by Chris Brown
By now Gears of War is a common language for gamers playing on the Xbox 36o. The first Gears of War introduced a great shared campaign experience with a look and feel that left a great many games wanting. With Gears of War 2 many gamers were hoping the bar would be raised even higher, and while the sequel doesn’t improve leaps and bounds beyond the first it does do some incredible things which should please the great multitudes.
The campaign for Gears of War 2 picks up an undisclosed time after the first campaign Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad prepare for a final push against the Locust who now have a weapon to sink entire cities. In the midst of this epic mission, one member of the Delta squad, Dominic Santiago continues his frantic search for his missing wife. Without giving anything away, much of the campaign which can be played once again as a single player campaign or two person split or online co-operatively deals with the final push and the search for a missing love.
The campaign introduces several new characters both to Delta squad and the forces of the Locust. The campaign itself does a great job at adding substance to the Gears mythology and sets the table for the next important chapter in the tale. Lest you worry that this middle chapter ends much like Halo 2, by the end of the campaign both major missions ends well, but lots of new mysteries are opened up much like those emergence holes Locusts pop continually out of. While I wish some of those mysteries would have come more into focus, the game play during those new mysteries were very exciting.
The Gears of War 2 campaign overall is well recommended, but it’s not without it’s small problems as well which also pops up in the multiplayer as well. While the scope fo Gears of War 2 is bigger, occasionally the game does have some minor graphic and texture pop-in wait times. Also, on small occasions there were a few glitches that gave the game and multi-player matches a few moments of levity. There were occasional Locusts who would perpetually die over and over again with a nice squishy bloody sound accompanying it. While the rare glitches would distract from the game play, there are by no means cause for concern.
The Gears of War 2 campaign is longer than the original Gears of War but still runs on the short-ish side. The game benefits by a great supply of auto-saves, but players can also save at any place as well. I found myself enthralled with the game play with the exception of all but the last “vehicle” you have to drive. Also the game despite it’s apocalyptic beauty still is very linear, but it hides it very well. OH, and I can close out discussion of the campaign without mentioning that while Marcus may be leader of the Delta squad, Augustus Cole a.k.a. Cole Train is the heart of the game and major scene-stealer. Cole Train fans will be well-served by the campaign.
On the multi-player side of Gears of War 2 there have been some very good improvements over the first installment. Gone are the ranked and unranked matchmaking replaced with public and private matches. Also, games can now hold a total of ten players versus the eight of the first game, with one exception…the new game mode, Horde.
Horde mode is a stellar addition to Gears of War 2 multi-player. In Horde mode, up to five players must unite on a single map to combat an escalating number and skill of Locust forces in wave after wave of increasing hard battle. Horde mode has fifty waves of various types of Locusts which force players to use their resources, skills, and wits to survive. It’s an intense party game that brings out the best in a multi-player. Players can play Horde on any map, but that map becomes their last stand for the entire match. The team of players quickly has to adapt to the map, to the location of ammo replenishments, and most of all work together. It continues to be one of the most exciting multi-player times this reviewer has had all year.
There are other more traditional forms of versus modes in Gears of War 2, some new and some old. They include Guardian, Wingman, Submission, and War Zone. War Zone is your classic Team Deathmatch with no respawning. Submission is a Capture the Flag with the flag being shotgun toting Non-playable character teams must subdue and bring to a designated point on the map. Wingman is a unique mode that breaks the players into teams of two to compete for points for kills. Guardian is a renamed version of Assassination from the first Gears of War, but now both sides can respawn as long as their leader remains alive.
Overall the multi-player is a lot of fun. At the time of this review there are some problems connecting to multi-player matches, but a patch is in the works. The game modes offer a good variance in game play, and encourage teamwork. There does exist some graphic and texture pop in in the multi-player. Also the weapons are more balanced in the multi-player so strategies used in the first Gears of War might not work so well in the sequel. In a game in witch watch your teammates back is very important, I have noticed that sometimes in Horde mode characters who have been downed may appear to be walking around on other player’s screens. One would imagine there is a patch for this to come in the future, but this has lead to some heated arguments when it does happen.
Regardless, the multi-player component of Gears of War offers exciting game play, great team building, and one of the coolest multi-player experiences this year in Horde mode. Paired with an engrossing campaign that despite a few minor flaws rewards the player with a very enjoyable several hours of battle, Gears of War 2 is a remarkable game that does improve upon the first installment. It should also be said that the achievements are fairly well-doled out rewarding players for playing all the components of Gears of War 2: solo campaign, co-op campaign and multi-player. Players can also receive achievements for performing various tasks from mastering the Quick Reload to picking up news trinkets through the campaign, much like retrieving Cog-tags in the first Gears of War. One achievement to take note of is the Seriously 2.0 achievement that players can unlock after killing 100,000 enemies over all types of game play. Yes, 100,000. That should take some time to unlock!
Gears of War 2 is a well-made third person shooter that improves upon the first installment. While it doesn’t take a great leap forward it does build an impressive world and storyline and offers a multi-player that will reward the player well after new games come and go. It comes well recommended.
Gears of War 2 is rated M for Mature and is available on retail shelves now.
Married Gamers Report Card: A-