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Review: Gears of War 2 193

Posted by Soulskill
from the who-wants-toast!? dept.
The original Gears of War was one of the most popular games of 2006, helping to solidify the Xbox 360's place in the console market. Since then, it's sold about 5 million copies. When word leaked out that a sequel was in the works, many wondered if Epic Games could reach the bar set by the first game. As it turns out, they could. Gears of War 2 will feel very familiar to those who have played its predecessor. Games often have a way of reinventing themselves as sequels come and go, but Epic stuck to the basics of what had already worked so well, and simply set about improving, polishing, and fleshing out the Gears world as much as they could. Read on for the rest of the review.
  • Title: Gears of War 2
  • Developer: Epic Games
  • Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
  • System: Xbox 360
  • Reviewer: Soulskill
  • Score: 9/10

In the first game, humans on a planet called Sera were locked in a struggle against the Locust Horde — a group of misshapen humanoids and their monstrous pets and cohorts. The game's main character, Marcus Fenix, led a group of soldiers known as Delta Squad into the depths of the planet, where they left a very large bomb to try to demolish the source of the Locusts. As we learn in Gears of War 2, that didn't quite work out. The Locust Horde is back, literally digging humanity's last remaining cities out from underneath. Delta Squad's job is to head back into the caves and tunnels of the Locust stronghold and find a way to put a stop to it.

The game is played in third-person mode, usually looking over Fenix's shoulder as he moves throughout the world. Its focus for combat is on the cover system made popular by the first game. Get near a wall and tap a button, and you'll spin around and put your back to it. Using the aiming trigger, you'll peek past the corner, with a cross-hair showing where your bullets will go. You can take cover behind a large variety of objects; tables, half-walls, overturned cars, even mortally wounded enemies. It's very advantageous to take cover; the damage you sustain out in the open is often far too much for a "run-and-gun" style. Some types of cover are better than others; it's pretty funny to blast apart a rickety wooden table with your shotgun, leaving the enemy who was behind it scrambling to get away. You also get a selection of moves you can do from your covered position. You can hop over small barriers, dive from side to side, and shuffle quickly to another covered spot. The AI uses cover as well, and does so realistically for the most part. Enemies lose track of you if you're sneaky, and your teammates don't (typically) get themselves killed easily.

Weaponry in the game is varied and interesting. You have your standard shooter-game implements — handguns, machine guns, shotgun, sniper rifle — and then some flashier hardware as well — flamethrower, grenade launcher, mortar launcher, chain gun. You're also frequently given special weapons to use that are mounted to a platform or vehicle. Turrets, cannons, and volleys of rockets all make an appearance, and they're all quite fun to use. You also have your trusty chainsaw. In most games, a melee weapon is an afterthought; something to use when you've run out of ammo, but nothing more. Gears of War 2 gives you many opportunities to use your chainsaw, and occasionally for very impressive results. The selection of guns for typical room-to-room use is quite good. You can almost always use whichever gun feels best for the task at hand. Between that and the frequency with which special weapon missions are interspersed throughout the game, you really won't have a chance to get tired of a particular style of fighting.

Gears of War 2 maintains a strong focus on changing things up for the player. You'll very rarely find yourself fighting the same enemies for very long, or even fighting in the same way. It's clear that Epic consciously went about stitching together the levels in a way that wouldn't leave the player bored. You'll fight some grunts, then some more impressive enemies, then hop in a vehicle and defend it, or sometimes assault something that's in your way. You'll defend a base with a turret by shooting down incoming mortars, you'll split up the team and take turns covering each other as you move through separate areas, and one section of the game is almost like a platformer. Without spoiling too much, it isn't enemies within the level that are working to send you to your death, but rather the level itself. Even when you're digging out Locust forces room-by-room, you can count on seeing many variations of the "trying-to-kill-you" theme. As drones try to snipe you from cover, Tickers — dog-sized suicide bombers — and packs of scrambling Wretches will swarm toward you. Every so often you'll encounter shield-toting, mace-swinging Maulers, or the tough, ninja-like Kantus. You'll frequently get a chance to engage the large, impressive heavy-hitters of the Gears world — Brumak, Reavers, and Corpsers.

