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War rages; 'Gears 2' reigns supreme

Nov 07, 2008

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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To say that the original Gears of War was important for the Xbox 360 would be an understatement the size of a Brumak. 'Gears' was going head-to-head not just with other AAA games that year, but with two brand new consoles from Sony and Nintendo, the Playstation 3 and Wii, respectively.

Gears of War 2And even against fan favourites like Zelda and solid new IPs like Resistance: Fall of Man, Gears of War didn't just hold its own; it took a razor-sharp chainsaw to the competition and unapologetically sawed right through as it saw fit. Those other games were very good, but not quite up to par with the juggernaut that was 'Gears'.

Fast forward two years, and Gears returns in a sequel that may not change the formula much, but is still poised to take on the best of the best that 2008 has to offer, and should pose a threat even to games that come out well into 2009, thanks to a fantastic multiplayer offering that improves in every way on the first game.

In terms of storyline, the subtitle-less 'Gears of War 2' starts off soon after its predecessor. After protagonist Marcus Fenix and his soldiers in Delta squad managed to cripple the vicious Locust Horde, an opening cutscene quickly tells us that things are not looking quite as optimistic for humanity's struggle to survive.

The Locust Horde is coming back stronger than ever and aggressively taking down several cities on the fictional world of Sera. After a glorified training mission in an abandoned hospital, you'll jump right into the thick of things as you go after the Locust Horde, once again, on their home turf.

'Gears' veterans will feel right at home here, though, and will likely survive just fine even if they opt to skip the initial training mission. 'Gears 2' will see you do a whole lot of what you did in the first game - namely, ducking and shooting.

And that's not to say it's easy or dumb. It's a fair assumption that anyone playing and enjoying this game isn't interested in solving environmental puzzles, tackling sidequests, or going through hours of text. When you just want to shoot, 'Gears of War 2' is where it's at.

Best of all, one of 'Gears' greatest assets is its co-operative component. With co-op becoming such an important part of the playing experience in games, it's nice to see that Epic has embraced it so much in this title. There are certain missions in 'Gears 2' that will force you and your partner to split up, but still work together. One of the later missions in particular has one character battling through a street teeming with enemies, while the other character takes to the surrounding buildings to provide cover fire. It may not exactly be a revolution in gaming, but it's still a heck of a lot of fun. No fist-pumping or air-guitaring with your buddy after a particularly cool kill though.

The campaign isn't much longer than the first title, but there are definitely more watercooler moments in this one - many of which we don't want to spoil for you. Rest assured, you'll be getting very up-close and personal with some of the larger Locust enemies as you play through the campaign.

Gears of War 2The big hook with this game - and just like the last one - is the cover system. You can't be running around like a crazed monkey as you take on waves of enemies. The idea in 'Gears' is to constantly take cover behind anything and everything in the environment, whether it's a couch, a doorway or a tomb, to name just three examples.

The system has been made a little smoother for the sequel, though it's still not perfect. Tapping the A-button and a direction will result in your character doing different things. For instance, if you're ducking behind one side of a doorway and you tap the A-button and move your thumbstick to the opposite side of the door, your character will do a SWAT turn, moving quickly and automatically to the other side. It's a system that works better than it sounds like on paper, but one should be careful when things get especially hectic. In up-close battles, you may be trying to simply jump away or get out in the open, but your character will instead stick to an object you had no intention of using.

Now while the single player mode in 'Gears of War 2' is a lot of fun but short-lived, the multiplayer offering is downright addictive and packed full of more features right out of the box. Awesome new game modes, party support, larger teams and fantastic new maps make this one of the best, if not the best multiplayer game of 2008.

While 'Gears of War' had a maximum of four players on each time, that number has been bumped up to five for the sequel. That may not sound like a big deal, but it adds another dimension to multiplayer. This allows the new maps to be a little larger on average, and it still allows for very few dull moments in any given game.

And while the usual game modes return (Warzone, Execution, Annex, etc), it's the new game modes that are absolutely magnificent. There's Horde, which has five players working together to take out wave after wave of enemies. After each wave, all downed players respawn, and everyone gets a few moments to grab some ammo, but soon enough a larger, stronger group of enemies comes charging, ready to take out the five COG comrades.

Gears of War 2Then there's Wingman, which has absolutely nothing to do with picking up girls at a bar. This mode is basically Execution, only instead of two teams of five, you have five teams of two. And it's not a matter of lasting the longest, either. Teams win by accumulating a certain amount of kills, so everyone is forced to be aggressive. This mode shows the importance of working together with a teammate.

'Gears 2' gives players a party system where you can link up with friends online and follow each other from match to match, while still staying on the same team. It's unfortunate that searching for specific game modes isn't possible, with the exception of Horde and Wingman. For instance, you can't choose Execution, Warzone or Guardian - you can only choose 'Elimination', which covers those three game types. Once teams are set up, though, everyone gets the chance to vote on specific game modes, as well as one of two randomly chosen maps.

Bots are also available in 'Gears 2', both in private matches and in training. The inclusion of a training mode is a great idea for gamers who never played the first 'Gears' and may feel like they'll be overmatched against the veterans.

It's worth noting that in both single player and multiplayer, 'Gears of War 2' looks achingly gorgeous. It sets a new precedent for games on the Xbox 360 and there are only one or two PS3 games that come to mind that could give 'Gears 2' a run for its money. Everything is incredibly detailed and this realism is truly needed for a game as visceral as this one.

The folks at Epic Games did a fantastic job with 'Gears of War 2'. They didn't alienate the millions of fans of the first game by changing things up too much, yet everything that was added truly made the game better than the original. Nothing was thrown in just for the sake of it.

'Gears of War 2' is the best game for Xbox 360 in 2008 and is easily one of the best video games this year, period.

Now it's time for you to stop reading. Get that Lancer ready and find some cover - those Locust aren't going to shoot themselves!

Gears of War 2
Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Epic Games
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Official Site:

Rating: 9.5 / 10

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