Quiet! Keep your head down! The Locust are back, and this time they won’t stop until they’ve killed every last one of us. Mankind will never be the same. If we don’t end this soon, we’ve got little chance of survival. Pick up your gun and follow me, Rookie. We can’t afford to make mistakes anymore. What’s that? Your brother was a Gear too? What was his…. wait. S***! Saddle up son; we’ve got a war to win, starting right now!
You should get used to this rather quickly. Gears no longer allows slouches to tag along, as this macho shooter enters its second coming with a gut-busting injection of testosterone. Encounters such as the above are all fair game, as this title becomes far more than an action-packed blockbuster. It’s an experience.
For the most part, I’m not one to get caught up in promotional talk surrounding a game, especially when the quip comes in the form of something being “Bigger, better, and more badass”. In fact, this saying has almost become a parody of the game, as it’s difficult to acknowledge in a serious and dutiful manner. Somewhat ironically, when Cliff Bleszinski’s one-liner was spurted out we didn’t expect it to actually be true. In reality, it couldn’t be closer to the truth, as Gears of War 2 not only destroys its predecessor, it splatters it’s brains across the floor with one skull-crushing curb stomp.
In order to progress from the first title, Epic Games needed to ensure that a further sense of immersion and fluidity to the gameplay was instantly apparent in the sequel. Although a technical breakthrough, the original Gears of War suffered from the design of generic locations littered throughout, which maintained an infuriatingly similar balance during the game. Ensuring they have built on the brilliant duck-and-cover system, Epic now hold a hugely valuable key for the Gears franchise. Instantly familiar at first, it would be naïve to assume this is the same game with a few bigger enemies.
To put it plainly, the cover system that Gears of War 2 employs is borderline perfection. Shoot-outs now feel natural and within context, rather than scripted events that players happen to stumble upon. The entire game ramps up the sheer size and scale of anything I’ve played before, as the Locust Horde now feel like an army on a mission. Cover is excellently placed and adapted for each surrounding, as players no longer have to put up with the tunnel-vision design of the first game. Enemies will now flank, attack from all sides in coherent fluidity, and work together in order to despatch their human foe. They now provide an interesting battle, as a greater depth to team tactics is apparent from the explosive beginning.
It must be said; you’ll have a blast killing your opponents. With a new assortment of weapons ready at your disposal, eliminating the Locust ranks has never been so satisfying. Remember the uproar about PC owners taking on a Brumak and console gamers not? That is rectified within the first section of the game, as you’ll quickly pit your nerve and skill against a number of these hell-inducing behemoths. Of course, the best way to show your manliness is through big guns, and Gears 2 doesn’t disappoint. Expect to quickly become a master of the mortar, a gun for all occasions. Whether or not you’re tackling a juggernaut Brumak or a group of blood-lusting Grubs, you’ll no doubt enjoy raining true hell-fire down on your enemies. Many of the new guns will be available after you’ve defeated a variation of Locust soldiers, as they come equipped with a brutally satisfying range of lung-poppers that you can pick straight up from the floor.
“”Whether or not you’re tackling a juggernaut Brumak or a group of blood-lusting Grubs, you’ll no doubt enjoy raining true hell-fire down on your enemies””
Although this stylish new range of guns is on offer, Epic have also been sure to upgrade and perfect the stars of winter 2006. The Lancer deals out a greater punch and is now hugely more effective than before. Contrasting this, the shotgun has lost its invincibility, and is now generally much weaker than the previous game. These improvements fit the style of Gears 2 perfectly, as the Lancer is generally needed much more than your double-barrelled friend, but also greatly improves the quality of online affairs, as the shotgun wielders of before will now be on the back foot. Longshot fans will also be singing their praises for this game, as Gears 2 suits picking up this specialist sniper weapon. It now holds a greater relevance to the single-player campaign, as you’ll face Locusts at a different range of distances, rather than a large amount of close-quarter combat that predominately ran through the first game. Besides, even if you haven’t dabbled with the Longshot, you’ll want to as soon as you burst your first Locust cranium with a sadistically satisfying gush of crimson glory. It’s a magical site, and something you’ll want to experience over and over again.
Impressively, Epic has now ensured players will match up to the best of the Locust Horde, as many fresh, higher ranked foes appear in the game. Boomers now emerge in various forms, including a machete wielding Butcher and mace swinging Mauler. The best new addition is that of the devilish Kantus; a conductor like figure that manipulates his group of Locust cannon fodder. Acting like a rallying war General, the Kantus stands above his minions issuing orders with a terrifyingly grotesque scream. With his arms aloft, eliminating one of these higher ranked monsters is pivotal to slaying the rest of the squad, as they begin to fight individually once his orchestral influence is down. The Kantus possesses hold of the Gorgon pistol; a slow loading, extremely powerful burst gun that rips enemy torsos apart. Excellently, the Locust rank system is firmly in place now; meaning you should keep your eyes out for something a little faster, more frightening, and barbaric than the aforementioned Kantus warriors at all times. If the name Skorge doesn’t mean anything to you now, it certainly will by the end of the game.
