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Gears of War 2


So here we are again, ducking for cover as the next wave of Locust charge eagerly into our guns. Though the fanfare is slightly reduced for this second iteration of the Gears saga, it is no less important for Microsoft and Epic in showing the advancement that can be made between first and second generation titles, as well as how strong the franchise actually is.

Gears of War 2 is, in essence, more of the same, why change a winning formula after all? However, the scope of the game and its clear intention, if you’ll excuse the pun, of attempting to be an Epic is more fully realised this time around. The battle with the Locust is going badly, humanity being pushed inexorably back toward a desperate last stand. Into this bleak scene you once again take charge of Gear Marcus Fenix, sent on increasingly desperate missions with his fellow soldiers Dom, Cole and Baird, in order to blunt the Locust onslaught.

From the outset the difference between the first and second games is evident, whilst toward the end of the first you could only stare in disappointment as a scrap with the hulking Brumak was avoided, within an hour’s play of the second game you’ve accounted for at least half a dozen. Indeed, Epic’s Brumak contrition is genuine when an end set-piece becomes the absolute highlight of the game, incredulously turning the tables in a manner I defy anyone not to find ridiculously satisfying.

This raising of the stakes is a huge part of the appeal of Gears of War 2, what is now possible on the platform using the Unreal engine creates some staggering possibilities. For instance, the Locust have found a method of tunnelling under cities and collapsing them, this method is alive and gigantic. Needless to say it’s your job to put a stop to it, by, literally, entering the belly of the beast. Such ideas have given Gears of War 2 a greater diversity that shows, even though the formula is still cover-and-shoot, Epic have put a great deal of thought into new and satisfying ways in which to approach the convention.

Graphically the game is everything you expect, quality cut scenes give way to imposing environments and vertiginous vistas, detailed enemies swarm your position whilst your muzzle flare responds in kind. It is the classic shooter made blood-spattered beauty. There are new weapons, new types of enemy and a general raising of the bar in areas you’d expect improvement from. If there is a complaint though, it is that the nature of the story means a lot of time is spent underground and although these sections have been spruced up by a factor of ten from the original, they’re still a touch monotonous and boring.

In addition, the close combat in conjunction with a poor camera angle is still awkward and the grenades could do with a separate button. At times the fighting takes on a regimented approach; they fire, you fire, everyone has a turn. This serves to make the game less of a challenge as your accuracy is invariably telling, even against the large, lumbering behemoths. Your team mates are still part hindrance, part help, sometimes reviving you just when you need it, at others dragging their feet at the opposite end of a room or area. The interaction isn’t what it should be and a simple team direction interface wouldn’t go amiss in the inevitable third game.

The ending, when it comes, is a mixture of ‘woohoo’ and ‘oh, is that it?’ After a very enjoyable ‘I kinda hoped for it, but never expected it to happen’ moment, the end boss is disturbingly simple to the point of being a non-entity. Obviously the game has franchise written all over it and the multiple-chapter set-up doesn’t lend itself to endings, but it’s hard not to feel let down by the end sequence and brief post-credits suggestions.

Gears of War 2 is exactly what was expected, executed to a very high standard. There are fresh ideas entwined with the satisfying shooting of the first game. The storyline has improved somewhat though the overall direction it will now take is unclear and it still has the inevitable flaws of being stuck so rigidly in a single type of gameplay. The campaign mode is also a little bit short and easy but still one heck of a ride. If you didn’t like the first one, you won’t like this. If however you liked the first one, this is a serious step up. Boom.

Owen Jones © 2008

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