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Gears of War 2 Review

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Developer: Epic Games Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: November 7, 2008 Also On: None

Gears of War 2 starts six months after the events of the first game, at the Gears’ base. You meet the brother of fallen soldier Anthony Carmine from the first game, who then becomes a member of your squad. This gives the game a clever opportunity to train the player – you, as Marcus, have the choice of “showing the rook the ropes” and explaining to him how to, essentially, play the game. This training sequence seems to make more sense than the one in the original game, in which you have the option of training in case your character had “forgotten” how to fight while he was in captivity. The story progresses through the city, through forests, and eventually into the Locust Hive. There is also a sub-story involving Dominic’s wife being captured by the Locust, although that story is rarely followed and falls off the radar about halfway through the game. Similarly, a few new characters were advertised before the game came out, and although they ARE in the game, they also have little impact on the story, and are rarely seen – for the most part, they’ve stuck to the original cast on the COG side.

Gameplay-wise, they’ve fixed every little glitch and problem with the cover and melee systems from the original, and there are a lot of new features. A big gripe in the original was the inability to track long-term achievements like getting 10,000 kills online – now, you get a popup telling you how close you are, for example, to getting your 30 kills with a mortar achievement or your 100,000 kills achievement. You can now take damage while performing a chainsaw melee, although once the attack has started, the victim cannot be saved. This does, however, slightly change the strategies that people use online – you have to THINK before you chainsaw someone, because if they have a teammate nearby, you could be dead before your attack is over. Additionally, they’ve added a new feature to handle two people coming at each other with chainsaws – a duel. If you and an enemy (either in campaign or online) both attempt to melee each other with the lancer chainsaw, the camera swings around and you have to tap the B button more rapidly than your opponent in order to win. If you win, you perform a normal chainsaw execution, and vice versa – and just like any other chainsaw attack, other players can attack you while this is going on. Environments are also destructible now, to a degree. In most cases, although a piece of cover may begin to crumble or fall apart, it won’t compromise its ability to block bullets – so for the most part, that’s for looks only.

As far as new features are concerned, Gears 2 does not disappoint. Beyond just new weapons, there are new TYPES of weapons altogether. There’s a cover-mounted chaingun, which spawns with 500 shots, and once it’s empty, it’s dropped. It heats up and has to cool down like the other heavy chainguns in the campaign, and is heavy, making your character walk very slowly. There’s also a mortar, which, like the chaingun, can only be used until it’s empty and is very heavy. There are now three types of grenades – the frag grenades from the first game, plus a smoke grenade (which downs enemies if they are within range), and a poison grenade (which slowly takes away health of the victim). To make it fair, though, nobody spawns with frag grenades – COG start with smoke grenades, and Locust start with poison. The frag grenades must be picked up around the map. Additionally, all types of grenades can now be made into proximity mines by equipping the grenade and doing a melee against the wall – this is very effective and gets a lot of use online.

They’ve also added a flamethrower, which easily downs enemies without killing them. (Depending on the situation, this can be good) The primary Locust drone gun has been replaced with the hammerburst, a gun which fires single shots, but has a zoom capability and headshot ability (unlike the COG lancer). In multiplayer modes, you can choose to start with either the rapid-fire, heavy melee lancer, or the precise, headshot-able hammerburst. They’re seen as about equal in this sense. Additionally, they’ve added some non-weapon items – the boom shield and the meat shield. The boom shield is just a round shield that you can pick up and use with the pistol to block most incoming fire. The meat shield is a very cool new “feature” which allows you to take a downed (but not dead) enemy as a shield rather than killing him. Although a body deteriorates much more quickly than an actual shield, downed enemies are much more available, and get used more often. However it counts as a kill as soon as you pick up the enemy, so it’s not like some guy is sitting on his couch cussing as you’re carrying him around as your own personal body armor.

There’s a slew of new Locust enemies (as well as removing one particularly ANNOYING enemy from the first game), each with its own unique characteristics and weak points. For example, the locust that carries the flamethrower has an explosive gas tank on its back, and if you’re able to get a clean shot on it, it will leak and then explode, killing the carrier – like a headshot alternative. Other enemies bring with them items, such as the shield or poison grenades, as an added bonus of killing them. They’ve really expanded the enemy base in every direction – you have faster enemies, slower enemies, stronger enemies, weaker enemies – and just more enemies overall.

The online gameplay in Gears 2 has been completely changed from that of Gears 1 (which apparently was rushed at the last minute per Microsoft’s request). For one, there are now 5 players per team, as opposed to 4 per team in the first game – no big deal. There are a few new modes – “Guardian” is a mode in which one player on each team is randomly chosen as the leader. As long as your team’s leader is alive, your team will continue to respawn. So the way to win is to kill the enemy leader, and take out the remaining players. In “Wingman”, instead of 2 teams of 5, there are 5 teams of 2 – it works like any other “kill everybody else” mode, except that you have to execute the enemies, they cannot be killed with a gun once they’re down. Finally we have “Submission”, in which a computer player is placed in the middle of the map and must be downed and carried to your base in order to score – a bit like capture the flag, but with only one flag; and the flag’s a body. Another new mode, which is actually handled totally separately, is called Horde. In Horde mode, you join 4 other players in fighting off wave after wave on locust on any map – there are 50 waves total, and each wave gets progressively harder. This is essentially 5-player co-op, and usually consists of assigning people roles and barricading areas.

They’ve really lived up to the EPIC name with the single-player campaign, now being able to show hundreds of enemies on-screen at once. The whole last act of the game is this huge, amazing, movie-like experience which REALLY looks and plays amazingly. The graphics are more subdued in normal, human, city-like areas, but are at least as gritty and high-contrast as the first Gears when you get into the alien areas. There’s also a new soundtrack mixing the familiar tunes from the first game with some new stuff, which really helps to set the mood of the game. All in all, Gears of War 2 is the textbook example of what a great same-generation sequel should be. Upgraded everything and a ton of new content, without changing what made the original amazing.

Graphics: 9.5
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 10
Creativity: 10
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 9.5
Written by Dave Linger Review Guide