|System: X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Epic Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Microsoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 7, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2 (12 online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Gears of War 2 (GoW 2) is one of the most refined games I've ever played. The shiny visuals, varied game modes, load of multiplayer options, and near-perfect cover system make this title truly standout. That said, don't expect the game to be significantly different than what was found in the first title; if you didn't like Gears then, you won't like Gears now. But for Gear-heads, Gears of War 2 is simply a smoother, tighter experience than the original. Plus, Epic Games has done a phenomenal job of adding serious replay value - this game would be a good deal at a $100 price tag! As such, I expect consumers to be playing this title well into next year!
GoW 2 takes place on the planet of Sera. Humans find themselves locked in a battle against the Locust Horde, which has survived and come back stronger than ever. Consequently, in the face of impossible odds, humans have decided to strike out against the Locust and take the battle to where the Grubs live and breed. The resulting pitched battles across varied environments in the Solo/Co-op campaign are awesome. Players will often be faced with overwhelming odds, but will come through like a true badass; Epic makes sure Fenix and Delta Squad are unstoppable and ruthless, not helpless or lucky. Of course, the 'roided out characters of Gears are about as complex as a doormat, but who's going to pick up the game for its story? Gears of War 2 is all about kicking ass. Humorously, Epic didn't get that memo and actually tried to inject moments of emotion and morality into the story. The ensuing teary-eyed cutscenes of Dom searching for his lost love Maria will have you laughing at just how ridiculous it all is.
Story aside, GoW 2 plays like a dream. The shooter controls are very easy for anyone to get the hang of, and the cover mechanic is practically flawless. It is so easy to get into and out of cover that the Locust will never have a chance. Well, almost never. Sometimes you'll get a boot in your eye from overconfidence or simply be overwhelmed the first time through a section. Luckily, players have access to a killer arsenal of weapons that literally leave their mark on the enemy. The Lancer Assault Rifle is one of the best weapons ever made for a video game, and the varied armaments such as the Scorcher Flamethrower, Torque Bow (crossbow with explosive-tipped arrows), and the Hammer of Dawn (high-powered energy beam that rains down from the sky) keep things fun and comically gruesome.
There are two minor gripes with gameplay I'll have to bring up though. First, the massive, armor-laden heroes are painfully slow. Even utilizing the Roadie Run (the game's crouched sprint mechanic), plodding through the levels can often get frustrating. I expect this is something Gears detractors instantly point to while futilely trying to debunk the game's quality. Second, enemies are hulking hunks of meat. They simply won't fall until you've unloaded an entire clip into their chests, sniped them with a headshot, or blasted or cut them in half from pointblank range. This makes for a somewhat sloppy shooter experience. These two complaints are rather easy to dismiss, however. Players simply need to change their expectations. This is a cinematic approach to the shooter; it's not a simulation. As such, one has to play to the game's strengths: use cover, methodically advance, plink their domes from close range or stick a chainsaw up their butt! Nevertheless, some players may never adjust and won't get the full enjoyment out of the title.
Previously, I hinted at the game's polish. This is by far its greatest strength. The team at Epic has gone out of their way to ensure a wonderful technical experience. For starters, the presentation is great. Other than a few framerate drops and the occasional freezing, the shiny visuals, thick spurts of blood, lifelike textures, and uber-realistic animations are fantastic. It really is a visual treat. It's too bad the human characters look so dumb, because the enemies you'll face throughout are some of the best ever created.