wo years ago, Epic Games shook the world of first-person shooters to its core with the release of their groundbreaking masterpiece, Gears of War. Boasting intense, story-driven gameplay and supported with many excellent features including stellar voice acting, the intuitive cover system, well balanced multi and cooperative play, and the best melee options since Duke Nukem's Mighty Boot, Gears embodied one of the greatest and most memorable experience yet to be had on a console. News of a sequel, while generating enormous enthusiasm from the masses, also garnered no small amount of trepidation from yours truly.
Personal experience has taught me that without fresh innovation, sequels have the ability to reduce even the most novel concepts to mere old hat. Alternately, too much push for change can tweak the original foundations into a warped and often unrecognizable animal that may fail to capture the spirit of its predecessor. Fortunately for us all, Cliffy B and the expert Epic crew knew just how much "badass" to add to the mix, and their efforts have yielded a game in every way more polished and robust than the original. Ladies and gentlemen, hold your heads high and your Lancers at the ready as we battle for the future of humanity in Gears of War 2.
A true saga, thrilling and
rewarding to experience.The game begins with a bang, dropping the player into the middle of a chaotic and overtaxed hospital on the front lines. A grim sense of desperation hangs heavy in the air as you survey the damage of nearly 100 years of conflict. It soon becomes clear that the stakes are much higher than they were before with the price of failure being the eradication of the human race. Here we find the first of several improvements Epic has made on the old formula: a story expanded in both breadth and depth and made much more personal in the process.
The single focus of the original Gears was the preparation and deployment of the Lightmass Bomb, a potentially war-ending super weapon. Pursuit of this goal led the player along a highly linear path of battles in confined spaces and close quarters. Gears 2 leaps away from these narrow quarters and into a larger perspective both in size of the battles and scope of the storyline. From the vast wilderness and mountains on the surface of Sera, to the seemingly endless caverns of the Locust Hollow, and even across the shattered skylines of an entire sunken city battles involve much larger forces committed on both sides and spread across a much greater area.
This newly expanded world perfectly complements the heightened intensity and emotional impact of the plot. As broad as the fate of the whole of the human race, and as fragile and sensitive as the life of a single lost woman, the story in Gears of War 2 draws the player in completely and gives them a vested emotional interest in the outcome as well as an increased attachment to the characters and the men of Delta Squad. With this latest addition, the Gears universe is brought up from the level of a well-written novel and approaches that of a true saga, thrilling and rewarding to experience.
The story certainly wasn't the only aspect to receive the star treatment during the making of Gears 2. Core gameplay benefited from several tweaks and upgrades, fine-tuning an already high-performance ride. Graphically, the original game was a stunner with seamless character models and environments. Gears 2 puts the icing on the oh-so delicious cake, making better use of shadow and detail and placing the art firmly into the beautiful side of the scale. One tweak of note is the addition of several new removable layers to both the environment and the enemies designed to improve the appearance of bullet strikes and the visual impact of dealing damage.
The end result is incredibly satisfying, as one can watch their fire track across their target's cover, ripping pieces of tile and stone from the structure before finally tearing into the creature behind. The addition of new execution moves, the ability to block and eventually counter chainsaw attacks and the ability to plant grenades for use as proximity mines all serve to add spice to the excellent combat scenarios. While none of these features individually would be enough to make a game great, when added to an already stellar formula they all come together to great effect.
The most notable new features for Gears 2 come into play when engaging in multiplayer and Live games. Firstly, the game now allows a greater flexibility in team organization, including a mode called Wingman, which pits many two-man teams against each other as an alternative to two large teams. The dynamic in these matches changes dramatically, as each pair is forced to operate at a much more strategic level in order to survive and gain the upper hand.
Epic knew just how much
'badass' to add to the mix.The ability to fill in your team's roster with bots is another welcome perk, making easier the times when you find your friends list lacking. These bots add their own entertainment value due to their sometimes surprising tactics. They are certainly not to be underestimated and should not be expected to react like a human opponent will. Watching them do their thing made for some of the most hilarious and fun matches I've had online. On more than one occasion I witnessed a bot use a grenade to decidedly suicidal effect, or empty an entire clip into a wall while their nearest target wandered off. With out a doubt, the ultimate laugh came from a three bot pile up on the tracks at Tyro Station. Question: How many drones does it take to stop a train? Answer: More than you have, most definitely.
The ultimate addition to Gears' multiplayer line up is the gametype appropriately called Horde. Up to six players band together to take on multiple waves of increasing numbers and varieties of Locust invaders. Completing every tenth wave ramps up the strength, accuracy, and damage dealt by the enemy, and significantly decreases your chances of survival. When played to full effect, these matches involve much swearing, yelling, laughing, and bonding with your fellow defenders. The untimely, but not unexpected, death of a teammate removes them from the fight but not from the fun as Epic thoughtfully upgraded their spectator system, including a new roaming ghost camera and the ability to snap and upload screenshots to immortalize the shenanigans. Ahhhhhh, such good times!
In the final analysis, the same recipe that made the original Gears of War great serves Epic extremely well in the sequel. Rather than try to mess with and potentially ruin a good thing, the developers limited themselves to a few small and tasteful additions, while allowing the original magic to continue to shine. Gears of War 2 easily earns every star I can give it, and should be considered a must-have for any FPS fan out there. Epic, Cliffy, I salute you!