The “Gears” go on the offensive in this much anticipated sequel to the super popular, chainsaw swinging, body exploding, blood splattering, man against thing, win or say goodbye to mankind first person shooter that pits the people of Sera against the grotesque horde of subterranean Locusts.
Driving deep into the underground universe, the COG forces battle the relentless Locust army and the multitudes of devastating beasts and fierce weaponry at their disposal. The style doesn't stray far from its predecessor with the player maneuvering through levels fraught with intense battles requiring quick thinking and strategy and, when playing on the more advanced difficulties, a mastery of the controls. Upgraded weapons and gear that will help in the fight are found throughout the game and some collectibles can also be grabbed along the way. Each level is concluded with a clash against some kind of monstrous creature or Boss like Skorge the successor to the Locust leader Raam who was dispatched in the original Gears. Gameplay is fluid and engrossing and the AI is very realistic. Learning how and where to take cover is key to success. Generally, pressing the A button is all you need to do to duck into cover, press up against a wall, dive behind a barrier or get into a crouching run. The B button is where the fun happens. Get close to your enemy and shred him to pieces with the chainsaw bayonet on your machine gun. After downing one of your adversaries from afar, you can move in for a brutal finishing move which might be a swift, splattering stomp to the head or a more sophisticated approach like using the end of your machine gun to scatter some brain fragments without getting your boots dirty. That being said, a higher definition TV is almost a must with Gears of War 2. The Unreal Engine used to deliver the gruesomely pleasing graphics is wasted on anything less. We compared Gears 2 on a standard def and then on a 1080i LCD, and the graphics are not only breathtaking in high def, they also make it easier to identify different weapons or objects and even spot members of the opposition in the distance and distinguish them from your comrades. Besides, you really want to be able to see all the detail in the dismembered body parts and exploding flesh and blood splattering all over the screen, don’t you? Exhilarating and interactive scenery adds to the dynamic feel of the alien lair.
A compelling storyline with interweaving plots keeps the player at attention through the somewhat extensive cuts scenes that intermittently interrupt your Locust eviscerations. The addition of new characters, Tai, Dizzy and Carmine the rookie add some depth and levity to the story which follows Marcus Fenix and his partner Dom in their mission to destroy the Locusts and hopefully find Dom’s wife Maria along the way. With the feel of the newest blockbuster sci-fi action flick, the scenes were entertaining and the dialogue was raw and well delivered. The voice acting was a bit overdone at times but not to the point where it feels corny. The plotlines weren’t exactly wrapped up at the end of Gears 2 thus paving the way for an inevitable Gears 3. And with the popularity of the franchise so far no one can blame Epic Games and Microsoft Studios for capitalizing.
The music is perfectly matched to the intensity of the action and drama of the story. The cinematic score, arranged by the same artist who did the music for Transformers and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, adds to the experience and keeps your heart racing.
Now, to the real meat of the game: Online multiplayer. "Insane bullet and blood fest" sums it up nicely. Designed to have players of similar skill level face off against each other, the matchmaker finds people ready to play and creates teams. Still, team selection seemed incredibly arbitrary. It was very uninformative in that you never really know how close you are to getting a match started. The multiplayer screen displays five slots representing the number of players needed to form a team and shows ”found player” when a spot is filled. On occasion these five spots are filled almost instantly, but at other times they takes 2-5 minutes to fill up. In some instances the slots do not fill at all and the matchmaker service must be restarted. After a team’s slots are filled, the game searches for an opposing team of similar skill. Then you’re in the same boat again, sometimes finding another team to fight instantaneously, and sometimes not at all. Once the slots on both teams are filled, an options screen appears in which members of both teams can choose two match styles to be played from a list of six choices. Players can also choose the map (again between two choices), character portrait, and primary weapon.
The different types of match style are:
Warzone - A simple elimination in which each player has a single life
Guardian - One member of each team is designated as the leader and the object is to kill the opposing leader. All other team members get respawned until their leader is dead.
Submission - A twist on capture the flag, only here the flag is a person who must be captured and brought to a specific location. The human target is armed and will defend himself, but to little avail.
Execution - Similar to Warzone except that unless an enemy is killed with a finishing move or one-shot kill, they will revive and get back into the fight.
King of the Hill and Annex - Two similar modes with slight variations, teams aim to collect the majority of points by securing locations. Locations are secured by standing inside a certain area designated by a glowing ring.
There are two other types of multiplayer match. Wingman, where up to five two man teams battle for points by killing other players, and Horde; a match in which up to five players team up to fight wave after wave of Locusts whose strength and health increase after ever ten rounds. Once you get up into the thirtieth, fortieth, and fiftieth rounds, life becomes quite difficult.
Online play is fierce and not for the faint of heart or the easily frustrated. Obviously there are some savvy and experienced shooters out there and I found myself many times mysteriously and spontaneously exploding. Of course this was usually someone shooting me from behind, but with no on-screen indicator to point out threat locations, the sneak attack is commonplace. I was routinely the worst player on my team but was still able to do some damage here and there.
In conclusion, the millions of Gears of War fans will undoubtedly be thrilled by the sequel. The combination of fantastic graphics, gameplay, and storyline have made this one a winner whether online play is your thing or you plan to conquer the Locusts on your own after unlocking the Insane difficulty setting. If you plan to blast away online foes until the wee hours of the morning, rest assured that aside from a little waiting during match creation, there are devoted fans (new and old) for you to dismember for a long, long time. Gears of War 2 has earned the designation of instant classic and deserves a place in your game library.