The game's story is more fleshed-out this time around, but not overly so. The cinematics and smaller cutscenes are to-the-point, and are often capped with a Keanu-Reaves-like "Whoa.." moment. In one section, you're driving through a dark, icy cave, trying to avoid notice. When you're faced with no option but to drive off a cliff, the screen goes dark as you land and the vehicle's power fails. As a member of your squad works frantically to get it started again, nasty things roar and rumble at you in the dark, setting up a rather tense situation when your lighting is restored. Other scenes are character-driven; the world is ending, and Epic doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to the atrocities of war. Torture, suicide, euthanasia — this is not a game for young kids. The cutscenes set up enough interest and emotional investment to make you want to grab a rifle and head toward the next objective without taking momentum from the actual fighting; it often seems like you're playing a story that ranges from cool to impressive to downright brutal.

Fighting often seems intense and hectic; Epic isn't above giving you a ton of things to shoot at, but your comrades are reasonably competent, and can be trusted to handle their share of the fight. Several times you'll rush to defend something and end up needing to man one of the aforementioned turrets to shoot down incoming bombs or flying enemies. The turrets are somewhat harder to succeed with, mainly because your targets are usually dodging and weaving through the air, and it can take some practice to keep up with them. You'll also get to fight battles at high speeds on various vehicles, and on... well, on things that aren't strictly vehicles. Things that don't necessarily want you riding them. The game does well at setting up situations where you think, "Man, I wish I could use that," and then actually letting you do it later on.

The levels themselves flow well; you naturally look and go where you're supposed to go, without being obviously herded along. As I mentioned earlier, there are several places where you split up the team, and get to choose one path over another. It's entertaining in the Solo campaign, but even more so in Co-op. You usually have some way to affect the other path, either via objects in the environment, throwing down cover fire, or perhaps lending a helping hand grenade to disperse some enemies who are focused on your partner. The levels look amazing; they use expansive backdrops to feel like really epic spaces, and the art really contributes to the atmosphere of the game. They look much bigger than they are, but you'll still be surprised at how far you can explore them sometimes. Particular events or "gimmicks" tend to be over quickly, like with the "platformer" level I mentioned earlier. You do something enough for it to be entertaining, but not enough to become tedious. This goes back to the game's theme of keeping things moving along, always changing. Gears of War 2 is also filled with a bunch of nice touches — at one point you're trapped in a building that's fallen on its side, and started burning. You head for the elevator, which just barely still works... sideways. As you slide past other burning floors, you get glimpses of various beasts trapped and struggling to get out.

Gears of War 2 does have its annoyances. When you deal a ton of damage to an enemy, he'll drop to the ground, mortally wounded, and start dragging himself away. If one of his teammates reaches him in time, they can heal him, and bring him back into the fight. Unfortunately, with the cover system in this game, it's quite common to make an enemy fall, but have no way to finish him off before he gets revived. It can be frustrating to have this happen several times in a row. The nature of the cover system also impedes movement at times, causing you to become briefly stuck in a place you don't want to be, or to leave cover in a manner other than what you intended. It can be bothersome at times, but I don't know how they could avoid it, especially in the more cramped spaces. There are also times in the game where you simply have too much to shoot at, or the things you need to kill are moving too quickly. I could swear one of the levels near the end took pity on me, after a few tries, by having the incoming Reavers land and stand still so I could mow them down with my turret.

