Gears of War 2 Xbox 360
Published by: Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by: Epic Games
The disappointment that many experienced when finding out that they would have to wait a long time for Halo 3 to appear on the Xbox 360 was tempered significantly by the release of Gears of War. The game not only provided a great single-player game that was filled with top-notch action, it also provided the excellent multiplayer experience that many thought they wouldn't get until Halo 3 arrived. Gears of War was a big success then and it's no surprise that Gears of War 2 has been one of this year's most anticipated games and in the short amount of time it's been on sale it's become one of the best selling games this year.
As with Gears of War, the campaign can either be played as a single-player experience or you can team up with someone else (offline or online) to play through the campaign co-operatively. Gears of War 2 once again puts you in the shoes of Marcus Fenix, who is now the leader of Delta Squad, and the war against the Locust Horde is still raging. This time the Locust Horde have a force that can sink entire cities. Things are beginning to look extremely bad and even the final human stronghold of Jacinto is under attack. It's up to Marcus, Dom and the rest of Delta Squad to fight back against the Locust Horde onslaught. The campaign is actually quite an improvement on the one in the first game and it has more than its fair share of memorable moments.
The basic formula of the original game hasn't undergone any drastic changes which makes perfect sense because there was very little wrong with Gears of War. The AI is still challenging (it's dependent on the difficulty level you play on of course). The game still encourages you to make plentiful use of cover, whenever possible. You can now use fallen enemies as shields which is a nice addition as they make pretty robust shields for a while. Chainsaw duels are now possible and when you lock chainsaws with an enemy you'll have to rapidly press the B button to overpower them. Some new weapons such as the powerful Scorcher Flamethrower, Mulcher and Mortar, have been added and provide you with that extra bit of punch. Some of the new weapons are rather large and heavy however so whilst they are fun to use, you're not going to use them often as they impede your movement speed. Grenades are slightly more useful now and can be tagged onto walls and enemies. Those tagged onto enemies explode within seconds whilst those on walls act as a proximity explosive allowing you to set an unpleasant surprise for your enemies.
Multiplayer was a key reason for the success of Gears of War and that's definitely going to be the case for this sequel. In addition to the ability to play through the campaign co-operatively there is Horde mode and a variety of multiplayer game types to enjoy. Horde mode allows up to five players to team up to fight wave after wave of increasingly difficult Locust Horde enemies. You need to take out all of the enemies on a map before you can progress to the next one. There are a variety of competitive multiplayer modes, playable over Xbox Live or System Link, and support for ten players has been included. There are a good range of maps to play on and in the box you'll find a code which will enable you to download five maps from the original game which is certainly a welcome addition.
Gears of War was the best looking console game upon its release around two years ago. Many would have been content for this sequel to simply have matched the original game in its graphical quality but it's to the developers' credit that it manages to look significantly better. The level design is excellent. The locations you'll battle in are much larger this time around and they are certainly more varied. Texture detail is better and it can be quite surprising how things look much more detailed than they did in the first game. There's an impressive sense of scale here too. Some of the monsters you'll see are huge but there are numerous vehicles which are impressively large. Explosion effects are just as satisfying as ever. Whilst the graphical quality of a game isn't the be all and end all of a gaming experience, it's difficult not to be impressed or deny that it certainly adds a lot to the experience.
Like the original Gears of War, Gears of War 2 is subtitled and it's pretty much the same in its provision for deaf gamers. The cutscene and important in-game dialogue is subtitled. There are no character names or portraits placed alongside the text and at times it's unclear who is saying what. The subtitles are simply displayed with white text. Occasionally the text is not as easy as it should be due to the colour of the graphics behind the text and it would have been better if the text had placed on some kind of overlay or in a dialogue box. Some of the peripheral speech isn't subtitled. However, none of this speech contains any important information but you are missing out on some of the game's ambience. There are no captions or visual clues in the game for any of the enemies and quite frequently enemies are heard before they are seen meaning deaf gamers will have an ever so slight disadvantage. Still this is only a minor complaint and you'll be prepared for combat for pretty much most of the game. The force feedback is superb and adds satisfactory tactile feedback to using the more powerful weapons. Your objectives are shown in text and can be recalled by pressing the LB button.
Gears of War 2 is a cracking sequel to Gears of War and anyone who enjoyed the original game will want to get their hands on it. It's a game that plays to its strengths and takes everything that was good about Gears of War and makes it even better. Whilst the game does have a proper ending, unlike Halo 2 which finished in a very unsatisfactory manner, the game leaves plenty of opportunities for further games to be made and the storyline to be continued. Given the success of both Gears of War and the success that Gears of War 2 has enjoyed so far, it's difficult to imagine there not being another title in the series and I'm sure millions of gamers would be disappointed if the series did end here. There have been some great Xbox 360 games this year but this is arguably the best game of the year on the console.