatically killed), but one can't be so cavalier about it in Warzone.

If one has all of the DLC, there are 29 maps on which you can play. Many of the maps seem similar, but they are not so similar that one feels cheated. Most maps are symmetrical, which makes sense for Execution/Warzone/Guardian since there are no respawns. This symmetry, however, is not especially useful in Annex/KotH. Lucky respawns near a current hill can mean the difference between a victory and a loss. Usually, however, the better team will win regardless of the spawn, and it is really only a problem in a few maps (e.g., Sanctuary).

Unlike other current shooters, everyone starts each map on equal footing. Everyone has a shotgun, a snub pistol, a smoke grenade, and the choice between a Hammerburst and the iconic Lancer. Combined with the largely symmetric maps, most matches seem evenly balanced at the beginning.

Now, let's move on to the enjoyability of online play. After all the title updates, the actual game is, theoretically, close to perfect. I say "theoretically" because some unfixable problems seem to remain. Playing online is very different than playing the campaign/Horde. First, humans are unpredictable. Playing public ranked or social (rather than simply custom games) means you will encounter all types of different players and playing styles. Generally, though, you should expect to encounter close combat. The god like accuracy of bots (especially on hardcore and insane) leaves players in the campaign ducking for cover very often. You'll still use cover in multiplayer, but your more likely to be running than ducking in cover, and you are more likely to have your shotgun out rather than your HB/Lancer. Victory favors the bold, so you will often find the other team rushing you with shotguns. On confined levels, you major option is to engage them in a shotty battle, but in most levels you can keep them at bay with medium range weapons. The major conflicts occur around power weapons (Boomshot, grenades, Torque Bow, and occasionally the sniper). The ammo capacity of these weapons has been decreased so that possession of these weapons does not mean an automatic win. The match is still generally decided by power weapons in many levels, but mainly because obtaining a power weapon means you've killed a fair number of opponents or put the opposing team in a defensive position. All in all, there is high learning curve to online play (I recommend cutting your teeth on Wingman, which will encourage you to learn how to use the shotgun effectively), but once you have reached a certain level of play, you will have great fun.

There are a few drawbacks to online play, some real and some exaggerated. What makes the multiplayer less than theoretically perfect? The Lancer's chainsaw often exhibits a certain vacuum effect which will lead one to get killed from a seemingly impossible distance. Second, the two-piece (melee and then shotgun) is overused and incredibly frustrating. The melee in general, seems overpowered and a bit too automatic (your character will generally auto aim its melee toward your opponent). Neither of these are huge imperfections, however, as a good player can avoid both. Third, it is possible to glitch out of many maps, which essentially makes it impossible for the other team to win the round in deathmatch games. When used, this glitch is incredibly frustrating. However, it is used so infrequently that it is a small concern. Finally, there is the inconsistent shotgun. Oftentimes this is a problem of lag, but sometimes not. There seem to be times when the shotgun does more damage than others.

What accounts for the other drawbacks that lead to my use of the term "theoretically"? Well, mainly it is the lag. Some paint out the lag as so bad that the game becomes unplayable. While the lag online can get bad at times, it is rarely so bad that the game is unenjoyable. I've seen other reviewers complain of 1-3 second lag, but I have encountered this amount of lag very few times in the more than 2000 online games I've played. Since the last title update, the lag problem has decreased and now in most games it is largely unnoticeable. Certainly, a game can be decided by lag if the host has a terrible connection. This is especially true when the teams are evenly matched. However, if the teams are not evenly matched, it takes a large amount of lag to tip the scales. Actually, after playing for a while I (and I think most other serious players) have been able to adjust to the median amount of lag so that it becomes part and parcel of the experience. In any case, it is not possible to completely eliminate lag from any online game. Many reviewers and disgruntled players talk about dedicated servers as if these would be the answer to all the game's online problems. Perhaps they don't realize that there would still be a privileged player with the lowest ping to the server who would therefore have the best connection. A better designed, more distributed P2P system would be better, but the current system is not terrible.

A final note on multiplayer -- this game is best played with others. Find a four others, party up, and play. You will learn each other's play style and be able to adjust your own accordingly. You will be able to strategize and thereby increase your chances of winning. If you know these people in real life (and live close to each other), you increase your chances of getting host and/or having a good connection because the party leader will necessarily have a low ping to four of the players. Flying solo is generally unsatisfying. If you are buying this game and have absolutely no one to play with, I hope you don't mind playing with randoms and/or really enjoy the single-player campaign.

All in all, the online gameplay is incredibly addictive (because it is great fun, not because it has you grinding for pointless level-ups) and the flaws have been grossly overstated.

Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/04/10

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

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