Thursday, November 13, 2008

Niiiicccceeee!!!! The Gears of War 2 Review

Note: This review will likely contain spoilers, so read at your own risk unless you beaten the campaign.

It was 2006 and the Xbox 360 has been out for a year. A lot was riding on the first Gears of War to be fill in the void the Halo franchise has been for the console. It became an instant classic and the 360's first killer app with its amazing stop and pop style gameplay along with a multiplayer component that kept the game among the most played Xbox Live titles. It established a new set of iconic characters which are the Delta Squad. Players enjoyed their personalities from Marcus's leadership, Dom's passion for his wife, Cole's cocky attitude, and Baird's sarcasm. It also made people love chainsaws thanks to the iconic Lancer. Now in 2008, the sequel is out with Gears of War 2 and it is simply a masterpiece, but not a perfect one.

Epic Games wanted to expand the story for Gears 2 as the first game established the setting, the COG, and the Locust as they continue to battle in this war for Sera. The lightmass bomb in the end of Gears 1 wasn't enough to completely destroy the Locust, and they return angrier than ever sinking cities left and right driving to the COG to the home base of Jacinto as their last hope. It is up to the Delta Squad once again to destroy the Locust and end the war once and for all. Other than the main storyline, the supporting storyline revolves around Dom and his search for his wife, Maria. At first, I felt this story arc is a little forced to bring more emotion and have some sense of a love story, but the arc ended well and let's just say it didn't end happily. The Locust's goals in Gears 2 were mysterious other than sinking cities and we get to learn more about them in this more along with their new leader, Skorge with a chainsaw staff, and the Locust queen finally revealing herself. Their side of the story eventually reminded me of Halo 2's twist with the Covenant turning on each other and that happened with the introduction of the Lambent Locust. The COG remain as memorable as ever as you play as Marcus (Dom if playing co-op), along with the rest of Delta Squad (Baird and Cole, who has the best moments of the game) and some new characters such as Dizzy, Tai, and another Carmine. Even after you beat Gears of War 2, you can tell that a third game is going to happen, but more questions arise than answers being solved.

The signature stop and pop gameplay has returned and now refined in Gears of War 2 with some improvements. It is still a cover-based shooter when you have to rely on cover to be successful on eliminating the opposition along with active reloads. The shooting still feels satisfying with all the weapons from Gears 1 returning even though some weapons are not as heavily used in the campaign like the Hammer of Dawn. The new weapons introduced for Gears 2 have gotten a little more attention for the campaign such as the Scorcher, the game's flamethrower, the significantly improved Hammerburst, the Gorgon Pistol, and heavy weapons such as the Mulcher and the Mortar. The Mulcher is a minigun that mows down enemies quickly and the Mortar is able to defeat enemies from the sky with raining blasts. Some weapons from Gears 1 were changed whether it is for the better or the worst. The Lancer now has the stopping power to slow down enemies charging at you. In addition, the chainsaw duels are a new element in which players have to mash the B button the quickest to win the duel. The shotgun did indeed get nerfed, but I think it is for the good which I'll explain later when I mention the multiplayer. One of the neater gameplay additions is the meatshield option, which players now to use dead enemies as shields against the opposition while holding a pistol-like weapon. The weapons truly feel great in Gears 2 whether or not the additions or changes satisfied players.

The campaign itself in Gears of War 2 is filled with so many holy **** moments and truly lives up to be being some crazy roller coaster ride. The game starts out with a bang and also ends like it as well. It is beautifully paced with great levels with lots of shooting, non-shooting elements like dodging piston teeth inside the Ringworm and picks up the action with vehicle sequences. These vehicle sequences are likely hit and miss from the first sequence of defending the Derrick in Act 1 to the flawed Centaur tank scene in Act 3 and then finishing up with a Reaver scene that reminds many people of the Panzer Dragoon games and even a Brumak in Act 5. These sequences at times do have that trial and error mentality at times trying to avoid enemy fire, but even if they're flawed, they are still amazing OMG moments, more specifically the Reaver and Brumak segments in Act 5. The campaign is also a little longer than it was for Gears 1, but it can be beaten in eight hours on Casual and Normal difficulties. Of course, it may take a little longer to beat it on Hardcore and Insane difficulties, but slightly quicker if playing on co-op.

Other than the campaign and the co-op for it, the multiplayer has returned better than ever, but still a flawed experience. The biggest addition is a new five-player co-op mode called Horde, which is basically a survival mode against increasingly difficult Locust for 50 waves. This mode can get hectic especially on harder difficulties where teamwork, luck, and skill matter on having success. Even though the waves reset every ten waves in terms of enemies, they return with stipulations such as more damage and more HP. This mode can be addictive especially going for high scores and trying different strategies whether going at with a full team or even alone.

