The original Gears of War was a heavily hyped game that delivered for many, but failed to live up to some gamers’ expectations. Gears of War was a third-person shooter that boasted phenomenal graphics and a unique cover-based gameplay system. It utilized a cover system where you could hide behind almost every object, and move between them with ease. I enjoyed playing through the campaign, but to me, it just didn’t live up to Halo. Halo felt so much more intuitive, while Gears felt clunky and cumbersome. In Halo, you can only hold two weapons and switch between various grenades. Gears allows you to hold up to four different weapons, which makes things a bit more complicated. The campaign featured fine gameplay, but the subpar story, the cheesy dialogue, and the clunky controls kept this game from greatness. If you took away the graphics, the core gameplay was just so-so. Gears of War 2 is similar in many respects, but it makes significant improvements on the gameplay fundamentals (multiplayer excluded), unlike Halo 3, which merely felt like an HD retread of Halo 2.
The first major improvement found in Gears of War 2 is merely an aesthetic one–more varied environments. Gears of War included plenty of dark, gritty, urban environments and caves, but not much else. There was a smattering of rain and other weather effects, but the general tone of the game was dark. Gears of War 2 expands to include snowy mountains and forests in addition to familiar locales. The game features some of the most detailed visuals I’ve ever seen in a video game. The cutscenes are a significant improvement from the original Gears–they feature giant battles and colossal monsters. Without spoiling too much, one of the most impressive scenes in Gears 2 was getting swallowed by a gigantic monster who had the ability to level an entire city with ease. Not only do you get to witness this monstrosity in action, but you also have the luxury of exterminating this beast from the inside. The visuals really drive the story home, and make you feel like you’re living in a world of terror, where humans are besieged by the Locust horde.
I wouldn’t give Gears of War 2 an award for its cliché story, but it definitely improves upon its predecessor. More characters and villains were introduced this time, that we’ll surely be seeing more of in a future installment of the series. The designs for the new enemies are amazing and would strike fear into your heart if they were real. When a certain high-ranking enemy cleaves a tank in half with his weapon, you immediately know that he’s not to be trifled with. The story picks up where the first game left off; the Locust weren’t defeated fortunately for those who wanted another installment of Gears. The humans are in the process of devising new tactics to rid the planet Sera of this enemy infestation. This is all typical sci-fi faire, but Epic attempted to put more emotion into the story. You really feel disgusted with what the Locust are doing when you see your friends tortured. The dialogue is still as cheesy as ever, but at least Epic is trying to do more than the typical Gears conversation that involves expletive after expletive. Even though the events that occur throughout the game are unbelievable, it still makes you feel like a badass space-marine.
Gears of War 2 did a remarkable job with gameplay improvements. The controls still don’t feel quite as accessible as Halo, but at least you have plenty of options at your disposal. Gears of War 1 had some problems with its cover mechanic–you’d sometimes get stuck on certain walls or would move to an undesirable location, but this has been mostly fixed in Gears of War 2. When you want to hide from enemy fire, it is fairly easy to move between various pieces of cover. There are plenty of new weapons and moves at your disposal as well. In the previous GoW after you had crippled an enemy, you could put him out of his misery with a devastating curb-stomp to the face. Now, you also have the option of using him as a "meat-shield." Basically, you can hold an enemy hostage while returning fire at your opponent with a pistol. When you are tired of carrying that big lug around, you can put him out of his misery with a simple tap of a button.
Besides being able to use meat-shields, you can also pick up ordinary shields that can be used in conjunction with pistols, or you can place the shield on the ground and use it as stationary cover. There are numerous other weapons as well that are fairly standard shooter-faire, such as a flamethrower. The weapons brought back from the original Gears are still the most impressive part of your arsenal. The lancer, the classic automatic weapon with a chainsaw attached, is still the weapon that defines Gears of War and its gory gameplay. Still, I’m glad they added some new weapons to the game.
