Editor's Note: Here we go. It's taken a while, but with this review we are coming to the end of the glut of the Christmas review season and on to better pastures. Bring on 2009! Ahem.
Gears of War 2. Perhaps the most important title of the season for Microsoft and the Xbox, if not the whole market in general. This is the Halo 3 or Half Life 2 of 2008. Does it live up to hype? The answer is: yes, but some of you are still going to hate it.
Gears 2 is a very, very good game. If you have played the original Gears of War, you know what to expect. Insanely beautiful graphics, the best ever seen on the modern consoles. Brutal, gory gameplay with more gibs than anything you have ever seen - hell, you can chainsaw people in half. Co-operative play which puts its rivals to shame and more action than the lovechild of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger could produce.
The game takes all these expectations and knocks them up to 11 instead of a mere 10. The graphics look even better than before, with more detail and they are much crisper. They actually make the graphics of the original Gears look a bit poor in comparison and this isn't a Playstation 4 or PC game. The co-op is even better as well - not only can you join any game in progress with a friend, but now when you leave said game (as long as you are not the host) the other player doesn't have to get booted back to the main menu screen. You also BOTH get achievements when playing a co-op session, instead of whoever is playing as Dom getting them. The action is insane as in certain parts of the game you will be fighting HUNDREDS of locust at once whilst wondering how the hell the Unreal 3 engine is doing this and still making everything so pretty. You finally get to take on brumaks and be prepared, you are going to have to kill a lot of them.
You finally get to kill these bastards. It is about damned time I say.
Multiplayer has also been enhanced. The adversarial modes are very similar to how you remember them but you can now have 10 players instead of 8, the maps look cleaner (some of the older ones have be touched up to look new and different, and you can download these for free,) and the net code has been touched up a lot, especially with the recent patch. You get a few new modes as well. You even can use bots if you want to. Despite all this the adversarial multiplayer is still very similar to what we played in Gears of War 1, so if you grew bored of that there is little here to entertain you. This is where Horde mode comes in. You and 4 friends choose a multiplayer map and take on waves upon waves of Locust in an attempt to hold out for 50 rounds. It's great fun and let's you bring more than 3 buddies into a co-op experience. It is a really fresh take on multiplayer and it is something that like the co-op of the original gears should be copied by every other game out there. COD 5 has already done this partially with its Nazi Zombies mode and it is all the better for it.
You also get things that weren't there or just weren't very good in the original with Gears of War 2, namely a plot. In the first game you were shuffled from fight to fight with very little explanation as to why. 'There is a train with a nuke on it now?' 'What happened to the Brumak?' 'What's going on?' are questions you won't have to ask in this game. Dom's search for his wife becomes a crucial part of the story as opposed to one offhanded reference in one cut scene and a random tattoo on his arm. Marcus reveals more about his past and his father. New characters are introduces such as Dizzy the hillbilly and Tai the New Zealand native who are just as memorable and unique as the regular Delta Squad beefcakes. Sure, they have been drinking steroids like a ADD child downs cola with everybody else in the game, but they still shine though the stereotype. I almost cried at one point and for an action game, that is some damned fine storytelling. It's almost, but not quite up to the levels of the original Halo in terms of narrative.
The levels are also bigger, more detailed and more varied. You won't be stuck in dingy greys and browns all the time, but they do still take up a large part of things. This is Gears of War after all. Some of the new environments are even more mind blowingly beautiful than before which is amazing considering the beauty of the first game. The game is also much longer than the first one, which is nice. New weapons are abound in the form of a Flamethrower, a new kind of pistol as well as a few heavy weapons such as a huge machine gun which needs to be set up on a surface to fire properly called a grinder and a mortar canon. At times, you are wondering if they are planning to turn this game into an RTS like Ensemble are doing with Halo with all this sweet stuff. Heck, the tank driving level makes you want them to be making it RIGHT NOW.
It's not all roses and dismemberment though. The game has its problems like any other. Firstly and most prominent is the fact that this game is evolution rather than revolution - existing ideas have been improved upon and new ones have been added but the core gameplay remains the same. This is more Resident Evil 2 than Resident Evil 4. If you didn't like the first game or just grew bored of it, there is a good chance you will not like Gears of War 2 much at all. Whilst co-op is awesome and obviously designed to work well with 2 players as sections have you covering each other and working together, you wonder why it isn't 4 player. Halo 3 had four player co-op. COD 5 has four player co-op. There are always four members of Delta squad if not more, so why does Gears 2 not have 4 player co-op? There is no answer for that one.
The ending is also rather lame. There isn't so much a boss battle as a shooter on rails which you cannot lose. Compared to the ending of the first Gears, it's a bit tame. The ending also ends up asking more questions than you had answered so you still don't know who the Locust really are or what's going on and we are 2 games into the franchise already. The ending makes Gears 3 a certainty that Epic are probably working on right now. It isn't as lame as the ending of Halo 2 with the fight you didn't even get to play in Halo 3, but it's still not as awesome as you want it to be.
So, how can we grade gears? Basically, this is Gears of War 2.0 - it's as bigger, better and more badass as Epic said it would be, and we weren't really expecting them to do anything other than improve the franchise and gameplay. We weren't promised a new moon, just a bigger and brighter one and this game delivers that. If you love action games or just Gears of War 1, this game is a must have. For the few of you who didn't like the original this game is not for you. Move along but remember to ask yourself why so many people love this game and also ask yourself why you don't like chainsawing people from their bottom first up to their head. There must be something wrong with you.
Review by: Edwin Jones