Game Review no image

Published on October 3rd, 2013 | by Matt Haberfeld

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Gears of War 2

Developer: Epic Games
ESRB Rating: Mature
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: 11/7/2008

What is Gears of War 2?

Gears of War 2 is the highly anticipated sequel to the original game released on the Xbox 360, and later the PC. Touted as a more “strategic” third person shooter, you must utilize cover and very rarely will you be using “run and gun” tactics. The sequel features more weapons, more multiplayer game types and maps, and lots of smaller features like chainsaw duels and using downed characters as human shields. The core gameplay, however, is identical and the game is extremely accessible for Gears of War veterans and newcomers alike.

The campaign supports two player co-op and the multiplayer is limited to 10 players for most game modes, and 5 for the new horde mode.

What does this game do well?

I have to confess that I never got a chance to play the original Gears of War, and I think that will severely bias the review in such a way as to be the polar opposite of the bias in which other reviewers played and loved the original Gears of War. So fair warning, I am reviewing the game as a standalone which is probably not how it’s intended to be experienced but at the same time it gives me a unique perspective on the game that most reviewers probably do not have.

So judging the game on its own merits, I am quite impressed with the presentation. The game sounds quite good; perhaps not as good as a Call of Duty title or Company of Heroes but the sounds of gunfire combined with the musical score is quite immersive. As you hide behind a concrete barrier, you can hear the bullets coming in and as they hit all around you blocks of concrete break off and roll across the asphalt. It’s a really nice effect.

The graphics are also quite good. However, I’m not enthralled by them as if they are some kind of demi-god to be worshipped. I don’t know what kind of graphics “push the limits” of the Xbox 360 but if this is it then I’m a little disappointed. What does impress me is the amount of action that can take place on the screen without bogging down the system. At times there are dozens of enemies on the screen and the levels have the illusion of going on for miles in every direction. It’s impressive, but not as impressive as I’ve been led to believe by other game reviews.

I’ve always focused more on the gameplay anyway, and the campaign in Gears of War 2 is pretty good. Not groundbreaking or breathtaking or earthshaking, just good. The core gameplay is very easy to understand and the controls are pretty tight. Early in your career you will probably have a hard time adhering to the walls because your character has a tendency to perform a dive if you don’t press in exactly the right direction, or try to take cover against something the game doesn’t consider cover. But this can be overcome with a good bit of practice and the game becomes fun, albeit a little slow. I would definitely not call the game “strategic” or “tactical” because to be honest you just hunker down behind your little bit of cover and they hunker down behind their little bit of cover and you trade bullets and grenades until they die because their health doesn’t regenerate like yours. It’s fun, but a little mindless and the game doesn’t get truly difficult unless you play on insane mode.

I do like that the game incorporates two player co-op as a main game element. There are so few co-op experiences in gaming and Gears of War is more than twice as fun with a 2nd person. It’s not just the extra bullets and being able to fire from two different angles, but the ability for one player to carry a sniper rifle while the other uses a shotgun and the shared experience in general. I was a little disappointed that the campaign doesn’t allow four player co-op like Halo 3, but it’s still a nice feature.

The weapons in single player are well balanced for the most part. There is some obvious bias towards the lancer due to its chainsaw attachment, but players can carry two primary weapons and most weapons are useful enough to be carried around for the entire game. Multiplayer is another matter entirely, with the lancer and shotgun being so much more valuable than the others that it’s hard to let them go. I can’t speak to the weapon balance of the original Gears of War, but it doesn’t seem that the new weapons make any of the original ones obsolete.

For players that aren’t into competitive multiplayer, Gears of War 2 features a new game type called horde. Up to five players can work together as a team against repeated assaults from the locust that constantly increase in difficulty. Horde mode is incredibly fun, although there are only 50 waves and it has a limited shelf life before it gets a little stale.

What could this game have done better?