The multi-player aspect of the game shines as well. Going through the campaign on Co-op is a lot of fun, since many of the levels were designed with a second player in mind. You can also have multiple saved campaigns now, which facilitates the occasional game with a friend, or a quick couple of levels at a party. There's also the "Horde" multi-player setting, which is even better for group play. Up to five players cooperate to fight wave after wave of enemies. Each wave gets stronger, and there are 50 in total. They get quite difficult after a while. Tougher enemies start joining the drones, and all enemies start gaining health and doing more damage. You'll have to start managing your ammo, and work with your teammates to keep from getting picked apart one-by-one. If you quit for a while, you can easily return to the wave at which you left off, which is nice for regular group play.

More familiar multi-player modes are available as well. In "Execution," you can only mortally wound enemies with your weapons. To kill them, you need to run up and administer a fairly gruesome killing blow by hand. In "Submission," a character is labeled the "meatflag." Your goal is to mortally wound him, then use him as a human shield while you drag him to a particular spot on the map. There's also "Wingman," where you fight in five teams of two, and of course, "King of the Hill." Other modes include your typical deathmatches. The updated UI and the camera functions are a big improvement over the first game. All of these modes have bot support, which is great for playing alone or in small groups.

Gears of War 2 retains its character as a testosterone-filled action hero game. It reminded me a bit of the movie 300; I get the feeling that the developers routinely went over a design and asked "How can we make this more over-the-top?" The dialogue contributes to that quite a bit. It's harsh, filled with swearing and macho one-liners. Augustus Cole a.k.a. Cole Train is back, and he's just as hilarious as ever. The cutscenes occasionally show members of Delta Squad doing some ridiculously cool stunt that would be right at home in a Mission: Impossible or James Bond movie. And, as I mentioned earlier, you get to interact with some huge, intimidating friends and foes, which lends to the game's epic feel. It's definitely a better, more polished version of the original game, which is really what we were hoping for.

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Review: Gears of War 2

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  • Gripe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:32PM (#25748929) Homepage Journal
    Not much of a gamer, but I've played both Gears Of War games. Can't somebody do something about the obnoxious split-screen?

    Maybe zoom the cameras out a little, or split the screen left/right instead of top/bottom since played on a widescreen, or maybe show both players on the same screen with a 3rd-person view as appropriate?

    Playing split-screen is like driving a car with a pair of binoculars.
  • Aphos Fields (Score:2, Insightful)

    by buddyglass80 (1406669) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:44PM (#25749149)
    I haven't started the game yet, just finishing the prequel book Gears of War: Asphos Fields. It gives really good back story. Dom, Carlos(Dom's brother's and Marcus as kids and growing up in the Army, Marcus and his father, Dom and his missing wife. It is also written by a good author Karen Traviss which is the reason I picked it up. The world has a lot of depth. To me it is essential to the story.
  • Re:Gripe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:47PM (#25749183)

    Splitting left/right drastically constrains your peripheral vision in the horizontal plane. Given that 90%+ of the time you are on a surface that is either mostly flat, or at a fairly fixed slope, you don't need up/down very often. Add to that the fact that on a console (unlike a PC/mouse combo), turning can be laborious, and you only have about 45-60 degrees of useful up/down movement, but you always need to be able to go through 360 degrees of rotational movement, I'd much rather see more of the horizontal plane.

    Of course, either approach is still better than Halo 3's moronic "if you play split screen, you are forced to 4:3, no widescreen for you" BS.

  • by Sabathius (566108) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:54PM (#25749285)
    Aside from the cover-fire system, this game is nothing new. Sure it has great graphics and sound...but it's the same fire, fire fire, run, press a switch, fire, open a door, fire gameplay.

    Typical, type-A personality crap. I'm sorry, but I desire more from my games.

    We will not be talking about this game in a year or so. We will, however, still be talking about games like Bioshock, Dead Space and Fallout 3 which (in this writer's estimation) revolutionize the gamer's interactivity and immersive experience.

    Flame away if you like, but I suspect I'm not alone in this opinion.
  • and yet.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:01PM (#25749389) Homepage

    something short that blocks you way, you cant jump over.

