From day one, everyone knew that the original Gears of War was going to be a runaway success. Even before the game was released, Cliff Bleszinski, the games lead designer, had been selling the game as something that would be considered a defining title for the Xbox 360. Though Cliffy had the pedigree of creating great games, many wondered if he would be able to deliver on the grandiose vision that he had been promoting.
The game released on November 7th, 2006 to the sound of reviewers and fans alike praising the gorgeous visuals, perfected controls, and compelling coop campaign. Gears was one of the largest successes of the early Xbox 360 era, and the first “must buy” game of the console’s life cycle. As of September 18th, 2008 the game had sold over five million copies and left fans around the world salivating, eagerly anticipating the next installment in the franchise.
Despite having widespread critical and commercial success, Gears 1 was widely panned as having a mind numbingly awful storyline. During the press tour for the second Gears, Cliff Bleszinski was heavily emphasizing that the second installment had been given an intense new focus on story driven gameplay. Epic Games had even brought in graphic novelist and screenwriter Joshua Ortega to pen a script that would better lend itself to the Gears of War Universe.
Gears of War 2 launched in North America on November 7th, 2008, the two year anniversary of the original’s invasion. The response has been huge, selling over two million copies in less than a week. Much like the original, Gears 2 has brought a lot of new and exciting things to the table, but the real question is whether it is enough to live up to the expectations established by its stellar predecessor.
Taking place six months after the events of the original, Gears of War 2 picks up with the human forces in utter disarray. Several of the strongest COG strongholds have been sunk using giant emergence holes, forcing all of the troops to regroup at one of the last remaining human strongholds, a city named Jacinto. With their backs against the wall, the last remaining humans decide that the only chance they have is to take matters into their own hands, launching an all-out offensive on the locust stronghold.
While all this is taking place, Marcus and Dominic are dealing with problems of their own. In all of the chaos and confusion surrounding the war, Dom’s wife Maria has gone missing. A visibly distraught Dom is on a desperate hunt for the love of his life, with a little help from Marcus and Anya. Their search for Dom’s spouse frequently distracts the duo from their military objectives, but piece-by-piece the puzzle begins to fall into place, culminating in an emotional reunion between the long lost lovers.
Somewhere along this winding road of chaos and heartache, Cole and Baird manage to reunite with our main protagonists, reforming the Delta Squad that veterans of the series so fondly remember. Carmine also makes a valiant return from the grave via his younger and much less experienced sibling, Benjamin. Rounding out the cast is an Asian spiritual by the name of Tai, who acts as the rock and protector for the team through several of the early missions.
Even against the most impossible odds, Delta Squad bands together, fighting fervently for the cause of providing a safer world for future generations. The road ahead of them is tough, but it seems evident that as long as they can depend on each other, impossible just means they are going to need more ammo!
First off, Gears of War 2 took all of the extensively detailed and stylized graphics from the first game and turned it up to eleven. Every single object that appears on the screen has a level of polish and realism that pushes the Unreal Engine 3 to its very limits. Addressing complaints constantly leveled at the Unreal Engine, the standard palate of differing shades of black and grey has been fleshed out to give a more lifelike appearance to the environments.
Speaking of environments, there are numerous different settings that the player must fight their way through, including an epic firefight through a lush forest, a snow covered ascent up the side of a mountain and an entire city that has been decimated by its submergence below the earth’s crust. Each change of location adds new mechanics and enemies, instilling variety into what would otherwise be considered monotonous repetition. Expect to see something new and equally awesome in every location.
Knowing full well the piss-poor quality of the original’s script, it was hard to have high expectations for Gears of War 2. It was a pleasant surprise to see a narrative that seemed to have been given more thought than a note feverishly scribbled on the back of a truck stop napkin. While still far from perfect, there are great strides that have been made in both storytelling and character development.
Both Marcus and Dominic show immense personal growth as the story progresses. Throughout the search for Maria, Dom exhibits an emotional vulnerability that can only come from pure desperation. Along the same lines, Marcus seems to have also softened a bit, taking the young Carmine under his wing. The result is an evolution from frat boys with a bad attitude and a penchant for spouting mindless statements of unbridled machismo, into characters that you genuinely want to see succeed.
Lastly, multiplayer makes a triumphant return, bringing new maps, features and modes. Horde mode is the biggest addition to the multiplayer package, pitting five players against wave after wave of locust insurgents. Teamwork is the key to survival, encouraging communication, which has an equally effective influence over the other multiplayer modes. For the most part it is really just more of the same, but that is far from a bad thing.
It is really hard to be critical about games of this caliber, but there are definitely AI issues that become apparent at several instances in the game. If Dom is not being controlled by a coop player, he has a tendency to like to roam into the line of fire, normally resulting in his eminent death. Also, when Marcus gets downed during an intense firefight, the first priority of the AI should be to heal him. Instead, the player is forced to crawl to safety, while the AI only looks out for itself.
Another problem that makes a return appearance from the first Gears of War is sticking to the wrong piece of cover. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to take cover in a firefight, only to find yourself stuck against a solid wall, instead of the anticipated object strewn across the environment. When trying to roadie run, these same objects tend to reach out and grab you, which totally defeats the purpose of the technique, not to mention kills your momentum.
Publicly, the game has been plagued with matchmaking problems over Xbox LIVE. Some users have reported having to wait anywhere from twenty minutes to a full hour, just to be placed in a multiplayer match. For a game of this magnitude and budget, things like this are in excusable, but rest assured that it will be patched soon enough.
Epic Games needs to hire a dialog screener. Some of the statements that characters make are both nonsensical and downright distracting. If they were shouted out sparingly, many of these comments could be shrugged of as nothing more than inane babble, but when you hear gems like, “I’ve got your back like an ass crack,” there is something seriously wrong.
There was one nagging piece of the story that was never addressed in the game. During a cut scene Dom reveals that he and Maria had children together. Yet, while the entire game revolves around hunting for his wife, there is never any other mention made of his kids. Were they killed? Are they safely hiding somewhere? Could they be lost too? We may never know, but most fathers would be just as concerned about their own children as they are about their spouse, if not more so.
The search for Maria is a central conflict and emotional focal point for the game. So much of the plot builds up to that critical moment where Dom and Maria reunite, but it happens far too early in the game. For a title that is emphasizing the importance of plot, the emotional climax should not occur halfway though the game. Epic could have done so much more with what they had in place. Unfulfilled potential is one of the worst failures a developer can make.
Gears of War was a title that reset the expectations of what games could be on the current generation of consoles. People where blown away because there was nothing else like it available. After months of hype and excitement, Gears of War 2 ended up being exactly what we expected. It is an odd oxymoron to be disappointed by an exceptional game, but there was never that moment of awe inspiring amazement, that the original Gears displayed so prominently.
Gears of War 2 manages to combine outstanding gameplay, competent storytelling, and amazing visuals, to produce one of the best games available on any platform. The solid single player campaign will lure you in and the expanded multiplayer options will keep you coming back for more. This is a game that should be the cornerstone of every video game collection.
Filed under: by: Grundy the Man