Horde mode is the star of the Gears of War 2 multiplayer lineup. Oh sure, you've got your classic death matches and capture the flag bullshit (and that co-op mode is still insanely solid); but Horde mode is where it's at.
You and four other players pick a Gears character and choose weapons. Then you're dropped on a relatively small map littered with ammo and perfect areas for cover, sniping, and dying like an idiot when you get cut off from your group.
The idea is to survive wave after wave of Locust hordes that the game throws at you. You lose if every member on your team is killed. You win when you kill every Locust in a wave of the horde - after that, the game pauses to show you which players had the most kills and then chucks you back into the map with another wave.
There's a vague incentive to kill steal. It's rewarding to see yourself at the top of the list at the end of a wave with seven score marks by your name. But ultimately, Horde mode takes teamwork, so try not to be too much of a bastard or your mates will leave you to die behind the barn while they set up a perimeter on the bridge. (I don't think friendly fire is an option - or at least I wasn't bitchy enough to warrant my teammates shooting at me.)
Shit hits the fan at about wave 10. More and more of the Horde come from all directions on the map, overwhelming whatever system you've managed to set up. We made it all the way to wave 15 by sticking together, but after that, someone decided going every man (or woman) for themselves was a good idea and we all died like dogs.
The game let us repeat the wave where we'd left off, but our spawn position on the map was reset so we started from new random positions instead of the place where we left off at the end of the last wave - and I think our score was reset to zero (I clicked through the menu too fast in my zeal to get back to the fight). I have no idea how anyone is going survive all 50 waves of Horde mode - even after I switched out with a more hardcore shooter journo, the group never made it to wave 20 in the hour we had to play.
Ball-breakingly difficult or not, Horde mode does stand out from your average multiplayer romp because it's co-op survival instead of just you against the AI. And it was pretty damn fun, even when you were getting your face raped by the sheer number of Locusts coming at you.
I leave you now with the multiplayer primer they PR guys put together for us - in case I haven't convinced you that Horde mode is the only thing that matters:
Unlockables: Beyond the default characters in MP, there are additional playable characters in that are unlocked as you achieve certain milestones within the campaign of Gears 2:
—Dizzy Wallin: Unlock by completing Act 1 on any difficulty
—Kantus: Unlock by completing Act 2 on any difficulty
—Tai Kaliso: Unlock by completing Act 3 on any difficulty
—Flame Grenadier: Unlock by completing Act 4 on any difficulty
—Skorge: Unlock by completing Act 5 on any difficulty
As a way to reward players who have completed varying levels of content in Gears 1, we are providing unlockable multiplayer skins in Gears 2 as a reward for those dedicated fans. Gears 2 is the first game on Xbox 360 to offer this unique reward system through Xbox LIVE. The unlockables consist of the following:
—Complete Act 1 in "Gears of War:" Unlock Anthony Carmine multiplayer skin in "Gears of War 2"
—Find 10 COG tags in "Gears of War:" Unlock Minh Young Kim multiplayer skin in "Gears of War 2"
—Defeat RAAM in "Gears of War:" Unlock RAAM multiplayer skin in "Gears of War 2"
New things to do when dead in a MP match:
—New battle cameras now move smoothly from one camera to another and auto focus on the nearest action. Allows players to learn the map while watching.
—The new "ghost camera" allows the spectator the ability to fly around the map and watch whatever action they want.
—You can still use the player cameras to follow a teammate to watch their play.
—Now you can take screenshots using any of those cameras and save them locally where they will get a score based upon the quality of their screenshot (how much action is on the screen, etc.) and in the War Journal they can upload their photos to the web site GearsofWar.com.
Party system: Gears 2 contains an all-new party system that allows players to fully customise their Multiplayer experience. The Party system allows players to team up with their friends in full or partial teams and stay grouped together from match to match in multiplayer and Horde modes. This is one of the most demanded features for Gears 2.
What's Up: We've added the What's Up feature, an innovative LIVE integration feature that allows friends to easily contact their friends and pull together a party in "Gears of War 2" without needing to access the Xbox Guide. With one button press you can see all of your friends who are playing "Gears of War 2," and with another you can invite them all to join you in a party. There's never been a faster way to get all your friends together for some MP Gears action!
New Competitive Multiplayer Modes: Gears 2 retains all of the popular competitive multiplayer game types from Gears, in addition to several new modes:
—Guardian (a highly modified form of Assassination from Gears 1) - Each team has a leader. Players re-spawn as long as their leader is alive, so protect him at all costs! The goal is to eliminate the other team's leader and then the members of the opposing team before your opponents do the same. Teams must carefully balance their tactics to protect their leader while managing to execute the opposing leader in a timely fashion. The location of the opposing team leader appears as a blip on a player's radar.
—King of the Hill (originally only payable in Gears of War for Windows) - Hold down one strategic location on the map. Execution rules are in effect, so enemies revive unless you kill them at close-range or with a one-shot kill. The team that does not control the point will re-spawn after being killed. If your team controls the point, you will have to wait until the active point is neutral or in enemy hands to re-spawn. Teams must completely control and stay within the objective target circle to score points.
—Wingman - Up to five two-player teams compete against each other until one team reaches the target amount of points. Each team gets 1 point for every kill and a bonus point for being the last team alive at the end of a round. Execution rules in effect.
—Submission - A twist on capture the flag, where the flag can fight back! Players must down a neutral Stranded character, take him as an enemy shield, and carry him back to a set ring on the map.
—Horde: This is a new co-op mode that is playable on every Multiplayer map in the game. In this mode, up to 5 players can take on wave after wave of increasingly difficult Locust. The goal is to complete wave 50. Once a wave has been unlocked in any match type (public, private, system link, or local), players can restart from that wave in private, system link or local games. Public games always start from Wave 1.
Xbox LIVE: "Gears of War 2" benefits from the robust technology and features offered by Xbox LIVE, such as TrueSkill matchmaking for competitive multiplayer matches. "Gears of War 2" is one of the few games where the party system lets you match your team against a similar skilled team, as well we display your online rank next to your name so you can see your skill progress. And to make it clearer about which type of match to play and when, we've moved away from the terms "Ranked Match" and "Player Match" and now call them "Public" and "Private" matches.
Other LIVE features in "Gears of War 2" include extensive L eaderboard support for both private and ranked matches, and the ability to upload photos taken during multiplayer matches to GearsOfWar.com.
Achievements can be earned in both single-player and multiplayer games, and in ranked matches and private matches alike. This change will help players reach their Achievements faster. Players will also be able to view their Achievement progress from within the game. Additionally, player stats will be tracked for both ranked and private matches.
Maps: All maps in Gears 2 work with every MP mode, Horde included! Gears 2 comes with 10 all new multiplayer maps:
The Flashback Map Pack: included in every copy of "Gears of War 2" is an Xbox LIVE token to download the Flashback Map Pack for FREE. The Flashback Map Pack will be available immediately at launch, and consists of five popular maps from Gears 1. Each map has been specially updated with new graphics for Gears 2. The 5 maps are:
Golden guns: For gamers looking to distinguish themselves online in multiplayer matches, an Xbox LIVE token to unlock an in-game gold-plated version of the iconic Lancer Assault Rifle will be included in the Limited Edition of Gears 2.
Be honest - how many of you were going to go buy the game no matter what I had to say?
And how many of you are going to check out these screenies?