What is even more impressive, is the variety of enemies and vehicles. As much as I love Halo, it used most of the same enemy types throughout the entire series, so I was glad to see Gears expand upon its enemy roster. Some enemies are from the first game, but you’ll also run into new foes that detonate upon impact, Brumaks, which are basically giant bipedal vehicles, and a few others whose names I can’t recall.
New enemies are always great, but it’s the bosses of Gears of War 2 that will remain etched in your memory long after completing the game. These gargantuan beasts remind me of the epic boss fights found in Resident Evil 4. They aren’t the most innovative beasts, but they’re massive, and will surely scare the hell out of you (if you’re a wimp).
Gears’ bosses are quite memorable, but so are the game’s many vehicles. The vehicle segments definitely help the pacing in Gears of War 2. There is a land vehicle similar to what you used to traverse rough terrain in Mass Effect. It comes equipped with a couple different types of weapons, and also has the ability to boost. I enjoyed shooting monsters from afar with missiles and boosting over cliffs and frozen lakes. Also, you get to pilot air vehicles, escape from giant monsters, drive through dark caverns, and man turrets to destroy incoming projectiles. Gears 2 stays fresh throughout, thanks to this variety. I wasn’t bored nearly as often as I was with the original Gears of War, so I give Epic props for these new additions, when they could have still sold millions of units by just reusing old content.
Finally, I’d like briefly to discuss another integral part of the game–online multiplayer. There are a variety of modes such as capture the flag, deathmatch, 2v2v2v2, and modes where you only get one life. All of these are fun for awhile, but just don’t have the longevity of games like Halo. I quickly grew tired of the weapons, maps, and gameplay modes. Unfortunately, getting bored isn’t the only problem you’ll find with Gears 2’s multiplayer modes. It’s often difficult to find games due to the faulty matchmaking system–sometimes you’ll have to wait upwards of twenty minutes. Also, there are numerous glitches, so it’s doubtful that you’ll have a good time. A better bet would be to stick with a new mode called, Horde.
In Horde, you team up with four other people and attempt to destroy wave after wave of enemies. There are a total of fifty waves, and each consecutive wave gets harder. Later waves will not only have more enemies, but more difficult enemy types. In order to succeed at this mode, your team must coordinate, which makes it a blast for those who enjoy a cooperative experience. It is fun laying traps with your teammates, and picking ideal locations to defend each other.
Besides Horde, Gears of War 2 also includes two-player online co-op, which was also featured in the original. I played through most of GoW2 on Hardcore co-op, and it worked flawlessly. I never noticed any lag, and it was much more fun having an ally rather than solely relying on the AI that is sometimes incompetent. Sometimes, your AI teammates won’t revive you, even when you are groveling at their feet and there are no enemies in sight. Well, that could also happen if you have a bad teammate, but you’re much more likely to get help when you need it.
Gears of War 2 surprised me with its thrilling campaign. Sure, it relies heavily on its graphics, but the variety of vehicles, massive bosses, and exciting scenarios will likely hold your interest. If you have Xbox Live, I highly recommend playing with a teammate, as it can be a lot of fun when you have a reliable partner. Besides the phenomenal graphics and gameplay improvements, Gears of War 2 brings some innovative multiplayer modes to the table. Playing Horde online is a blast, and you could spend weeks, if not months enjoying this cooperative mode. I still felt that the story and dialogue could have been better, but at least Epic tried putting more emotion into it. After playing Gears of War 2, I’m excited to see how a few loose threads will be resolved. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying myself in Horde mode.
- Improved controls
- New weapons and enemies
- Vehicular segments keep things fresh
- Spectacular boss fights
- Horde mode
- A variety of new environments
- Two-player cooperative mode
- Terrible matchmaking system
- Rampant glitches in online games
- Dialogue is still cheesy
- Single-player could be longer
- Multiplayer maps are too expensive
- Cliffhanger ending
- The new weapons don’t impress