Gears of War 2

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Gears of War 2 Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Epic Games


Platform: Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360

A few months after Delta Squad and the Coalition of Ordered Governments detonated a Lightmass Bomb in an attempt to stop the Locust Forces emerging onto the surface of the planet Sera and slaughtering humanity, Delta Squad is trying to save the last vestiges of humanity on Sera. The effects of the bomb are killing many of the surviving humans with a condition called "Rustlung" and cities are sinking into the planet's crust. There seems to be little hope, but Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad are once again going to slaughter thousands of Locust in an effort to end the war once and for all.

Rating:
Kyle Ackerman


Gears of War 2Only moments after launching Gears of War 2, I was optimistic it would be far better than Gears of War, a decent game marred by a poorly designed checkpoint save system and a somewhat sluggish take on arcade-style combat. Even the menus look stylish, with tons of options, animations and an entirely new take on unlockables and achievements. Launching the actual campaign, the graphics were leaps and bounds better. While Gears of War looked like it was developed for the last generation of consoles, Gears of War 2 looks like it is enjoying the increased power of the Xbox 360. The play was more polished and complete, with the slow pace of the lumbering, over-muscled COG soldiers matched by a slightly more tactical feel to the combat. Then I discovered that while Gears of War 2 is visually superior in almost every respect to its predecessor, it still uses the same, poorly implemented checkpoint save system. That means it's a gorgeous and polished game that still isn't fun.

Auuuugghh! Why Put the Checkpoint Here?


Gears of War 2I didn't get truly frustrated with Gears of War 2 until I found myself with a newly-discovered mortar, facing a Brumak, rushing from a tunnel after a giant "assault derrick" I was assigned to protect. The mortar wasn't challenging to use, but I only had a few seconds to figure out how to fire it before the derrick was destroyed. Once I figured out the mortar, it took a few tries to range the Brumak properly and annihilate him in a hail of mortar fire. I didn't mind failing and restarting a few times. I did mind that the checkpoint save was before a cut-scene and a series of minimally-challenging enemies that had to be eliminated before I could pick up the mortar and examine it once again. That's a poorly placed checkpoint save that wrecks all dramatic tension and aggravates me, rather helping me play (and enjoy) the game.

Gears of War 2, like its predecessor, is full of aggravating checkpoint saves. With better placement, or a save-anywhere system, Gears of War 2 would have been raucous fun. The way things are, it's more of an exercise in frustration as new concepts, weapons and enemies are always introduced after long boring sequences, rather than right after the latest save, to give you the opportunity to learn the new concept without making old sequences dismally boring. It's also a shooter with platforming sequences, which is usually a no-no. If I wanted to dodge teeth the size of a school bus that insta-gib me if I come close enough to brush them, I wouldn't have picked up a gun with a chainsaw for a bayonet.

The Ending Demonstrates Someone Knows What They're Doing


Gears of War 2Yes, Gears of War 2 is a far superior game when played cooperatively with a friend. Since co-op players can revive one another, this makes play slightly easier, but in the realm of poorly-designed checkpoint saves, Gears of War 2 is even worse than Gears of War. There are plenty of sequences that depend on completing an objective in minimal time (like the Brumak/mortar fight – or a dyspeptic stomach sequence) or completing a sequence perfectly, such that it doesn't matter if you play alone or with a friend, it's just irritating. For example, there's a boss battle with a giant water creature that requires players to jump in the thing's mouth. Unfortunately, the button to run is the same as the one to take cover, so it's easy for both players to die repeatedly due to poor controls. In other cases, like the boss at the end of Act IV, it takes so much trial and error to figure out what to do that the sequence is painful and repetitive rather than suspenseful.

For all my complaints, Act V, the final portion of the game is spectacular. The entire sequence as you battle the bulk of the Locust army while a city sinks into the planet's crust is gorgeous, entertaining and splendidly balanced. Unlike the rest of the game, whose checkpoint system drove me to fist-shaking, controller-throwing anger, Act V sped by quickly, smoothly and seemed perfectly paced, with checkpoints just before the most difficult (or surprising) moments, rather than just after. It's almost as if these were the sequences shown at tradeshows and to the press before the game's launch (they were, of course). As much as I loved the final act, it just emphasized the failings of the game prior to that point.

It's not Enough to Shoot a Man, You Have to Step on His Neck


Gears of War 2Gears of War 2 vastly improves on the multiplayer modes from Gears of War. There are more (and more elaborate) multiplayer modes that make multiplayer more entertaining. Still, the multiplayer is generously described as deliberate, and more accurately described as plodding. At least it's possible to play with bots to become familiar with the maps before competing against those who've been playing for far longer. There's also a "Horde" mode that pits players against increasingly nastier waves of Locust enemies. This is an excellent, cooperative challenge, but not enough to elevate the game beyond a passing distraction. All of these support a leveling system that allows more for gloating than truly significant achievement.

As with Gears of War, Gears of War 2 could have been a magnificent single-player experience with minor tweaks to the checkpoint system. Sadly, this design decision handicaps a game that improves in other respects over its predecessor, and adequate multiplayer fails to make the game more compelling than the single player campaign allows.

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