The original Gears of War hit the Xbox 360 like a freight train, bowling over critics and fans alike with it's gritty graphics, rough characters, and run, gun, and hide gameplay that seems to have taken over the shooter genre these days. Cliff Bleszinski's baby even managed to give Microsoft's golden boy Master Chief a run for his money, easily sharing a spot with the Halo series among the must-have titles for the system.
And now we come to number 2. Gears of War proved that Epic could deliver, but can they grow? Is this a bigger, better Gears game, or simply more of the same? Run for cover - here come the game critics.
Overall, Gears of War 2 is a better game, though essentially the same one as its predecessor. There have been some minor improvements, though given the success of the original, the development team obviously went with the old mantra 'if it's not broken, don't fix it'. Thankfully, a few of the things that were broken have been fixed, to an extent. While Gears of War 2 provides the same type of visceral and intense action of its predecessor, it does so with an increased level of variety and a stronger design. Still, not everything is quite where you'd expect it to be, especially for such a blockbuster title.
Total Video Games
Gears of War 2 is a far cry from the corridor-trawling experience of the first game. We're not going to talk about it here, other than say it's a much more rounded, longer, and engaging narrative that takes the light foundations of Gears 1 and just runs with it. The addition of more meaningful collectibles this time around, which hint at further background stories, also adds depth to the game. Aside from the storyline, Gears of War 2 is a much more visually epic affair, with a sense of scale rarely travelled to by its predecessor.
Gears' arsenal of weapons have been tinkered and skewed to sound even more powerful and each feels more satisfying. The Lancer is now a chizzled and deadly-sounding beast compared to the original's clunky and annoying rat-a-tat-tat gun. Locust weapons aren't the last-resort selections they were in the first game, they're now strategic, powerful-but-slow alternatives to the COG's automatic-but-weak arsenal. Thankfully Epic has opted to concentrate on this refinement work across all of Gears 2's guns rather than flooding you with new toys, and it makes for a particularly balanced multiplayer experience...
Considering that multiplayer was the weak link in the first game, Epic had a lot to prove with Gears of War 2. They didn't have to prove that they know multiplayer; these are the same people who brought us the Unreal Tournament series, so it's safe to say they know what they're doing when it comes to playing against other humans. But UT also had awesome A.I.-controlled bots. And now, so does Gears of War 2.
By far the best multiplayer mode is Horde, a five-player co-op mode in which you need to survive against wave after wave of Locust nasties on the multiplayer maps. It's intense stuff and requires you to work well as a team if you're going to reach the higher levels. Thankfully the game saves your progress too, so there's no need to start from level one each time you play with your friends. If two-player campaign co-op was the original game's key feature, Horde is Gears 2's surprise selling point - chances are you'll be playing for months to come.
Gears of War 2 is a satisfying middle child for what I can only expect will be the Gears trilogy. It ups the gameplay, tweaks the mechanics and finally digs into that deep potential, delivered in sweeping scale and backdrops, through a plot that both intrigues gamer and fills out the title's many interesting characters. I only wish the game's sense of purpose and pacing continued until the very end of this latest game, rather than drying up a few chapters early.
I'll have to play, if only to show my support for the Horde.