Gears of War. The game that made me want to buy an Xbox 360. I cannot tell you how blown away I was by this game when I first saw it. I remember playing a bit at EB Games, getting right up to one of the first times you get to use the Hammer of Dawn, and deciding this game was one I had to own someday. The visuals, the gameplay…everything about the game impressed me, and when I was finally able to get a 360, it was among the first games I bought.
So as you can probably imagine, Gears of War 2 had some awfully large shoes to fill. Fair or not, it was going to be compared in my mind to the game that made me decide which of the next gen consoles I was going to buy.
Fortunately, Gears 2 does just that, and so much more.
Story: It takes no time for Gears 2 to separate itself from it predecessor’s rather lackluster story. The opening cinematic, voiced by the mysterious Queen of the Locust whose voice was the last you heard in Gears, leads straight into a discussion among Marcus, Dom and Anya about the rather unusual attacks by the Locust as of late. This discussion helps you understand that the infamous twosome of Delta squad aren’t just mindless warriors; they are soldiers who understand the weight of what lies ahead. This really becomes evident as the story of Dom’s wife Maria unfolds throughout the game, giving you not only insight into his character, but also a chance to see Marcus as not just a disgruntled war veteran, but a true friend who actually cares about his squad mates.
Marcus and Dom aren’t the only characters who get a more humanized treatment in this game. Anya becomes more than just a voice on the other end of a comlink, actually finding herself in some rather difficult situations throughout the game and showing real concern for Delta squad. Then there’s Tai, a tough as nails character with a rather unusual disposition whom I couldn’t help but like instantly. Baird is still whiny, but he does get the job done when you need him, and Cole, well, he’s just Cole. Even Carmine, your fresh out of boot camp rookie, reveals more about himself and is much more useful than his brother from the first game (did anyone else catch the inside joke….he’s a sniper!).
Now don’t get me wrong, the story is not going to win any awards, nor does it compare to games like Mass Effect or Bioshock in it’s depth, but it’s nice to see that Gears 2 is not a great game were the story is an afterthought. There are even a couple of points in the game that will sting you emotionally, and no, I’m not talking about the inevitable death of Carmine (come on, that shouldn’t even be a spoiler).
One other decision made by Epic in terms of story was nothing short of brilliant. Remember the COG tags from Gears? Well, the idea of collecting items is back in Gears 2, but this time what you are collecting helps fill in the gaps in the story, whether you are finding journal entries from other COG soldiers or newspaper headlines recounting the events in the Gears universe. In other words, finding the items not only gives you achievements, it helps you gain more insight into the world around you.
One word of advice: do not skip the end credits.
Gameplay: As I’m sure is true with many of you, the gamplay of the original Gears of War really set the game apart for me from the rather crowded market of sci-fi shooters. The idea of transitioning from cover to cover, active reload, and a refined over the shoulder camera that allowed you to move seamlessly between firing from the hip and down the sights worked better than ever expected. The only real complaints were that it was rather easy to end up moving to cover you never intended to get behind or finding it hard to remove yourself from cover.
Gears 2 has managed to take what was great about the original game and refine it just enough to make the gameplay even more enjoyable. Transitioning from cover to cover is much more intuitive; I never really found myself looking to the images that showed me where I was going to move, I just did it. You can separate yourself from cover much more easily now, which means that in those times when you do manage to get behind the wrong wall or shield, you can move away much more readily. You now also have options on how you choose to shoot from cover. Instead of being forced to shoot over it, you can lean to the side and shoot from there. You can also just barely peak over cover, which will keep you more protected but will make it harder for you to target enemies.
Weapons have also been tweaked in Gears 2. The Lancer is still the mainstay, but you may find yourself switching up your other weapons much more often depending on what situation you are in. For me, the Scorcher became my weapon of choice when dealing with wretches, whereas the shotgun was my favorite when dealing with them in the previous game (the chainsaw on the Lancer works great as well). The Mulcher, a portable turret for lack of a better explanation, became my favorite way to take on Reevers and other large enemies, while the Mortar was perfect for taking out hordes of Locust from a distance. Every weapon has its place in Gears 2; you even have to think about what pistol you are carrying, because that is all you can use if you are using a Boomshield or taking a downed Locust hostage to shield your advance.
In a game like Gears 2, it is really easy to find yourself doing the same thing over and over again, though at heart you are, the pacing and diversity of the game makes it feel different. One minute, you are dealing with a handful of rather tough enemies; the next, you are facing wave after wave of locusts and looking frantically for more ammo. Or you may be trying to deliver a bomb to blow open a locked door, using only one hand and a pistol to fend of wretches. Or you are shooting everything you have at an advancing Brumak. Even the driving sequences, so often an afterthought in games like this, are much more polished in this game, especially the final “vehicle” you get to drive. And if you think the Brumak is the biggest thing you have to deal with in this game, think again. It’s not even a close second.
Criticisms: Gears 2 does have it’s faults. In one of the early driving sequences, you are having to take out “mortar” fire from Seeders that threatens to tear apart the rig you are riding. Problem is, the mortars can be hard to hit, and since it only takes a few hits to take you out (try 2 on insane mode), you might find yourself repeating the scene over and over. The Locust can now revive downed comrades as well, which, while it adds a new gameplay element, can frustrate the heck out of you as you find yourself killing the same grub several times. There are other times where you need to hear what your teammates are telling you to know how to deal with a certain enemy, but the ambient noise of the level around you makes it very difficult to hear that crucial piece of info.
Then there’s the final boss. Remember how hard the battle against Raam was in Gears? Well, no such luck this time. The only thing that offsets that is how much fun the part leading up to it is.
Conclusion: Gears of War 2 delivers on the promise of it’s designer Cliff Bleszinski. It is bigger. It is better. It is even that word I do not intend to use in thus review. Yes, it has some minor problems, but they do not take away from what is truly a magnificent game. This one is well worth the money.
And that’s just the campaign. Multiplayer is another matter entirely.
“Epic Makes a Good Move But Comes Up Short” – Additional Comments by Jody Driggers
After much waiting we finally get to play Epic’s Gears of War 2. Before the release I was reading a lot of different news on this game and one thing that caught my eye is the fact that it was going to have a language filter included in the game. Being kind of new to games I’m not sure if this is the first game to offer this or not but I was excited about the option. I love the new games coming out but the language in games like this is a little unsettling. First of all I have to wait for my kids to be asleep or not around for me to play. Also if given the option I personally would like not to hear all of the foul language. Don’t get me wrong the language wouldn’t stop me from playing it but given the choice I could do without it. With that said I went to the midnight launch, got home put the game in and while waiting on my buddy (who I was going to play co-op with) I decided to put the language filter on. After playing awhile I got to a part and I started to hear words I thought the filter should have filtered out. So I went to the options and made sure I had the option for language filter on and I did. A while later I started to notice that some words were bleeped out and some were not. The funny thing was that the same words would be beeped out once and let go the next time.
After doing some reading it appears that Epic filtered out the “strong language”. From what I heard it was filtered so that if it was a movie it would be rated PG-13. I was very disappointed. I give props to Epic for doing something but why not take it all the way. I mean if someone takes the time to turn the filter on in the first place then they probably want all the bad language filtered out. I wish they would have at least put some sort of slider in that you could pick some bad language or all bad language filtered out. My biggest problem with this is that kids will now get this game because their parents will think that they can just turn on the filter and stop the bad language. I know it has an M rating but how many kids do you play with online? I know I have many kids under 17 that I play with on Live and many of them have Gears of War 2. Once again I don’t want to seem like I’m slamming Epic because they did make an effort to put this option in the game I just wish they would have taken it all the way.