The wait is finally over; the sequel to one of the most successful Xbox 360 titles and winner of numerous Game of the year Awards has returned with 100% more badassery. Epic has taken everything that made the original game so good, injected it with 300 gallons of awesome-sauce and crafted one of the best games to be released this year, and even perhaps of all time.
The story starts after the Lightmass bomb was dropped shortly after Marcus and Dom conquered the evil RAAM. Humanity was saved and all is well. Well that’s not entirely accurate. The bomb didn’t exactly do its job. Instead of wiping out the remaining Locusts, it pissed them off. So they decide to start sinking cities on Sera. The only city left standing is Jacinto whose foundation is thick enough to keep the Locust at bay, but not for long. The Locust are poised to finish off humanity and sink Jacinto. But it won’t come easy as they have to deal with Marcus, Dom and the rest of Delta Squad as they serve as humanity’s last hope.
Epic Games made Gears 2 more of an impact than the first in that they have created a deeper and more involved story. In the first game, we saw four main characters (Fenix, Dom, Cole and Baird) in which we didn’t really “care” for (read: if something happened to them, oh well). This time the story revolves around Marcus and Dom although there are three new characters thrown into the war. While the story keeps the focus on our two heroes, Epic did a wonderful job on giving the new characters meaningful roles that enhance the story and drama of Gears 2.
One of the major differences from the last game is that the story plays a bigger role. Characters are more emotional, there is more detail on the Locusts and where they came from (we even get to see the dreaded Queen) and there are new story threads that open up. Some of which are wrapped up at the conclusion of the game, while some questions are still left unanswered.
There are two different focuses of the story: the first, and most palpable, is the struggle of Delta and the rest of the COGS to finish the fight and eliminate the Locust threat. The other is Dom’s search for his missing wife, Maria. This is where the emotion kicks into high gear. The way Dom’s story is told and progresses is amazing. But the thing that stands out besides the way it is written is the voice acting. This game has some of the best voice acting in a video game. It is done incredibly well. So well that I was almost driven to tears during a certain part midway through the game. You will feel for Dom and company as the game goes on. There’s not too many games out there that make you care about the characters, and even if you don’t care about the story or characters in video games, you will at the end of this game. And if you find yourself not caring about Dom’s situation, then it is entirely possible that you have no soul.
But it’s not only the story that makes Gears 2 an incredible game, it’s also the action. It takes the action from the original game and multiples it by ten. Players are fighting a huge war and the action makes you feel the importance of everything you do. The battles are damn near epic in scale and enemies that made a brief appearance in the first Gears play a much bigger role this time around. Remember running from the Brumak in the first game? Well, after completing Gears 2, you will have fought and killed at least ten of them. And the Corpser? He was easy to beat in the first Gears. Just wait until you have to face three of them. At the same time! There are also a couple of new baddies you will face. And the sheer number of enemies onscreen at once is insane. There are several occasions where Epic has managed to fit more than fifty enemies onscreen at once, and it never drops a frame.
This sequel also does a great job keeping things pretty fresh. There’s not only your run and gun levels, but also driving levels each with a different vehicle to maneuver. My personal favorite is the vehicle you get to drive towards the end of the game. The environments are also much more varied this time around. There is an ice level, a couple of water levels, underground levels (of course) and even a level where you have to perform heart surgery (you’ll understand that when you get to the level I’m talking about). The color in Gears 2 goes leaps and bounds over the first game. The visuals aren’t as bland and we actually get to see the sun a couple of times.
The controls in Gears 2 haven’t strayed too much from the first one. You tap the A button to perform ’roadie run’ as well as getting into cover. It also serves as a new feature. When you get shot a lot (to the point of near death) you are down but not out. In the first Gears, when you were down but, all you could do is tap the A button to keep you from bleeding out and hope that someone saves you. This time, instead of waiting around, you can crawl to your partners so they can help you. When you go down, tap the A button to crawl towards your team mate so they can help you to your feet. The Locust can now also crawl to safety. It’s quite satisfying to see a crippled Locust crawl in a pathetic manner to try and get help only to get their head crushed under your feet. There are also new weapons and new finishing moves to eradicate the Locust baddies. You now have different options to play around with when you get an enemy down and crawling. The biggest is to use them as meat shields. When they are crawling, go up to them and hit the A button. You will pick up the pathetic grunt and hold them in front of you so they will absorb their buddy’s bullets. While you have them as a shield you can also choose to end their suffering early by hitting the X button. This will snap their neck. There are also some new, rather big, gun additions. So, besides the Boomer rocket launcher, you can get a heavy mount machine gun, a flame thrower and, my favorite, a gun that shots out mortar rounds.
