Going through Gears of War 2 you have to admire how much Epic can get out of the Xbox 360. The original Gears of War was said to be one of the best looking titles ever and now with the sequel, Epic has surpassed the bar they themselves set two years earlier. Gears of War 2 takes place after the events of the first one as humans are still struggling to end the war with the Locust. The same cast of characters are present throughout your adventure with some brand new ones making their debut. Once you start on your adventure you will immediately notice how detailed the environments are around you. The environments are also a lot more varied this time around. You will find yourself fighting in cities, in the wilderness, on a mountain and underground in your attempts at saving humanity. You will also quickly discover that Epic greatly improved the story in this game over their original title. The story is more compelling this time around and there are definitely instances that highlight the sacrifices that Epic was always talking about.
Gears of War 2 overall is a much more polished product than the original. You can of course choose to go through the campaign solo or experience it with a friend either locally or over Xbox Live. There is a new training grounds feature which will help train you in some of the various online modes until you are comfortable in battling it out with people over Live. However, if you don’t want to play against other people you can still set up some multiplayer action against bots. The multiplayer section has also been done really well. The host can designate the match and game type at the push of a button. Then, depending on the game type you pick, you have the option of tweaking your game to your own specifications. There are eight different game types with fifteen different maps to choose from. There is also of course the brand new mode for this title, Horde mode. In Horde mode you and up to four of your other friends can team up and take on wave after wave of the Locust horde. Once you successfully go through wave one, you will immediately have to go through wave two all the way until you go through all fifty waves. As you progress through each wave of enemies they will get tougher. They will start becoming more accurate with their shots, having more health and be able to sustain more damage. If you expect to survive and make it through all fifty of the waves you will have to work as a team. It is a fantastic new mode that will increase the replayability of this title exponentially.
The actual gameplay remains the same with the exception of a few new teaks. Now when you go to chainsaw an enemy it is not always an instant kill. The enemy might try to use their own chainsaw which will put you in a chainsaw duel. Whoever wins the duel will chainsaw their opponent in half. There are also some brand new execution kills. Everyone remembers how popular and how satisfying it was to curb stomp your enemies in Gears of War 1. Curb stomping has returned in this title, along with you being able to pick up a downed enemy and use them as a meat shield. You can also deliver a fatal melee blow to a downed opponent or mount them UFC style and throw punch after punch. Each one is satisfying to pull off and viscerally looks amazing. There is also another great idea that Epic put in this game and that is the War Journal. The War Journal is the place where all of your stats are stored. It keeps track of all of your collectibles, unlockables, leader boards, the photos you take and the achievements you earn. You can go even deeper and look at a specific part of a mission and it will tell you how many collectibles you have found. I currently have found one of two collectibles in the opening area of the game. This is a great addition for those who want to find every last item. Instead of having to search through the whole game for that last piece, it narrows it down to the specific chapter you were in.
This game is not without its faults however. There were times when, for whatever reason, my character simply wouldn’t take cover. There were times when I tried to take cover behind a doorway, however, I wasn’t allowed to do so. I had to try and do it three or four times before it would work. When you are in a big firefight with the Locust you obviously need to be able to get into cover quickly. Now this only happened a couple of times throughout the whole adventure, but it was incredibly frustrating the few times it did occur. While the two player co-op works amazingly well, it still would have been even more amazing if we could have had four player co op this time around. There are four main characters in the Gears games so having four player co-op would make a great experience even better. Another annoying feature is that campaign progress is only saved on the machine of the host. If my friend and I start going through the campaign one night and get half way through it before stopping and he is the host, then all of that progress will be saved on his end. If I want to continue the story by myself, since I didn’t host the session, I would have to start back at the beginning of the game. Now there are three available save slots in this title which is a definite improvement over Gears of War 1, however, this oversight might hamper the experience for some players who want to immediately jump back in to Act 4, for example, yet have to settle for starting at the beginning.
Overall this is another fantastic title from Epic and it definitely lived up to the hype. The A.I. in this title is also very impressive. The Locust will lull you into a false sense of security and then pounce on you when you are least expecting it. If you are trying to line up a shot with your sniper rifle, chances are they won’t stick their heads out so you can shoot them. Your ally A.I. is smarter too as there were a few times where I was taken out by a Locust, only to be saved by Baird as he ran over to revive me. The storyline is much more immersive and fulfilling. It is a great feeling whether you are going through the campaign with a friend or taking on waves of enemies with a group of your buddies. The environments are really varied so there shouldn’t be much of a “déj` vu” sentiment among gamers. You also get to drive more vehicles in this game which help to change up the pacing. Gears of War 2 is a hell of a ride and one everyone must experience.