Review by horror_spooky

"Like clockwork..."

It's hard to believe that the Xbox 360 has been around for over three years now. We have seen many great games on the system since its inception and right at its birth, but one of the reasons why everyone clambered to get their hands on Microsoft's newest console was for the system's killer app. Gears of War. Gears of War, while it did have some flaws, set the tone for the entire seventh generation, and has been cloned like none other, with gameplay mechanics from the game being borrowed from titles such as Army of Two and even Grand Theft Auto IV. There was a lot of room for improvement and growth in Gears of War, and there was a chance Epic wouldn't live up to expectations. I mean, seriously, we all remember Devil May Cry 2, right? Thankfully, Epic did live up to expectations. This is how you make a sequel.

The gameplay remains largely the same from the first installment, with the same basic concept of hiding behind cover and shooting at enemies, whether that is by sophisticatedly aiming or blind firing. You still have all of your toys from the last game to play around with, including the lancer with its chainsaw bayonet and to a lesser extent, the Hammer of Dawn. However, there are also some new weapons, including a flamethrower and a pair of slick pistols that fire in short automatic bursts.

Halo 3 came up with the idea of having large weapons that you can carry around along with your regular weapons, and Gears of War 2 borrows this mechanic. You can now carry large turret guns that can be mounted when you're using cover to literally rip apart the Locusts, your enemies, and you can even set up a mortar to rain fiery hell down upon your foes. All of these weapons are very easy to use and they are a very welcome addition to the gameplay.

As well as having all of your old weapons available to you this time around, you still have all of your basic maneuvers needed to survive this war. You can quickly navigate between cover and you can roll to dodge enemy fire, but you are no longer limited to simply curb stomping your enemy once they are down. You can now run up to them, pick them up and carry them around as a shield. There are also special executions you can pull off that are either quick and painless or long and brutal.

Another added feature that Gears of War 2 borrowed from Halo 3 is the idea of melee duels. Halo fans are familiar with what happens when energy swords clash together, and the same happens in Gears, except with chainsaw bayonets. These chainsaw duels, while they don't happen frequently enough to really be relevant, are still pretty damn cool. The chainsaw is also used now to get past obstacles in the environment and it can be used to cut through furniture and other things lying around the environment, adding a thin but awesome layer of interactivity to an otherwise straightforward title.

Gears of War was packed with plenty of high octane moments, but this sequel abolishes the bar set by its predecessor completely. I won't ruin any of the moments for you, but I assure you that your jaw will drop with the way Gears of War 2 takes the gameplay by the horns and throws it around like a rag doll.

In the first game, vehicle segments were limited to shining a flashlight on little black Locusts that swarm and kill you in no time at all if you stayed in the dark for too long. This time around though, you get to control a tank and take down dozens of Locusts at once with your rockets and there are also other vehicles, and creatures, that you will get to control. These touches definitely keep the gameplay from getting stale.

One of the biggest features in the previous title was that the game allowed you and your partner to go in different directions, and this feature returns in Gears of War 2, though it happens much more often than in the first installment. By going separate paths, you will experience different gameplay moments that will make you want to go through the game maybe one more time and it also helps co-op feel a lot more important than other titles make it seem. There are even moments now where splitting up is completely optional, which, depending on your skill level, can make some of the more boring gameplay segments go by a little quicker.

Platforming elements have been blended into this third-person shooter. You will find yourself dodging obstacles and the like as you run and roll along. If these obstacles hit you, you are killed with one hit and are set back at a checkpoint. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. This gives Gears of War 2 the old-school feel it needs to succeed and to earn respect among gamers.

The platforming elements aren't alone. Gears of War 2 also has some puzzles and more formulaic boss fights that don't really fall in the vein of third-person shooter but rather survival-horror. Are these puzzles usually very hard? No, but they also provide a breath of fresh air from the normal gameplay and without them the game just wouldn't be as unbelievably awesome as it is.

I mentioned earlier the little creatures you had to shine with a light in order to kill in the original, so you may be glad or angry to know that these creatures don't appear in this installment. There are plenty of new enemies, including suicide-bombing Tickers and flamethrower-wielding Flame Boomers, but I was a little disappointed in the lack of a specific creature and that's the Berserker. In the first game, these blind monstrosities would charge at the slight notion of a sound, and they made the game a lot more interesting, believe you me. Why Epic decided not to include these guys in the final game is beyond me, but here's hoping the make it to the inevitable next installment in the series.

