One of the yearâ€™s biggest action games, Gears of War 2, has finally landed, and weâ€™ve taken on the Locust with Delta squad to see how it fares. Straight off the bat, youâ€™ll recognise this as a Gears of War title. The game looks, feels, and plays the same as the original Gears â€“ and thatâ€™s not a bad thing. The main characters Fenix, Cole, Dom and Baird are all back to reprise their roles, alongside a couple of newcomers in Ben Carmine (Anthony Carmineâ€™s brother), and Tai.
The story is set six months after the events of the original Gears, where the lightmass bomb used underground to eradicate the Locust has brought about a sickness called rustlung to the above-ground population. A renewed resurgence of remaining Locust have taken the fight to a new level, very quickly threatening one of the last safe-havens - and home of the COG â€“ the Jacinto Plateu.
One of the positives of picking up a sequel is that you already know the basics when it comes to the story â€“ we already know that the Locust are, what theyâ€™ve done, and that theyâ€™re most likely up to no good again. Essentially, this allows you to jump straight into the action â€“ and Gears 2 brings it within the opening minutes.
It appears developer Epic Games has heard the fans of the first game â€“ who complained that the story was arbitrary, and didnâ€™t make all that much sense. Gears 2 improves on the core story, making everything feel more â€˜epicâ€™, and also giving the characters a tad more depth through some of the sub-plots and witty dialogue. Before the end of the second act, youâ€™ll be knee-deep in the habitat of the horde, will have experienced plot-twists, and major character events.
Largely, Epic Games has kept the same run-and-cover mechanics found in the original Gears. As we touched upon in our hands-on preview, the major addition weâ€™ve made use of is what actually happens once youâ€™ve been shot down. Youâ€™re given the ability to crawl around, tapping the A-button to go faster, hoping that one of your team-mates will be able to come to your aid. The enemy â€“ in the campaign, and multiplayer â€“ will also take advantage of this, so itâ€™s important to make sure that when they go down, they stay down. This is where the meat-shield and executions come in. Walk up to a down-but-not-out enemy, and youâ€™ll be prompted with the choice to either finish them off by one of the many ways to do so, or use them against their own acting as a shield. We never had too much luck using it successfully, but it would be useful in situations where the extra cover would come in handy.
The campaign isnâ€™t particularly long, but it is full-on action the whole way through, making it perfect to play a couple of times over. Scattered throughout the levels are items you can collect and add to your War Journal â€“ such as COG tags, scrolls, and other collectables â€“ which will undoubtedly become an obsession for those who must collect everything. Luckily, the collectable items are broken down into the chapters in which they can be found, so you can cross off each section as you clear through.
Thatâ€™s where you realise that the game â€“ while great at getting your adrenaline pumping with the run-and-shoot gameplay â€“ gets almost repetitive. Whether itâ€™s the campaign, the online multiplayer game types, or Horde mode, itâ€™s always essentially the same thing. While the campaign does its best to keep things exciting by offering different scenes and sequences, there is still, at times, that overwhelming feeling of â€˜another same fightâ€™ that was present in the first Gears.
Co-operative campaign also offers a welcoming fresh experience from the single player aspect. And similar to the original Gears of War, itâ€™s actually more fun most of the time playing through with a friend than it is by yourself. Epic has done an impressive job with having the co-operative game work so well, and itâ€™s clear that Gears of War 2 was created with the two-player aspects front and central.
Aside from the campaign, the other multiplayer and Xbox Live modes have really been improved over the first Gears. With a multitude of modes, and the very welcome inclusion of bots â€“ something that is sorely missed from many multiplayer/online action games â€“ you would have to say that the multiplayer aspect of Gears of War 2 is just as fun, if not more fun, than the campaign.
Jumping online, or even locally with a few bots, the game modes offer plenty of variety. We became addicted to â€˜Wingmanâ€™, one of the new inclusions where each of the five teams of two must be executed. Last team standing wins. Teamwork is clearly the goal here, with the emphasis being on the need to execute the other players â€“ leaving them crawling on the ground wonâ€™t be enough. Itâ€™s a mode that while isnâ€™t anything revolutionary, does provide a lot of fun. All of the other traditional multiplayer modes are available, such as â€˜Annexâ€™ (king of the hill), â€˜Submissionâ€™ (capture the flag), and Warzone (deathmatch) amongst others.
Located with its own separate menu item, Horde mode has been long touted by many as one of the most anticipated features of the game, and itâ€™s not hard to see why. Pitting you and your team against wave after wave of increasingly difficult Locust, it epitomises the action-centric gameplay. Up to four other players can join in on the fight, and it almost feels like it has the old-school arcade â€˜have to beat the high-scoreâ€™ mantra to it. The non-stop battle does cater to those who want to do nothing but shoot the Locust Horde that are bringing the fight.
Graphically, the game is gorgeous. Gears of War, when it arrived on Xbox 360, was the best looking title to date, and Gears of War 2 does the same. From shooting chunks off of the Brumak, to the close-ups of Delta squad in the cut-scenes, you can tell a lot of time and care has been taken to make the game look polished. There will always be the occasional graphical glitch, or textures taking a while to load in multiplayer, but for the most part youâ€™ll be impressed with not only character models, but the environment, and the level of destruction you can blast them with.
Itâ€™s an understatement to say Gears of War 2 is the epitome of action. This game defines the genre. Gears of War 2 is one of the highlights of the year, and for all Xbox 360 owners, this deserves to be in your collection.