Gears of War 2 - Review
By Rory - January 6, 2008
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
The gears are spinning faster, but they're still just going in circles.
Gears of War 2 is the hotly anticipated sequel to 2006's Xbox 360 game of the year, Gears of War. Although the original featured arguably the best console graphics at the time as well as some solid stop-and-pop shooter gameplay, in all honesty, that's pretty much all it had going for it for me. It was great fun, yes, but I still don't buy into the fact that it's one of the greatest games of our time, as so many have called it. The story was nonexistent, the characters were about as deep as a kiddy pool and thanks to the hulking masses that you took control of, maneuvering throughout the world was always more complicated than it needed to be. Gears of War 2 has certainly made some improvements as far as variety goes, but it's no doubt the same game that we've been playing for over two years. That said, the game is still a hell of a lot of fun and is definitely one of the best that 2008 has to offer. Just don't go in expecting a masterpiece.
Simply put, the visuals in Gears of War 2 are a mixed bag. The graphics themselves are fantastic and by taking one look at the game, it's easy to understand all the hype surrounding them. The problem is, nicely rendered objects and environments aren't all that go into a game's visuals. The textures look downright muddy and unappealing about 90% of the time thanks to the game's lackluster art style and environment design. Much like Gears of War, the duration of the game is set in caves and other destroyed urban areas. Clearly the point of the visuals was to convey a sort of a bleak tone, but in all honestly it just isn't pulled off nearly as well as it could be. For an example of a game that pulls it off in every way imaginable, take a look at Fallout 3. That as well as several other games with a comparable look prove that it's quite possible to give the player the same feeling that they were going for without making everything look quite so bland. The use of browns and grays still prevails, and still drags the look of the game down quite a bit. Thankfully, some mild greens, blues and reds have been thrown in here and there where trees, water and fire have been added, but they make up such a small part of the game that it really doesn't liven things up as well as you'd hope.
Marcus isn't the stealthiest of guys, but he can still snipe.
The environments have seen some nice improvements, as there is definitely a much wider variety now and most have been greatly expanded. Unfortunately, even as this is the case, only one or two are particularly memorable. Some sections in the cave feature some great background designs that appear to stretch on for miles, giving your surroundings a very epic feel. This is the one way that Gears of War 2 has managed to really outdo the original. It also helps that you're now being thrust into completely different locations every so often. Like I said, none are particularly memorable, but it still does a much better job of keeping things fresh than before. Only towards the end did it begin to drag on a bit, but the level variety still adds a great deal to the overall experience.
The performance has been improved slightly, although it can still only be referred to as pretty good, most of the time. When walking around and engaging in combat, everything is mostly smooth, and when entering large scale battles with a lot going on, things start to chug a bit. It can be annoying, sure, but it's to be expected. It never really becomes a serious problem that affects the gameplay in any way, and that's really all that matters.
Unmemorable is really the best way to describe the audio. The music is thankfully kept to a minimum as it really doesn't add to the experience in any way. It's generic action music and goes largely unnoticed throughout... well... the entire game, really. The sound effects are about the same. The sound of the guns and explosions sound pretty good, although they're nothing special. Most of it is exactly the same thing that you'd hear in Gears of War. This is especially disappointing when it comes to the Lancer (the game's primary weapon) as it still sounds far too weak for its own good. Everything else, from the grunts and groans that come from the characters to the growling of enemy soldiers, sounds pretty typical. Revving up the chainsaw and hearing it rip through the flesh of the enemies or hearing the crushing of their skulls underneath your boot is really the saving grace, as far as audio goes.
Let me know how this tastes.
The voice acting is once again pretty bad, but that's still mostly due to the horrible dialogue. The characters were all brainless meat heads before and that's still the case. They run around and spout off ridiculous macho-man lines, in-game and not, that will likely make anyone who isn't of the same sort cringe. Thankfully, however, I never once heard "shit yeah!" yelled out like I had so many times before. That alone is a significant improvement. The characters have been given some fresh dialogue that is seemingly supposed to make them feel a little less two-dimensional, but coupled with the laughable story the whole attempt just falls flat.
The story in Gears of War sucked and Gears of War 2 combines that suck with a half-hearted attempt to convey some emotion. Once again, you play as Marcus Fenix who is sent in with his partner Dom and some new squad mates to unleash a counter attack on the Locust hordes. Along the way there are some twists and turns as well as a side story that features a heartbroken and emotional Dom trying to rescue his wife who was taken captive by the enemy. If you've played the first game you can basically guess how the whole thing unfolds. You go in guns blazing, saw some dudes in half, blow shit up and save the day. They attempt to dress it up a bit better than before, but that's still all there is to it. The side story from Dom thankfully adds some humor to the whole thing, although it's apparent that that wasn't quite what they were going for. What can I say other than this game was clearly not made for storytelling purposes.
How you doing there big guy? You holding up alright? You want a soda?