The first Gears of War had a problem with its multiplayer: it was awful. The online was boring and monotonous while the offline was horrendously slow because you could only play with two-players for some reason. Gears of War 2 rectifies these issues tenfold and shatters expectations. That may sound like an exaggeration, but Gears of War 2 has some of the best multiplayer you will find on the Xbox 360 and that's a giant improvement over the original.

There are plenty of modes available to you that provide original and fresh gameplay, but these interesting modes and nicely designed maps aren't what make the multiplayer. You can now add up to nine computer-controlled bots to play with you that can be set on various settings to have some awesome multiplayer matches both offline and online now. Epic really knows how to please the masses, and that's why I can restate something I said in the last paragraph without a doubt in my mind: Gears of War 2 has some of the best multiplayer on the Xbox 360.

If the highly improved versus multiplayer wasn't enough, there is a new mode called Horde that is surprisingly addicting. In Horde, you and one other friend (offline) or up to five players online choose a multiplayer level. However, instead of just running around killing each other like usual, you have to work together to take down the constantly spawning enemies. These enemies will continuously come at you for over fifty waves and this provides an addicting challenge unfound on console shooters to date. Horde mode will make you addicted to Gears of War 2.

A huge issue that arose in the original game was that it barely had a story at all. The game threw you right into the middle of everything and sort of expected you to follow along, and you always had that thing in the back of your mind laughing at the sorry excuse to let you shoot things. Gears of War 2 takes the challenge of taking practically nothing and turning a great story out of it and, just like with everything else it does, exceeds expectations. There are some moments that will make your jaw drop and you will actually care and feel emotions while playing through this tale. You will actually care, and when a video game makes you care about what's going on, that's a really special thing. The game takes place a little while after the first game left off with humanity losing the war against the Locust, but the Delta Squad, led by Marcus Fenix, has other problems on their hands in the form of locating Dom's (Marcus's right-hand man) wife. With awesome action sequences and plenty of plot twists and memorable moments, Gears of War 2 tells a bloody story that should be experienced by every gamer, even if they aren't exactly fans of the series.

While the actual graphics don't look like they've been improved by much from the first game, a lot of the technical issues have. There is virtually no lagging and the lip synching during cut-scenes is spot on. Glitches, while there are some, aren't nearly as present as they were the first time around and while Gears of War 2 isn't the most beautiful game on the Xbox 360, it sure comes close, rivaling the likes of Mass Effect in detail and textures.

The voice actors for Gears of War 2 have improved greatly since their last foray into video games and while a lot of the dialogue is still a little dorky, it's much more hilarious and entertaining than it was last time. There is rarely repeated dialogue, even if you die and have to restart a checkpoint, and the soundtrack is brilliant, with everything fitting exactly with the action. The sound effects are foreboding and exciting at the same time, giving Gears of War 2 an audio experience that will be remembered for a very, very long time.

The first Gears of War pretty much sunk in the replayability department. The multiplayer was dreadful and the single-player, while it was beyond great, simply didn't hold up enough to give you enough incentive to play it a million times. Gears of War 2, however, isn't lacking in the replayability department at all. The multiplayer is awesome and Horde mode is something that is very simply one of the best features added to any game in existence. You'll have to play it to realize how fun it really is. Instead of collecting COG tags like you did in the first game, you collect little notes that work similarly to the files in the Resident Evil titles as they are optional but give you some extra background. Being an Xbox 360 title, Gears of War 2 also has achievements on its side for replayability and Gears of War 2 hits another homerun here. There are some pretty damn interesting achievements, but what Gears of War 2 does best is that it tells you how close you are getting to earning a certain achievement. The frustration that sometimes goes with achievements has been erased by Gears of War 2, and hopefully other developers copy Epic here as well since they've more or less cloned Gears of War to the point that they probably can't come up with much more ideas.

The first Gears of War had plenty of room for improvement, but does Gears of War 2 have room for improvement? Of course it does; every game has something that could make it better. Support for more than two offline players would be cool for the versus mode and there are still some minor glitches that need to be ironed out. Other than that, Gears of War 2 is a nearly flawless game that stands heads and shoulders above its predecessor. I said it at the beginning of the review and I'm going to say it again: This is how you make a sequel.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 01/05/09

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

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