Game: Gears of War 2
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Platform: Xbox 360
Rated M For Mature
Score: 9.5 out of 10
Marcus Fenix makes a second appearance on the Xbox 360 console this year, courtesy of Cliff Bleszinski, and the talented crew over at Epic Games. When we last saw Marcus Fenix he was given an ultimatum: either help in the fight for mankind’s survival against a horde of creatures known as the Locust, or sit in jail. Obviously, he joined the fight. And what a fight it was. At the end of Gears of War Marcus helped set off a Lightmass Bomb that was meant to eradicate the Locust, and restore peace to a land that had become almost unrecognizable due the relentless attacks of the Locust. But something, somewhere must have gone wrong, and that’s where Gears of War 2 comes in, and an Epic adventure begins. Because war is all we know, and we do a damn fine job of doing it.
Fans of Epic’s first iteration have nothing to fear from Gears of War 2. The game is just as good, if not better, than the first title we played back in 2006. Some of the improvements from number one, to number two are evident right from the start. The infamous “Roadie Run” has seen a vast improvement since the first “Gears” title. Now holding down the A button will perform the same warp speed run, but now you can also steer better in the direction you want to head. Also the NPC characters seem to be a little smarter than last time, and won’t usually opt to leave you bleeding out in the open when crawling in their direction. Weapons feel more realistic and balanced when laying down extreme amounts of ammunition. The cover mechanic is another part of the “Gears” experience that definitely received some needed polish. Now instead of sticking to everything you happen to nudge up against, you can pick and choose your cover, and when you want to stick to it, making the feeling of the combat situations more realistic and genuine. One area of the game that didn’t need any improvement, and didn’t receive any, was the storyline.
The Gears of War 2 story picks up where the first one left off, well almost. Some time has passed since Marcus delivered the bomb that was to bring about the extinction of the Locust. After failing to eradicate the last of the Locust, their queen orders them back in hopes of preserving the little numbers they have left. Deep within the earth the Locust survived, building their numbers back up, and waiting for the right moment to strike again. It is about this time where we revisit the story of humanities struggle against a race of cutthroat cavern dwellers trying to elevate themselves to the top of the food chain.
We join up with Marcus Fenix and our old buddy Dominic Santiago as they are heading off to join a patrol for some good old fashion Locust hunting. At this point we are also introduced to a shaky new soldier, named Benjamin Carmine, who is a little wet behind the ears, but has a big heart (in his shoes). We depart soon after our elongated handshaking session, and a battle bigger than this gamer could ever imagine begins. Before I know it I’m thrown into battle working my way through an old abandoned hospital of some sort. I meet up with another old teammate known as Tai: a spiritual warrior who believes in omens, fate, and the glory of battle. But before we can even get down to reminiscing about the old days, I get word that the Locust are moving in to take the building I’m currently in and my team braces for the Locust attack that is sure to come. I’m on the upper floor overlooking the hospital’s lobby. My hands are being to sweat; I start feeling the pressure in my gut build as I hear the “Boom,” “Boom” on the door below as the Locust push their way in. What they don’t know is that me and the rest of the Delta Squad are ready for them, and have set up a little welcoming gift, or rather a departing gift. After the party ended in the hospital, me and Delta Squad were ordered to meet up with Dizzy: a good old boy who drove one of the huge Derricks, and sounded a hell of a lot like Yukon Cornelius from Rudolph the Red nose Reindeer. This is the point where humanity decides to advance and finally wipe out the Locust once and for all. This is the point where the real struggle begins, and also when you start to see just how gargantuan these battles are going to be.
The COG start witnessing their beloved cities crumbling deep into the earth at this point, and desperate times, call for desperate measures. The COG forces call for an all out attack on the Locust to push them back underground. Carmine, Dizzy, Dom, and Marcus board a giant Derrick transport and head off to a location where Delta Force and the rest of the COG soldiers will board the Grindlifts that will submerge them deep beneath the earth’s surface, into the heart of the Locust colony know as the Hollow. From here the fight only escalates as Tickers come out of nowhere and explode at my feet, sending bloody chunks of my teammates flying by my face. Flying creatures known as Reavers also swoop in from above to dish out their own kind of justice on us so-called land walkers. At this point you start to get pinned down at certain points underground that might have you reevaluating some of the combat tactic you’re using. Conserving ammo and carry one big gun is a necessity at this point and should help for many of the underground battles you will participate in, or rather try and live through.