The versus multiplayer still remains the attraction for Gears 2 to be replayable for months to come. The biggest changes are the matchmaking options with the addition of a party system, so it is easier to have friends on the same team to compete in public or private matches. Multiplayer can also be played locally alone or splitscreen against bots, and knowing Epic and their success with the Unreal Tournament series, they know how to make bots and make them worthy competition. As for the online, it is now five-on-five on a new set of maps (ten of them new and five returning from Gears 1 if u download the Flashback Map Pack). After a month or two of Gears 1 multiplayer back in 2006 and even last year, it eventually became a shotgun fest rather than a stop and pop shooter. That is why the shotgun is nerfed to become the shooter Epic wanted it to be utilizing every weapon and gameplay mechanic they changed or added. Now in multiplayer sessions, the Lancer gets more use and chainsaw kills are increasing rapidly in which players complained about lately eliminating the skill, but it is in the game and they have to deal with it until a patch comes out. Grenades are a top priority in Gears multiplayer since you can tag them to walls treating them as mines with smoke, frag, or the new ink effects. Even smoke grenades are getting used frequently since they can stun enemies if caught by them which could lead to a quick kill by the shotgun or the chainsaw. There are a lot of mutliplayer modes for Gears 2, which makes it more varied than it originally tended to be.

Gears 2's multiplayer also uses a playlist feature along with the party system that has been used in the top XBL shooters like Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4. At least players can vote on the mode they will play in terms of playlist by choices of two and then the map the same way. If the votes are tied, a different map or mode will be picked. The last choice before a match starts is either using the Lancer or the Hammerburst as their starting rifle. The matchmaking as a whole does indeed work, but at times it can be really slow (longer than three minutes at times) finding players to match up with similar skill. Other than signature modes Warzone and Execution, Annex and King of the Hill return for Gears 2. The new modes indeed spice the multiplayer a bit allowing more variety. Wingman is five teams of two duking it out deathmatch style which teamwork matters with your partner. Guardian is an improved version of Assassination with players respawning until a team leader is killed which eliminates the respawns. Submission is a neat take on Capture the Flag utilizing the meatshield mechanic where you use a Stranded guy that is armed with a shotgun as your flag to score, but that Stranded guy can fight back in which you have to down him first to use him as a flag. With fifteen maps out now and seven modes, the multiplayer of Gears 2 is very fun and enjoyable with a full party, but the matchmaking, even flawed in terms of finding matches, does work.

Graphically, Gears of War 2 looks absolutely stunning at all angles. The levels themselves look beautiful under Unreal Engine 3 from diverse looking caves in Act 2, the inside of the Ringworm that puts the Cortana level of Halo 3 to shame, great vistas and cities in Act 1 and 5, and so much more. This is arguably the best looking 360 game now with all those amazing looking levels, graphical effects with still the best blood in gaming today, weather effects of rain and snow, and huge creatures along with the increasingly number of Locust appearing on screen. However, some minor flaws like texture pop-in when levels load for both campaign and multiplayer in addition of other bugs when in cover during online matches prevent it from perfection.

As for the sound, make sure you have a surround sound system ready because Gears 2 arguably delivers the best sound in gaming this year. The weapons actually sound like weapons like now specifically the Lancer being more a gun than it was in Gears 1. The music does have that epic feel of orchestral and theatrical tunes when in battle and cutscenes. Even the voice acting, despite the dialogue being cheesy at times, feels special with Marcus saying "Nicceeeee" while Cole remains amazing especially during his rant in Act 4 (video above). It truly feels like a war when in battle between the COG and Locust with their battle cries.

Gears of War 2 does define the terms Epic promised since the game's announcement: bigger, better, and more badass. The campaign, even flawed, is still amazing with many memorable moments from beginning to end. The story is better, but still not as great even though it is straightforward despite the twists and turns regarding the COG and Locust. Achievements like Seriously 2.0, which counts for all modes, and getting all the collectibles in the campaign will keep players busy for a while. The multiplayer, even with slow matchmaking, and Horde modes will be making players play Gears 2 for months to come with its addictiveness and enjoyability despite various complaints concerning certain weapons. Gears 2 has the complete package and if there is one action-packed game to get for the 360, make sure you buy Gears 2 right away.

Score = 9.5/10

  • Amazing campaign (8 hours on Casual or Normal, but longer than that on Hardcore or Insane).
  • Absolutely stunning graphics in every way.
  • The best sound in this year of gaming.
  • Stop and pop gameplay still as great and fun it was back in Gears 1.
  • Multiplayer and Horde modes will keep players busy for months to come.
  • Even though the story is better, it is still not that great.
  • Texture pop-in when loading levels in campaign and multiplayer.
  • Online matchmaking can be slow at times.
  • Multiplayer experience can change because of the Live audience and some fans' complaints about certain weapons.

No comments: