Review by neonreaper

"Horde Mode!"

Gears of War 2 is potentially an amazing improvement on its predecessor, yet the online hosting system fails to deliver the experience gamers deserve. If you've played the original Gears of War, you know the general idea, and Epic Games didn't really deviate from their formula. They added some upgrades and updates to the general gameplay, and they really hit a home run with the campaign. Multiplayer has more modes and some tweaks of its own. Horde Mode can be as fun as anything in co-op gaming, yet the new hosting system they've put into place can ruin the player vs player experience for a lot of people.

Our grizzled space marines are back, looking to fend off the Locust with an aggressive assault on their underground lairs. Marcus Fenix returns as the main character, filled to the brim with grim, violent determination. His sidekick, Dom, is evolved into a real character that players will be desperately pulling for in this game. Instead of two guys with guns ripping through enemies and nothing more, this time around we have a developed and emotional storyline for Dom, and Marcus leans into their friendship when he's needed. The connection these two have developed becomes clear without overdoing it. It's easy to understand without being hit over the head by it. Grizzled space marines with some honest nuances to their relationship, and a major emotional storyline as well? Very nice. Other side characters like Augustus Cole come back and add their personal flair to the game, adding energy and humor as needed.

The story itself continues from where Gears left us, but the overall concept is elevated, there's an additional mystery as well as the storyline with Dom's wife, and our war heroes enter the Locust underground lair to eradicate the Locust. The dire situation faced and the odds facing the characters is compelling, though let's be honest, it's hard to sell the peril of the characters when a third game is coming and there's no chance of Marcus or Dom kicking off. This is where the storyline with Dom's wife becomes important - Dom is likable enough already, and now we're given something to be emotionally involved with. Other parts of the story lead to some survival horror aspects, it's not quite as straightforward as shooting some Locust scum.

Pacing is excellent, action is kept intense and varied, one moment you're on the back of a vehicle, defending it from enemy vehicles and boarding enemies, the next you control a tank, then there are the Gears of War hallmark cover/fire sequences, and some other terrific levels I won't spoil here. You won't be at a loss for new elements and terrific old ones. Every once in a while, you'll hit too many storyline breaks in the action, you want to keep going but Marcus will communicate with support, or focus will shift to things in the area. If there was one thing I'd like to see them add, it'd be four player support for the campaign. Actually, the game is missing the BERSERKER enemy, which could lead to a harrowing and intense fight, especially with casual shooter players.

Glitches from the original Gears are mostly fixed up, you won't interact with walls/rubble/etc unintentionally quite as much. Controls are mostly kept the same, but there are some weapon updates worth discussing. There are now poison grenades, and you can stick grenades into walls as traps. The chainsaw revs quicker, one of the pistols is improved, the starburst is a bit nerfed, and we have flamethrowers! Yes, sweet flamethrowers. I think the game is still has room for some cool new guns, but the flamethrower is a welcome addition. There are also melee chainsaw battles, where you'll button mash to gain the upperhand. You can use fallen enemies as meat shields, and there are new animations for executions.

I got to the end of the campaign and had a very strong "now THIS is how a sequel should be done!" feeling. Ready to drop a 10/10 on this sequel, I headed into the multiplayer modes, and found a bit of a mixed bag - awesome new modes, but a bad new hosting system that kept me from really enjoying random match-making games. There are a bunch of multiplayer modes here - you have the usual deathmatch Warzone, but then there's Wingman, which is 2v2v2v2v2, King of the Hill, Execution, Guardian and so on. Each mode involves different strategies - some may be fairly similar, but you'll play Wingman and Warzone (now up to 5 players per team) differently to start, at least. In order to get rid of the host lancer problem from Gears of War, Epic Games tried to find a different approach to hosting. The specifics I'm not sure of, cursory research suggests a distributed hosting method but honestly I don't know what I'm talking about. It leads to lag for a lot of people which can obviously kill the multiplayer experience for non-hosted (ie private) games. When you get into a game, it is great and the maps are pretty good and with map packs, there's a ridiculous amount of them. If you can't get into a game, and wait times are pretty bad here, or the ping is too high, then you're shut out of a good thing, and it's a shame that Epic Games can't provide a better solution to host lancer than this.

Redeeming this, however, is Horde Mode. You and 4 other people take on 50 waves of enemies as best as you can. The Gears mechanics for combat shine here, and your ability to work together and execute is tested. It's a blast and is still better than any Firefight or Zombie modes other series have. It renewed my enjoyment of the game, and while I'm bummed about the poor host issues, a private Horde Mode game is truly one of the best experiences that gaming has to offer.

So Gears of War 2 really nails the campaign, you will not be left wanting for excitement, twists and turns and gratuitous elements. The multiplayer continues to shine, Horde Mode is awesome, but the hosting solution put in by Epic Games could potentially ruin online multiple altogether for you.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/22/10

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

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