A few years ago, Epic introduced us to the wonderful world of Sera, and its monstrous inhabitants, both human and locust alike. Gears of War was a flagship title for the XBox 360, quickly becoming THE reason to own Microsoft’s next-gen system, and it made its mark in a rather commanding fashion.
For me, Gears of War was the first and biggest “next-gen” experience I’ve felt when playing a game, where I had a moment that made me say “Wow… this is the next gen”. The co-op play, the graphics, the score, everything about it came together to create an experience that was part Predator, part Aliens, part video game and all awesome.
So how does the sequel fare?
Typically, the aim of sequels is to go above and beyond the original in terms of not only graphics, but also with gameplay as well as features. Let me just get this out of the way- Gears of War 2 delivers on all fronts. From the moment you’re re-introduced to Sera, it becomes clear that Epic went above and beyond to bring an emotional, epic roller-coaster ride with its story and gameplay.
One of the things you’ll notice immediately is the cutscenes, which are more frequent in Gears of War 2 than in the first. The story follows Delta Squad on a brand new mission, an all-out attempt to end the locust war.
Meanwhile, Marcus’s buddy Dom is searching for his wife Maria, who is still missing. This is one of the highlights of the story for me, and while the emotional impact fell flat just a little more for me than other people, I think it was brilliant to give these emotions to the main character’s buddy rather than the player himself. Good move, Epic.
Gears of War is known for its “stop and pop” style of play, where players are zipping back and forth between cover to out-maneuver the enemy, popping out and blasting when it is safe and moving forward to capture territory. Playing this game is no different, but now, Epic has even started to experiment with moving cover, a la shields and rock worms. These additions to the gameplay are not only fun, but they’re brilliant in terms of game design.
I won’t stick around on the gameplay too much, but if you’ve played the first one, just know that this has all of that and more, as well as vehicle levels and even some on-rails creature riding for good measure. So what about multiplayer?
One of the shining examples of co-op done right was the original Gears of War, and number Two is following heartily in its footsteps. Seriously. If you don’t have a co-op buddy for this game, GET ONE. It is meant to be played with two people, and there’s really nothing like covering one another as you take down the enemy waves in the campaign.
While co-op mode is a blast, and the other multiplayer modes are ok, the real reason to continue playing this game will be for Horde Mode. What is Horde Mode? Imagine you and 4 other friends holed up inside of a barn, with a limited amount of ammo, watching in horror as wave after wave of enemy locusts come bearing down on you.
Yes. This is the glory of Horde Mode. It is replayable as all get out, and is one of the main reasons to own this game. I had countless nights with friends as we yelled at one another, defending our territory as the enemy waves grew both in strength and number, using every bit of teamwork we could muster.
All in all, while I loved the first Gears of War, I have to say that this one is better. Sure there are certain aspects of the campaign that fell flat for me (wtf is up with the rock worm chapter?), and the last act isn’t as grandiose as I’d like, but Epic has come through in flying colors. Not only is the new campaign longer, but there are dozens more multiplayer options that can really make this worth your while. It also has some of the best graphics this side of MGS 4, and is fun as hell. What more do you need?
Bottom line: if you own a 360, have some friends and don’t have this on your Christmas list, shame on you.
NOTE 12/06/09: Hindsight has forced me to re-score this bad boy. While I loved it for the first couple of weeks I owned it, it soon just faded and was never touched again except for the occasional horde mode. I never re-played the campaign, and my only other ventures back into matchmaking were more boring or frustrating than the first trips. In retrospect, the first game was better, and this one was kind of forgettable.
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