Of flesh and chainsaws
The original Gears of War was a spectacular success. With the title becoming almost as well-known as the Halo franchise, Microsoft’s ‘ace in the hole’ and main console-shipper. Being one of the 360’s starter titles, Gears established the console in the market, ready for when Halo 3 would arrive.
And just like Halo, Epic have sensed the potential monetary benefits of Gears and churned out a sequel. While Gears of War 2 may not be as much of an innovation as its predecessor, it is a renovation.
If you’ve played the original Gears, you’ll know that although manly and impressive, the game faltered due to its short campaign and, thus, was primarily for those of you who had Xbox Live. Well, the sequel has improved on this with a longer campaign (I think, but I’m pretty sure it’s longer. It felt longer.) and more options aside from online play.
The campaign this time around focuses on Dom, and the search for his wife. There’s more to it than that, what with humanity invading the homeland of the Locust (Read: digging big holes and jumping in them) in order to stop the Locust attack (which is them digging even bigger holes), but you’d probably miss out on that because Dom just won’t stop whining! OK, we get it. You miss your wife. Now, would you kindly SHUT UP!
In terms of difficulty, GeoW2 has been ramped down, though there is the unlockable Insane difficulty made for experienced players going it co-op. What’s more, they’ve made it less ‘cheap’ in terms of difficulty. Remember how in the original Gears how Boomers could take multiple sniper bullets to the brain before their heads exploded in a shower of gore and blood? Well, now they can’t do that as much anymore. Insane mode still has this, but to a lesser extent. Most of the time, it’s one bullet, one head explosion. Sometimes it takes a shot to take their headgear off so that the second one causes the brains fountain to appear, but that’s reasonable and acceptable.
The action is as visceral as ever, with limbs flying and blood coating every available surface. There’s a bunch of new guns to wreak havoc with, but the old ones are just as potent as they were. The Lancer’s firing sound seems to have changed, though, but the new one’s OK. They’ve even addressed the lesser-known problem of there being no real places where you can use the Lancer’s chainsaw bayonet to carve some serious Locust turkeys. Just look for the mission ‘Rude Awakening’. It has lots of enemies without weapons who will run right into your automatic carving knife, resulting in a lot of blood splatter and a big grin on your face, if you’re into that sort of thing. And if you’re not, then go away now. No, seriously.
Speaking of the bayonet, the animations in the game have been added to, and improved, mostly by adding new ones for new situations. Enemies no longer spin around when sawed from behind as there’s a new ‘saw-in-the-back’ animation. There’s a noticeable difference when sawing downed enemies (or Wretches, the Gears version of cannon fodder) and there’s many new ways of taking down a downed enemy, from the ability to take them as a meatshield (a term I love), to pistol-whipping them with the Boltok, to the ultimately satisfying execution using the Torque Bow (for the unfamiliar, the Torque Bow is like Gordon Freeman’s Crossbow from the Half-life series, only the arrows explode). Press the Y button next to a downed one when you’ve got a Torque Bow equipped. You’ll see.
The co-op play is excellent, even with split-screen, and has even been improved upon via. the new Horde mode. It’s basically you and 4 mates up against waves of ever-increasing-difficulty Locust. It reminds me of UT2004’s Invasion mode, which is no surprise considering the shared lineage of both Gears and Unreal Tournament.
There is one more thing that Gears of War 2 has borrowed from the Unreal Tournament franchise: Bots. That’s right, you can now play matches offline with AI players. Sadly, Horde is the only one that is incompatible with bots, so you’ll need friends if you want to play that, but otherwise you can bolster waning player numbers with (relatively) smart AI players.
Not all is right in this Gears title, however. Amongst concerns that AI won’t always get you back up if you get knocked down, even if you’re bleeding directly on their shoes, we have the main issue of the buggy Achievements. Apparently, you can unlock the ability to play as RAAM, Kim and A. Carmine from the first game if you have the appropriate achievements, but despite the fact that I have them I can’t use them. This may be because I didn’t get them online, but I would expect that to not be a problem. Not very good.
Yeah, yeah, I know that this isn’t exactly a big issue, but it is an issue.
Overall, however, I’d say that Gears is well worth purchasing for anyone interested in the game. A wonderful addition to anyone’s 360 lineup.