By this point I was so sucked into the game that I couldn’t look away. The storyline was epic, and kept me wanting more, like some kind of crack fiend. It was full of everything anyone could’ve ever asked for. It had a struggle for survival, a lost love (again), manly men who looked out for one another, and a bunch of moments that will go down in videogame history: like the ones where you and your comrade are tapping Lancers like you are handing out some sort of futuristic high-five. As you journeyed deeper and deeper into the gooey goodness that binds all the parts of Gears of War 2 together you find that there was no way out for you until the final act, and the final boss battle at the end.
Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 was the shinning star behind the scenes of GoW 2. The powerful engine took the superb graphics of the last Gears title and made them appear ten times better. Character’s faces were breathtakingly rendered, so much so, they looked like the closest thing I’ve seen to an actual human all year. The weapons looked just as awesome, if not awesome-R than in the first title. The landscape looked equally amazing, lush green trees were as far as the eye could see while cruising along on the massive derrick’s deck. When Epic turned it up a notch on me and made me take on my first Brumak, my jaw almost dropped. The giant beast looked amazing and I almost couldn’t believe the amount of detail I could see in the enormous creature. It was truly breathtaking, and left me standing there for a moment drooling with my Lancer in hand.
While the upper portions of the world: where the COG resided, looked awesome, the Hollow is the environment where Epic’s Unreal 3 Engine truly stood out. The Hollow was this crazy world that looked like it was taken out of some nightmare Alice (from Alice in Wonderland) had, and multiplied times a hundred. This was a moist looking place where big wild mushrooms, and other fungi grew sporadically, rocks were as far as you could see, and there were always two different ways to get to the same place. The Hollow was definitely a one of a kind place, in a one of a kind game.
Basically, the graphics were all that, and a bag of chips….
One of the biggest elements that most people forget about, but is essential for creating a great game that people will remember, and play for years, is the music and sound effects. This pulls everything together in a game, and separates the game’s defining moments from its less defining ones. It is quite apparent that Epic didn’t miss a beat, literally, when creating this year’s Game of the Year. Just imagine watching Star Wars for the first time, and remember the grand orchestra music that played in the background, now times that by ten and you can imagine what I’m talking about. For every iconic moment the game threw at you, it had a rhythmic drum pounding in the background to get your blood flowing. The music also served a higher purpose if you paid attention while you were playing. Moments where “Big” things were going to happen, or moments where you should really pay a little more attention to what was happening around you, were made abundantly clear by the music in the game. The sound effects were also just as equally amazing. I might not go as far as to say it was “crunchy,” “meaty,” or “chewy,” but I will say that all the weapons sounded perfect. Each shot from my Lancer, each hit a Locust took, when I took cover, or every time I hurdled an obstacle, it was met by a sound effect. And not some half-assed sound effect either. This was top shelf stuff. This is something that all developers should aspire to live up to. The sound effects and music were the glue that made GoW 2 come together, and complemented the game perfectly.
While you can run through the came in a co-operative mode of gameplay, multiplayer is where it’s at. Online the possibilities are endless, and only serve to push Gears of War 2’s replay value through the roof. Combine this with the ability to tone down the blood and adult language, and you’ve got a game that any age player can compete in. While there are a few new modes in the second Gears iteration like Guardian, Wingman, and Submission, my favorite is the Horde Mode. This is where a group of you and your friends can choose your difficulty (casual-through-insane) and take on waves of Locusts. Horde on Hardcore is rough, and by the twentieth wave or so the enemies that progressively become harder and harder to kill. You’ll want to hand pick your squad for this one, and everyone better pull his or her own weight if you want to succeed. It’s all about teamwork if you’re playing online, and what a better way to play a game, than with friends.
Overall Gears 2 is one of the best shooters I’ve seen so far this year, or actually in the last few years. With it’s crisp realistic graphics, epic battles, and vast multiplayer, there isn’t one good reason why any gamer shouldn’t own this game. And you can even stake your life savings that Epic already has hatched some plans for downloadable content in the future: adding to the games already apparent replay value. Now all the developer needs to do is pat himself/herself on the back, take a vacation, and watch the cash roll in by the barrel full.
All images taken from my Games Press account.
Original article can be found on my personal blog