Monday, February 2, 2009

Gears of War 2 Review

Delta Squad returns in Gears of War 2, throwing you back into the roll of giant-necked Marcus Fenix and friends, who are out to shoot, bomb, and chainsaw some Locust. Developed by Epic, Gears 2 picks up where the original Gears of War left off, but has anything been improved from the first to make this sequel worth the time? Read on to find out!

First Thoughts
I’ve been excited to play Gears 2 for a while now. I really enjoyed the first game, even if it had some problems like graphical hiccups and the vehicle level, but I still played and loved the campaign. It was good enough for me to play through twice, something I normally never do. So I rented Gears 2 expecting it to be good and at first...the disk didn’t work. A minor inconvenience, but after a quick trip to the store and back I was ready to see if it would live up to my expectations.

Set several months after the events of the first game, Gears 2 has humanity faced with a new threat- the Locust have discovered how to sink entire cities, and they have their eyes set on taking out Jacinto, man’s last safe haven. This time around Epic actually took the time to craft a story, which is unfortunate because the story in Gears 2 is not that good. While it does a decent job of providing a reason for shooting things and punching grubs, there really isn’t much there. It’s more of an excuse to do awesome stuff than an actual attempt at a narrative.

The worst parts of the game come from the story, with such moments as Dom (Marcus’s comrade and BFF) punching a window and grunting angrily, and the dramatic moments are awkward, which is something the original Gears thankfully didn’t have. A few new characters come and go without any real reason, and feel really under used and cheap. Why even put new guys into the story if their not going to flesh them out? Why add them at all if by the end of the game the only characters around are the old Delta Squad regulars? With that said, the one part I enjoyed about the story was that it had a satisfying ending and didn’t pull the To Be Continued trick sequels like Halo 2 and Half-Life 2 have been notorious for.

Being a sequel, Gears 2 keeps the originals gameplay intact, so anyone who has played Gears 1 will know what to expect. New additions add quite a few new twists, such as using grenades as proximity mines, chainsaw duels, a shield for movable cover, several vehicular levels, new executions, taking enemies as cover, new enemies, and new weapons.

By far the coolest new creatures are the Tickers, little hairless rat-like critters that make cute clicking noises before exploding kamikaze style, while bashing them with the butt of your gun sends them flying up into the air. On the weapon side there are now heavy weapons, similar to Halo 3, that slow your movement but pack quite a punch. The mortar, although a little tricky to figure out, delivers some serious pain, and was my weapon of choice when it was available. Nothing was quite as thrilling as gauging the distance to some Locust, launching a mortar, and watching 5 guys explode into a giant mess.

The controls have been tightened up a bit, so sticking to a wall and maneuvering is more accurate than before. The game is tight and responsive, while moving around feels solid and aiming is spot on. Weapons now feel quite a bit stronger, and there wasn’t a single moment where I couldn’t shoot something I wanted to. As far as handling goes, this game is near perfect. I played through the campaign on Hardcore difficulty, and despite a few segments here and there, the game was easier than the first. Taking down baddies used more ammo than the lower settings, and they dished out more damage in return, but the game was still easy. The only parts where I died involved one-hit-kills, or bad luck. Usually this meant getting swarmed by two or three Tickers at once, or being struck directly by a rocket.

As easy as Gears 2 is, the game still manages to feel challenging and provides several close calls. Even though I didn’t die often, I was hurt bad enough to make the game feel tense, where any moment I could die. That’s one of my biggest compliments towards the campaign- it kept me on edge the entire time. Rounding out the gameplay is the all new Horde mode, where you fight wave after wave of increasingly tougher and more numerous enemies. As simple as it sounds, I had a blast playing with my friend. It’s surprising how much fun Horde really is- just shooting stuff to advance waves is an almost arcadey addiction. Hopefully they will expand on this feature in future games, but as is Horde is worth the price alone.

On the sound side the effects were very good, with weapons in particular sounding much stronger than they did in the first Gears. The voice acting is still pretty good, nothing outstanding, but the voice for the new recruit Carmine was damn annoying. This was really surprising, because the guy who did Carmine’s voice in Gears 2 did Tassadar from Starcraft, and goddamn Deckard Cain from Diablo. Who would have guessed? The Locust Queens voice, however, was pretty awesome and I really liked how she acted as the narrator for several sections of the game.

I’m not much of an audiophile, but I wasn’t that impressed with the soundtrack. For some epic action it did the job, but there aren’t any tracks in particular that I enjoyed or even remember well. You could chalk it up to doing so good of a job that I didn’t notice, but there still wasn’t anything memorable about the soundtrack, and I find that disappointing.

Gears 2 is gorgeous, much more so than the first, with some truly amazing eye candy. Gone are the days of texture pop in and dark colors, replaced by snowy mountains, burning cities, and amazing creature designs, all of which make for a beautiful game. Epic has managed to smooth out the graphical hiccups found in the original, and Gears 2 runs exceptional because of it. The frame rate is smooth and the animation well done, and the amount of detail makes this one game worth enjoying for the graphics alone. Cut scenes are also much improved, with a stronger cinematic feel and much more epic scope.

Stylistically Gears 2 carries on the hyper detailed look of the original. Characters are still massively exaggerated, so if that bothered you in the first game then be prepared for more. The awesome architecture is back as well- some of the details and designs of the environments and buildings are flat out amazing. The use of color is much stronger this time, and it’s used very well to contrast some of the darker, more destructive segments of the game.

Final Thoughts
The campaign lasted about 8 hours, which is the sweet spot for me as far as time goes. It was a great way to kill my weekend, and the game was amazing throughout. So no multiplayer review? Unfortunately no, since I really dislike competitive multi against online opponents. Too many glitches, hacks, and 12 year old boys ruin a game when it’s played online, and after seeing this video video I feel glad I skipped over the multiplayer. With that said, I found that Horde mode was probably the coolest addition to the series so far, having spent an afternoon with a buddy playing around and having a blast.

Sure there were some parts of I didn’t like, and it began to get repetitive near the end, but in the end the game was superb. Bigger, better, and more bad ass than the first, I would highly recommend Gears of War 2 to anyone looking for an intense, visceral experience.

Overall Score: 9/10

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