Review by DBean
Sequels have a way of staying the course. They'll try to expand on what made the first game popular, even if that comes without innovation. It's a game that is fun to play, even if it's just more of the same. The highly acclaimed sequel to Gears of War was one of the most anticipated titles of 2008. It was going to be bigger and better, a game that offered a better plot, better online play, just an all-around better game than the first. Somewhere along the way though, Epic managed to take all that was good about the original and curb stomp it down and out with a spiked boot. I'm sorry to say that this game isn't even close to living up to the hype. Why is that? Let's find out.
The campaign in Gears 2 has so many lulls in it that you'll wonder if you're playing an interactive movie rather than a third-person shooter. So many times you'll see yourself get into one firefight, pick up the win, and enter either a dialogue or cutscene. Very rarely throughout the first few acts will there be nonstop action. In fact, it's just the opposite. Your trigger finger will be itching to get back into the action after taking it to the Locust army. Many times, the game will have you press Y to view an enemy or a bad situation off in the distance or even up close. The problem is that you're just watching things instead of actually taking part in combat. I can understand the need for developing the story or setting the mood, but sometimes you have to let the player go out there and have fun. It's not a complete bust though as this game does have some neat firefights. The problem is that it doesn't have enough of them.
This even extends into the boss fights. A certain boss in the middle of the game will do its best to pull you down into a watery grave. The problem here is that a good two-thirds of the fight are spent waiting for the enemy in question to attack you. It gets even worse as it goes along as later boss fights see you only engaging combat in a button mashing sequence while spending the rest of the fight dodging everything it tries to drop on you. You can shoot at this boss in question, but it's not particularly engaging or practical, since it does no damage outside of the button masher part. You get a second crack at him later, but once again, there are only a few times when you can attack while you spend the rest of the time watching and waiting for anything to happen. It's really a shame as these could have been some memorable sequences if you felt like you were doing damage to them outside of these detaching cutscene battles.
One thing the game has going in its favor though is variety of the missions and settings, even if the quality is hit or miss. You'll be underground, exploring a factory, working your way up a snowy set of mountains, and back into the heart of the Locust army itself. The visuals definitely enhance the otherwise pedestrian gameplay that you'll experience. As for the story? It's okay, but it's nothing to write home about. The game focuses on two things, the Locust's desire to sink the Serans last refuge in the cliffside city of Jacinto and Dom's search for his long-lost wife. Along the way, you'll run into some familiar faces to go along with some new ones in your quest to strike down the ever dangerous Locust once and for all.
The story wasn't quite up to par with what I was expecting, but the multiplayer was sure to deliver. The first game only had three game modes, only adding a fourth down the road. Gears 2, meanwhile, comes packed with seven adversarial modes along with a co-op adventure called Horde. Horde was Epic's way of saying that you shouldn't have more than two people playing co-op story. After playing this mode, I would have to disagree as it's truly one of the highlights of the online experience. You and four other people will face wave after wave of Locusts hellbent on taking you down and out. You get one life per round, and if you're taken down, then it will be up to your teammates to finish the job for you. Early on, you can hang down and take it to the Locust, but you'll soon find yourself rushing for cover and trying to hold off their advances on you before it's too late. It's hectic, it's fun, and it will be what you wanted campaign to be like.
As for the rest of the multiplayer package, Submission will see your team trying to down and escort an AI character to a certain point on the map, all the while the opposing team will do its best to take you out and get the hostage for themselves. It's literally a tug of war with the AI in the middle. Don't think that he's just going to sit there and take it though as he will fight back with a shotgun if you let him. Guardian is a lot like Assassination from the first except your allies will respawn if your leader is still alive. You can't hide in spawn points as the enemy could very well spawn in the room with you, turning the tide of battle in their favor. It's a game of cat and mouse, and probably my second favorite gametype of the new modes.
The winner goes to Wingman, however. Instead of two teams of five, this game has five teams of two. You and a partner will do whatever you can to take out the other eight people in the room. Do you rush out and go for the kill you've just downed, or do you play it safe and wait for his partner to come and take him out, too? Conversely, you'll find yourself rushing to get someone else's down to swipe a point away. It's not the safest move, but it's every team for themselves. Considering your team gets an extra point for winning a round though, the question becomes is it worth it? That's for you to decide.
After all of that, it sounds like the online experience is outstanding, huh? The problem is that it's not. Other than Wingman and Horde, which are in their own categories, you're now forced to vote for what mode you want to play at the start. In other words, you'll join a room and have the option to pick from two of the three available modes (Elimination features Warzone, Execution, and Guardian/Territories features Annex, King of the Hill, and Submission). In the event of a tie, the third choice wins. It's the same thing for the maps. You get to choose from two areas. No longer do you have the option of selecting rounds, maps, or even what game type you want to play in a public match. Now it's a democracy, and usually you'll see people voting for a tie just to see what the third option was. Why the matchmaking couldn't be like the first? I have no idea.
And this is even if you can find a match. More often than not unless you're in a full party, you'll spend minutes at a time waiting in a lobby to connect to people. No longer can you just pick from a list of options and join that game. Now you have to wait...and wait....and wait. It's truly agonizing when you just want to pick up the game and play. Even worse, there are times when you'll find a team only to have the matchmaking restart its process on you. It truly is the worst matchmaking system on XBL at the moment. My main problem with it is if I can connect to an online game in GTA, Call of Duty, Rainbow Six, Saints Row, and even Gears 1 with little to no problem, why does it take so long for things to get started in this title? It truly makes no sense.
Worse, host advantage is back and worse than ever. In the first game, it was clear to tell who the host was. In this game, it's clear to tell when you're nowhere near host as your shots will sink to the ground automatically. Lag is frequent, sometimes in the 1-3 second range, constantly bringing what could've been a good match down. I wish I was exaggerating, but it is truly painful at times. If Epic were to fix these problems, I'd be a bit more forgiving in my score, but it's not as of yet, so no dice.
Gears of War 2 is truly the biggest disappointment of 2008 for me. I thought I was getting something bigger and better, but instead, I've got a game that many have already shelved due to the aforementioned flaws. The game really could've used a few more months to iron out the kinks. Instead, we'll have to wait on a patch that may or may not fix these issues. I hope it does get fixed though because I really want to enjoy this title. As it stands though, I think it'll be collecting dust on a shelf by this time next month, and that's a shame.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Gears of War 2 (US, 11/07/08)
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