    Same old with new flashy.

  • by FrozenFOXX (1048276) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:08PM (#25749507)

    But then that erases console gaming's big advantage over PC gaming: low cost per player. If you're going to splurge for a separate system for each player, you might as well play a PC shooter instead of Gears 2 and benefit from mouse aiming.

    You're assuming that mouse aiming or indeed the whole PC setup is a, "benefit." In over fifteen years of gaming on nearly every console and quite a few PCs (Windows and Linux) I've yet to actually hear even ONE person tell me that they went console because "it costs less." We go console because it WORKS. I have yet to turn on my 360, put in a game, and have it tell me I've only got two activations left before I need to call the developer and beg to have one more. I have yet to be told my graphics chip isn't new enough or that I'm missing 'insert-online-frontend-of-the-month' and need to install yet more crapware.

    No, console people get a console, turn it on, and get back to doing what we wanted to in the first place: playing the game. If you like PC gaming that's great, I play WAR personally, but within reason hardly anyone gives a shit how much the console costs in comparison to a PC.

  • by killermookie (708026) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:27PM (#25749827) Homepage

    I'd say after the way Epic consolized UT3, I can't imagine wanting to play this on the PC.

    It makes me sad.

  • Re:Multiplayer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by justinlindh (1016121) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:30PM (#25749871)

    5 minutes? You've been lucky... I usually have to wait around 15 for the first match of Horde, and somewhere around 5 - 10 after the first match (no idea why it makes a difference if it's your first or 15th game, but that's what I've noticed).

    Blows my mind that this is an issue. There are no doubt at least 60,000 people playing online at any given time, with thousands waiting in queue to be linked up to a game session. How difficult is it to filter the player ranking through the matchmaking servers to find a good session? Even if you don't align well with other players' rankings, it should still join you to an off balance session rather than make you wait (which I believe it does). I'm babbling, but I just don't understand the problems they could be dealing with. It seems fairly simple, to me.

    Anybody else have any idea why this problem is more difficult than I'm imagining? What could account for the lengthy matchmaking process?

  • by Badge 17 (613974) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:31PM (#25749911)

    Aside from the cover-fire system, this game is nothing new.

    I don't understand comments like this, really. When was the last time you saw *one* really new thing in a major game? Portal? Bioshock is System Shock - awesome, but not new. Considering the popularity of three versions of Halo, with zero new things, just smoothing out old problems with the console FPS, I'd say console shooters will take creativity where they get it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:43PM (#25750145)

    You need to think tactically, know the importance of flanking, and of close combat, which involves more than switching to a knife and rapidly right clicking.

    I don't know what universe you live in, but in this one, console "gamers" are mostly interested in killing hookers, not thinking. Let me know when an actual strategy game comes out on a console.

  • by powerlord (28156) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:56PM (#25750347) Journal

    That's the price you pay for playing games that improve in appearance more frequently than every 5 years.

    I'd argue that the visual quality of games don't have to be fixed for the lifetime of a console (compare the titles released at the beginning of the PS2s life to somethign toward the end like God of War).

    I also wonder what point is "enough"? From the perspective of game developers, it costs lots more to make a game like Fallout 3 versus Everyday Shooter or Geometry Wars. Nintendo has also shown there is a huge market for games without "top of the line, gritty graphics."

    From the users perspective, we've already seen lots of people decide that their home computer is "good enough" to run their apps (Web browsing, email, word processing, spreadsheets). How long before there are enough resources in the average console that they don't HAVE to come out with something within 10 years just to keep up?

  • by microbee (682094) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:56PM (#25750353)

    I played it, and it feels version 1.1 not 2.

    Not saying it's bad. It's a bit better than 1 not the graphics but the general game play feels better.

    But who am I complaining to? I played a torrent copy on my modded xbox 360.