Other than that, you’ll witness a fair few new opponents throughout Gears 2. Breathing new life into cinematic production, many will stare in amazement at colossal adversaries such as the water monster. I won’t spoil anything for you, but I will declare that set pieces are phenomenal all the way through the game, and continue to get even more impressive towards the climax. Aided by such sharp, artistic and visual flair, this title sits on the throne of beautiful Xbox 360 games. Impressively, the range of colours on show is hugely diverse this time round, and the graphical prowess amounts to some exceptionally empowering moments. Going underground for the first time is a wonderful experience, especially when you contrast it to the selection of darker, yet atmospheric colours exposed later on. If you ever dropped the first Gears due to feeling dejected and bored with the environments, you’ll be sure to find a greater value in this offering.
“”Even if you haven’t dabbled with the Longshot, you’ll want to as soon as you burst your first Locust cranium with a sadistically satisfying gush of crimson glory””
A real bonus for the series is that the developers ensure they make minor changes to enrich the full experience. With the addition of chainsaw duals, players now have a further sense of interactivity with the weapon. When locking chainsaws, you’ll have to tap B as fast as you can to overpower and slice the enemy into two. New animations are also apparent when executing a foe, making players destroy the Locust with an unprecedented slickness. Throw into the mix the ability to take enemies hostage, and the new hidden documents that work exactly like the COG tags of the first game, and you have yourself a splendid blend of familiarity and subtle evolution that’s instantly accessible.
As with the first game, Gears of War 2 features a vehicle section that many players will detest. In fact, this time round sees an even worse section, as players need to pass over a number of frozen rivers in their Centaur vehicle. This section is poorly placed, and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the game. It’s also infuriatingly pointless, as the frustration it brings is needless for the storyline and doesn’t add anything brilliant to the gameplay. Hopefully Epic will learn to leave these sections out next time, or make a big improvement on their previous efforts.
For fans of the narrative (there must be some), Gears 2 improves in certain areas, but also falters slightly once more. Granted, many old cliffhangers are wrapped up and finished, but many more are created that aren’t resolved by the end of the game. The title does build a greater sense of camaraderie between Marcus and his Delta associates, as their explicit banter carries on during most major sections. For the most part, the same over zealous, anger driven dialogue is in tact and overpowering the masculinity meter. A vital part of the game is ensuring that you’re buddies do not get injured, as they can now revive you when you are shot down. This works well for the majority, but at times the AI controlled Dom can stand facing the dying Marcus without putting any plan into action. A larger feeling towards individual characters is shown as well, as gamers will find out just what each character is fighting for. The entrance of Augustus Cole is sure to bring delight to many players, as his quick wit and terrifically delivered dialogue is a pleasure throughout, cementing his spot as a fan favourite and as a great addition to the cast. If you’re looking for a top-notch story however, Gears 2 still falls slightly short of becoming essential, as the third will have to move quickly in order to wrap everything up in a focused and understandable manner.
“”The entrance of Augustus Cole is sure to bring delight to many players””
Gears of War 2 doesn’t only build on its single-player credentials as the multiplayer is also largely enhanced. With a new set of well-designed maps, an importantly balanced weapon system, and the chance to play spilt screen co-op, there is surely something for everyone here. Online affairs are generally more tactical and considered, as maps now hold many routes for attack. In place this time round is a new matchmaking system; something that doesn’t work as well as planned. You no longer have to join a game and then choose your side, you’ll be selected with a group of players and randomly dumped into squads. This is all well and good, until games take longer than expected to begin. We’ve not had a battle in which we have joined quickly, an outcome that is surely going to be sorted out within the coming weeks.
In all fairness, once the games get going, Gears 2 hastily returns to the stride and swagger that makes the single-player such a joyous event. A big part of that is the ease in which the controls let you express your barbaric side, as the button layout fits the 360’s pad perfectly. If you’re not in tune with any of the new modes, then you better get ready for the excellently realised Horde section of the game. What this represents is an all-out, balls-to-the-wall explosion of multiplayer excellence, and is a hugely welcome addition to the series. Taking on up to fifty waves of a full-scale Locust onslaught, you’ll be sure to form relationships with those fighting by your side. With up to five players alongside you, brotherhoods will be formed in order to defeat the ominous affect of the demons that wait ahead. Horde is the best new addition to a sublimely fierce and gruesome multiplayer section, and is the pioneer for the evolution of the series as a whole.
As a sequel, you’d be hard-pushed to track down a game that is as brilliantly structured, nurtured and evolved as Gears of War 2. With a ruthlessly enthralling pace and variation of set pieces, this is an effortlessly superb package. I haven’t enjoyed a game as much as this since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which is surely one of the greatest compliments a title can get. With refined gameplay and a real sense of evolution, Gears of War 2 has sliced the battle for Game of The Year wide open with one limb-dismembering swipe of fury.