In addition to some new weaponry, there are some new covers to duck behind as well. Together, there are three types and all are mobile. The first is the Rockworm. This is a worm that eats glowing fruit and cannot be hurt by any kind of gunfire. Although it doesn’t to anything when it is shot (i.e. attack), be careful not to go near its mouth…it will kill you in one bite. The next kind of cover new to Gears is the Boomshield. You get this by killing the Boomer who carries it (in all there are three different types of Boomers: Rocket, Chain gun and Shielded). Once equipped, you will be protected form gunfire, but make sure you angle it right. The beautiful thing about the Boomshield is that you can put it down anywhere and duck behind it. So if there is nothing to hide behind and you are under intense fire, use the Boomshield. Place it down by hitting the A button and this will serve as cover until you can find better protection. The final kind is cover that can be brought up or taken down by hitting switches. This kind of cover comes into play about three quarters of the way into the game.
There are also some small things that make Gears 2 what it is. Instead of just using your chainsaw to tear Locusts into pieces, you now can use it on certain places in the world’s environment. And there are a few instances when you are faced with two different paths to go down, but this time you don’t have to use the LT or RT to decide. Although choosing your path with the LT or RT moments are still in Gears 2, just not as often. But more often than not, you will just choose a path by walking down the one you want.
The graphics are a huge leap from the first game. Everything just looks amazing. From the water to the destroyed city of Jacinto, there just is no better looking game out there. And the best part is that there are no frame rate problems, even when there is a ton of things going on onscreen. However, there are some texture loading issues, but these mainly happen at the beginning of the multiplayer matches when everything is loading in.
Speaking of multiplayer, man does Epic deliver an amazing experience. The co-op campaign is the same as last game, but this time around each player can set their own difficulty level. Now this doesn’t make the enemies tougher, it just changes how much damage you give and take. And, at times, I prefer to play with another human player. Because all too often, when playing single player, when I was down and not out, I would crawl to my partner only to die at his feet because he wouldn’t help me. Also, it seemed like no matter how much my partner AI would shoot at enemies, if he didn’t kill them they would run right past him and come after me like my partner wasn’t even there. But that’s nothing new…that happened in the first game as well.
But let’s get back to the multiplayer. It is so much bigger and better than the original. There are 15 total maps (10 original and 5 remade from the first game) and there are 8 game modes. Warzone – COGs vs. Locusts. Guardian – one member form each team is selected as a leader and the goal is to keep the leader alive as long as possible. Wingman – up to five two-player teams compete against each other until one team reaches a set amount of points, but the only way to kill an opposing team member is at close range or with a one-shot kill. Submission – in this twist on capture the flag, players must down a stranded character, capture him as an enemy shield, and carry him inside a ring located on the map. Execution – this is similar to Warzone but instead of dying after you are knocked down and bleed out, you automatically revive. The only way to kill an opposing team member is at close range or with a one shot kill. Annex – players win by retaining control over fixed capture locations long enough to collect a winning amount of points. King of the Hill – similar to Annex but to keep collecting points after a capture, at least one player must remain within the location to defend it. Players killed while defending a capture location can’t respawn. Horde – up to five players join together to fight against waves of Locusts, each wave getting tougher as you progress.
If you find yourself getting completely owned in multiplayer, well you now have a couple options to help improve your skills. The first is you can complete in five training modes that will teach you the basics of online play. The second thing you can do is start a private match and play with bots. This is probably your best bet to sharpen your online playing skills as the bots are no joke. They will hand you your ass on more than one occasion. But that’s a good thing. That way you learn form your mistakes, get better and hand some human players their asses.
As you can see, Epic put a lot more attention to the multiplayer with Gears 2. They also added a photo mode. After you have died in a multiplayer match, you can view the battlefield in various ways. And when you get to a view you like (perhaps of a Locust about to get his head squished) you can snap a photo. You can then upload the photos to www.gearsofwar.com.
Gears of War 2 does everything you wanted the original to do and then some. I have never been so hooked on a game. I couldn’t put it away until I beat it. I just couldn’t get enough of the intense action, the beautiful visuals and I especially couldn’t get enough of the story. Well written and well acted, Gears 2 will have you playing the campaign over and over again. And the multiplayer is, in a word, awesome. I couldn’t ask for anything more in a game. If you won a 360 and loved the first one, well, this is a no-brainer. Buy Gears 2. If you have a 360 and didn’t care about the first game, Gears 2 could be the first game to actually change your opinion.