  • by Retric (704075) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:58PM (#25750407)
    My 3 year old system plays Crysis.
  • by progrmr (1212662) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:00PM (#25750449)
    Because for 5 years you won't have to chase hardware, worry about drivers, other stuff making your gaming rig unstable. There are a lot of reasons to go console. I used to be a PC only gamer, but after chasing video cards for years and upgrading pc's and such I said enough is enough. I'm gonna buy this one box and then just buy games. So much easier.
  • by Buelldozer (713671) <cliff.gindulis@net> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:15PM (#25750683)

    That was funny but I hope it's not true.

    Are you a little boy with a mommy or a grown adult man with a wife?

    Yes, I'm married. I've been married for 14 years now, to the same woman.

    If your wife is that strictly controlling what you do for entertainment and leisure then I submit that you are what is known as "henpecked" or "whupped".

  • by alvinrod (889928) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:17PM (#25750725)
    There are a lot of people, like you, who want more depth from games, but I don't feel as though we're the majority.

    It's the people who play the beefed up, run-and-gun, action FPS games that dominate the market. Gears of War 2 [] has already sold more copies on the Xbox 360 in its first week than Bioshock [] has sold in its lifetime on the Xbox 360.

    It's the same way with films as well. The big studio action film is generally going to do better than the well-made independent film.

    Maybe more people in general are just attracted to that type of content and we're going to have to live with everyone proclaiming how great a few games are that we would view as rather mediocre. Find a reviewer who shares your opinion and stick to that for opinions or first impressions of upcoming games.
  • by doctorzizmore (999192) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:28PM (#25750891)
    Why do we never hear the other side of the arguement: That a keyboard and mouse completely suck for anything other than FPSs? Yeah if all you want to do is play shooters and RTSs then a PC is great. Have you ever tried playing a platformer on a PC? It's impossible. I'll take a controller, which is 90 percent as good as a keyboard/mouse for FPSs and infinitely better for the million other kinds of games that PC users know nothing about.
  • by newrisejohn (517586) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:45PM (#25751191)
    Or better yet, get your wife to play along with you. My wife and I just completed the campaign on casual.
  • by danieltdp (1287734) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:54PM (#25751391)

    slashdotters: either virgins or pushovers.

    Being married for the last 4 months, I for one welcome my new wife overlord...

  • by tsalaroth (798327) <> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @04:14PM (#25751755) Homepage Journal

    Civ Revolutions, Xbox 360

  • by rwven (663186) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @04:24PM (#25751929)

    It's worth noting that the mouse and keyboard support in the PS3 UT3 version was AWFUL. Terrible mouse lag, only worked in certain types of games, very unconfigurable. It was pretty bad.

    The biggest problem is that the console manufacturers don't see the need to push for it. If they saw how many gamers they'd win over by a standardized setup that was well done, they might think twice. I guarantee you that the number one reason stick-to-it PC gamers won't switch to consoles is the lack of a truly decent control system. The best console players with a controller would pale in comparison to a halfway decent m/k player.

    If they are worried about a level playing field, they shouldn't be. People will switch to the better scheme when they realize it's better.

    Heck, they could release official mice and n52 style gamepads and they'd sell like crazy.

  • by vux984 (928602) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @08:07PM (#25755065)

    Why do we never hear the other side of the arguement: That a keyboard and mouse completely suck for anything other than FPSs?

    Because the other side of the argument is completely irrelevant.

    The PC supports gamepads. It always has. There have been gamepad style controllers since MS-DOS such as the Gravis PC Gamepad, and the tradition has continued to this day; you can get console style controllers from all the biggest names in PC controllers ... Logitech, Microsoft, and Saitek (now owned by Mad Catz).

    There is no reason to argue about having to use the keyboard and mouse for game-X on the PC, because, quite simply, you don't have to. I've played lots of PC games using gamepads... from Commander Keen to Mortal Kombat to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition. (although I ultimately preferred Lost Planet with keyboard and mouse) to independant 'shumps' [shoot-em-ups].

Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.