Blood splatter obscures the screen. The cringe worthy sound of metal shredding through leathery flesh clashes against the bloodlust scream of a man who can only be described as a “badass”. It’s the scene which many associate with Gears of War – it’s the scene which helped solidify Epic Games original IP as a premier franchise. Gears of War 2 was on my short list of known quantities – I knew it was going to be good, the only question was, “How good?”
Much like its predecessor, it’s difficult to not notice how good Gears of War 2 looks. Epic Games could have utilized the exact same engine build from the original and still be in the running for “Best Looking Game of 2008”. However, those ambitious developers wouldn’t settle for that. They’ve upped the ante and showed the rest of the industry how far the Unreal Engine 3.0 could go — the results are stunning. They didn’t do it all through technological sorcery, though. They’ve also addressed criticisms of ‘too much gray and browns’ by taking us through the more colorful and genuinely more interesting parts of Sera.
Underground caves, industrial complexes and urban neighborhoods are on the list of locales for both Gears of War games, but the differences in execution between the two are startling. The view still assaults the eyes with its details which, I admit, can be too much. It leaves some switches and objects buried amongst the mish mash of high resolution textures and darker hues. Unlike before, I could not mistaken one level for another – each had its own personality and sometimes, its own take on Gears formula.
I could tell a great deal of effort was put into ensuring the player never fall victim to monotony. Gears of War 2 is still a “stop n’ pop” third person shooter. However, this time, instead of spending a majority of the time behind stationary cover and the like, movable cover was introduced via giant stone worms and mobile shields in both the organic and inorganic form. Every so often, a mortar or a chaingun popped up making life a little easier. It could continue to make life easier as we could lug all our weapons around from level to level with minimal disruption. It may be a subtle feature, but being able to start the next level with the same sniper rifle I was using several hours prior provided much appreciated continuity.
Whether it’s finishing of Locust grubs via fist pounds to the face or introducing Boomers to the myriad of new weapons, Gears of War 2 is an journey best experienced with a pal. Its cooperative option doesn’t sport the high number count of a Resistance 2 or a Halo 3, but you wouldn’t miss the lack of numbers. They didn’t beat us over the head with two player gimmicks, but instead allowed us to create our own tactics. Even in defeat, the ability to crawl towards your partner added to the camaraderie.
The newly added Horde mode was Gears 2’s cooperative highlight, though. Filter out the story and open expanses. Then deploy yourself and up to four other buddies into a single map and fend off waves after waves of Locusts; it’s simple, it’s challenging and the 50 waves will keep most players busy for months. And if that doesn’t do it, they can always partake in the multiplayer festivities. I was never one to consider Gears’ competitive aspect a must play, but the new styles of play are interesting to say the least.
I thank Epic Games for trying new ideas with Gears of War 2, but not all it hit their marks. The story was a straight forward affair, but the “emotional set pieces” quickly lost weight when the Cole Train came rolling in with trash talking in tail. Throughout the entire game, there was only one standout idea which stood out as “the one” which didn’t fly. I won’t spoil it for you, but let me just say it exposes the weaknesses of the player’s mobility. Other than that, it’s a focused and refined formula which have me wondering how could they improve upon it while retaining the franchises trademark features.
A lot of games lack the amount of polish which Gears of War 2 is soaking in. Epic Games weeded out many of the niggling issues of the predecessors and left nothing, but stable framerates, impeccable image quality and more than tolerable wait times. The cover system was tightened along with the roadie run; it was like the developers looked into every function and tweaked it until it was working perfectly. I’m going ahead and labeling Gears of War 2 as the most polished Western developed game of 2008.
Many associate the Halo franchise with the Xbox, but it is Gears of War which I pair with the Xbox 360. In 2006, it was Epic Games’ next gen baby which greeted me with open burly arms and jaw dropping looks. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the beginning of an impressive franchise. I promised myself not describe Gears of War 2 like how Mr. Blezinski did, but what he said was true. This sequel is everything Gears of War was, but better – and from a gameplay perspective, it makes the original completely obsolete. So, if you are shooter fan with an Xbox 360 under the TV and haven’t played this yet, what are you waiting for? There’s simply no excuse not to play one of the best this console generation has to offer.
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For more information on Gears of War 2, visit the official website.
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