The gameplay is good, but the dialog is absolutely abysmal. Marcus, Dom and the rest of the soldiers in the game are one dimensional meatheads that you only put up with because humanity is on the brink of extinction and they’re the only soldiers tough enough to survive through the campaign. Marcus and Cole are at least amusing as crass and vulgar instruments of destruction, but the writing is so embarassingly bad that any attempt to take the characters seriously falls flat. The voice acting is actually very well delivered but secretly I wonder if they were rolling their eyes in the sound booth.

The story fares no better; it is disjointed and at times nonsensical. Major plot elements go completely unexplained, and story threads are briefly touched on and then quickly forgotten. What’s this mysterious rust lung afflicting humans? Why did the locust start abducting people? What’s the deal with the Sires, and the Lambent? Apparently this information is on a need to know basis and as the player you don’t need to know. The story is supposed to come to a head when you meet the Locust Queen, but she only appears for one brief cutscene never to be seen again and instead you fight a heavily scripted, indirect, and unsatisfying battle with the main protagonist (and I use that term loosely), Skorge. For a game with such a poor story, there are a ridiculous number of cutscenes and any time your characters are on the radio, they walk ultra-slow preventing you from getting to the next checkpoint or jumping over obstacles.

The vehicle related sections of the campaign are generally sub-par. With a 2nd player manning the gun while you drive, they are bearable but the centaur is certainly no warthog, and the reaver is no banshee. At the very end of the game there is a highly enjoyable stretch in which you ride a Brumak, but that is quickly offset by the scripted event in the Raven and the lackluster ending of the campaign. The entire experience is fairly short; you should finish the campaign in 7-10 hours. Personally I thought the campaign dragged on a bit, but only due to the fact that it was beyond uninteresting for someone who hadn’t played the first game.

I imagine that if you were hooked on the Gears universe from the first game then advancing the story is a welcome requirement. However, in the first third of the game I said to myself, “If they have these grindlifts, why don’t they just drill a hole from the ocean floor into the Hollow and flood it?” Lo and behold, that’s exactly what they’re going to do, but in a phenomenally retarded way. Aditionally, when the Locust plan is finally revealed it turns out that to thwart the plan, Marcus decides to do exactly what the Locust Queen wants him to do! I always suspected that humanity’s last best hope is to completely acquiesce to the enemy and execute their plans for them.

Something my friend mentioned to me was that he was disappointed there were no berserkers in Gears of War 2. Apparently they were the one enemy in the game that could truly inspire fear into a player’s heart and while I don’t lament their absence from first hand experience, my lack of interest in the locust forces in general might have been alleviated if one of them was truly dangerous.

On the multiplayer front, the game is not quite the cutting edge experience that one would hope for. There are matchmaking issues that can result in players waiting up to 10 minutes to join a game, and occasional lag issues that give the game host a severe advantage. This is part of the reason that the lancer is so powerful, the host can just bum rush you with the chainsaw and the lag prevents you from properly defending yourself unless you have a shotgun and a little luck. But if you were a hardcore multiplayer fan, I think you will learn to adapt to the idiosyncracies of the sequel.

Should I buy this game?

I really want to like Gears of War 2, but I can’t honestly say the game is amazing or groundbreaking or even great. It’s good, above average maybe, but that’s about as far as I’m willing to go. I think that if I had played Halo 2 without playing the original Halo, I’d say the same thing about that game. In my mind, the Gears of War 2 experience hinges entirely on you loving the original game.

Gears of War veterans need to buy the sequel in order to advance the game’s story and get a content booster shot to the original game. But Gears of War 2 is not the perfect 10 that so many reviews carelessly dole out to it. In fact, the game itself is closer to an 8, and heavily piggybacks upon the immersion and success of the original game. It’s definitely fun, but the graphics and sound are offset by the terrible story and dialogue, with some decent but not amazing gameplay in the middle. If you missed the first game, it won’t hurt to pass on this one as well.

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