Thankfully for Gears of War 2, the gameplay is a hell of a lot of fun. Yes, it's about as shallow as it gets, but to be honest there's something about running around as a huge hulking mass destroying everything in sight that really doesn't get old. The game is primarily a cover based stop-and-pop shooter where you'll be utilizing your surroundings to keep yourself out of harm's way while pumping as much lead into the enemies as you can. Every once in a while you'll bust out, run up to one and saw him in half with the Lancer's built-in chainsaw, and while the action itself never changes and is certainly easy to overuse, I definitely got a bit of a rush every time I'd pull off a good one. All in all, that's really what Gears of War 2 is about and if that's something you enjoy, there's no doubt that this game has what you're looking for. It does what it does relatively well and everything else is forfeit.
GET SOME, BITCH!!!
That's not to say that it doesn't have its issues, however, as most of the problems with Gears of War have not been remedied here. The movement is still just as clunky as ever and the mechanic for popping into cover and hopping over obstacles still requires a lot of work. It's not terrible but it definitely takes some getting used to. The sprint mechanic is another problematic feature that still hasn't been taken care of. To sprint, you hold A while running and Marcus will crouch down and make an overly-cinematic dash for whatever is ahead. It looks kind of cool, yeah, but the problem is that trying to control him while sprinting is far too complicated to be of much use. You can't really maneuver or see anything while performing a sprint so it mostly just causes you to get you turned around and caught on things. The revive mechanic is also very poorly implemented. The point is to allow your squad mates to run up to you and heal you after your shield has been drained and you've been reduced to crawling on your hands and knees. Seems like it would be a great idea but instead it's probably the worst thing about the game. The AI of your squad mates is so ridiculously bad that they only respond about 25% of the time. The other 75% of the time they ignore you completely and even run away from you, almost as if they want you to die. You'll crawl to their knees begging to be saved and they won't pay you the slightest bit of attention. It was easily the most frustrating thing I've had to deal with while playing the game and I honestly wish they would've just left it out entirely. At least then you wouldn't even be given the false hope of a possible revival.
The game also still lacks a very important feature, which is the ability to switch shoulders while aiming. This is fairly standard now for most cover-based third-person shooters and the lack of this mechanic really complicates the gameplay on several occasions. Every so often there will be an enemy in sight that you'd have no problem taking out if only you could switch shoulders to get a proper view. Instead, your only option is to run out and gun him down in a more risky fashion. Everything else works how you'd expect it to. Hold the left trigger to aim while in cover and press the right trigger to shoot. Like I said, the gameplay is shallow and if you're looking for a more intuitive control scheme that allows you to do more than just fire off clip after clip without a care in the world, this is not the game for you.
Take it. Things could have gone a lot worse for you.
The weapon selection is pretty standard; you'll mostly be using either the Lancer or the enemy's single shot rifle. You've also got grenades, mini-guns, snipers and a few special weapons such as the Hammer of Dawn (which I won't even try to explain). They don't come into play as often as I would've liked but they do help change up the combat a bit, if only for a short while.
The campaign itself is a fairly short and linear experience. You go from level to level fighting the hordes of Locust (I still don't understand why they call them this as they're neither grasshoppers nor the greatest grindcore band on Earth), leaving nothing but blood and gore behind you. The level design is pretty good for the most part and your surroundings are definitely interesting backdrops for the carnage. Unfortunately, the Locust aren't the most interesting of enemies, which kind of drags down the combat. They're brainless monsters that look good when blown apart. That's really about all there is to them. They're not smart, they have no real battle tactics and there's very little about them that could be called unique.
Aside from the standard "kill every enemy you see", the game also introduces some ridiculous boss battles, vehicle segments and Locust riding. Yes, I'm serious. None of this makes up a very large portion of the game but all of it is equally as stupid and could only have originated from the mind of someone like Cliffy B. There are so many facepalm moments in this game that so clearly came from Cliffy sitting down, thinking up the craziest things imaginable and saying "hey, how badass would this be?" The final two hours of the game were akin to something a 13-year old who has seen way too many action movies would come up with. One boss battle in particular had me saying "honestly... am I really doing this right now?" But hey, if this is the kind of game you're into, there's no doubt that you'll be amused by all of it. I, however, was not.
Blood and guts. Woo.
The game is a pretty brief experience, lasting anywhere from 8-10 hours on your first playthrough. The whole thing is nothing but nonstop action, and although there isn't much in the way of variety other than the abysmal vehicle segments, it never felt too repetitive. It's likely that you'll play through it at least once more, especially with friends, as the co-op is pretty fun. The ridiculousness of it all is definitely more fun when you're going through it with a friend. The online mode will probably be the deciding factor for most people, when considering a purchase. If you enjoy the game for what it is, it's likely that you'll be playing it for quite a while. Some, however, will not be able to play it for more than 10 minutes before realizing how awful the control setup is for competitive online play. By "some", I mean me. I hated the online mode and probably wouldn't play it if I were paid. That's just me being honest. There are better online games out there that aren't such a pain in the ass to control. It's quite likely, however, that this all comes down to the fact that I just suck at it. Whatever. Personal opinion aside, the overall setup as well as the incredibly addicting Horde Mode, where you and a couple friends team up to take on wave after wave of enemies, still make for one of the most well put together online modes this year.
Overall, Gears of War 2 isn't a bad gameplay experience for those who just want to jump in and kill things. Gamers who are looking for more, such as an enticing story, in-depth characters and a bit more creativity with the look of things are most certainly barking up the wrong tree.
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