Game Review – Gears of War 2

logo_300When the dust settled on the original Gears of War release over four million copies were sold and some of the highest critical praise of any title on the 360 to date. So it is easy to say that the expectations around Gears of War 2 are pretty high.

Epic Games is the studio behind Gears of War 2 and the powerful Unreal engine. This engine powers some of the best games out today (Rainbow Six 2, Unreal Tournment III, BioShock and Army of Two) So a lot is expected of an in-house title from Epic.

What I have been able to gather Gears of War 2 takes place 6 months after the deployment of the lightmass bomb at the end of part one. This was not without consequences. While a small victory was won with the explosion a side effect has developed. “Rust Lung” it seems humanity is on the brink from both the Locusts and this new disease. Add to that the Locusts have a new weapon that can shallow a city whole and you begin to get the picture that Gears 2 focuses on more than the exploits of Marcus and team.

This leads to Jacinto. Jacinto is a small fortified city and similar to Zion in the Matrix is the last human sanctuary. With the threat of the new weapon the COG has no choice but to take the fight to the Locusts. This is where the game starts as Marcus and team will take the fight underground.

There are also some new members to Delta squad. While Cole and Baird are still a major part of the story they are no longer with Delta Squad. One of the new additions is Tai Kaliso, a more spiritual warrior and adds a new mystical dynamic to the squad. Also one of the main driving side story’s is the search for Dom’s wife Maria Santiago.

In terms of gameplay improvements the Unreal engine 3 is showcasing new features. Unlike other engines, Unreal does not follow the same versioning pattern. Epic stated the Unreal Engine is designed for the entire console cycle. The engine will feature new lighting techniques similar to cinematic lighting. The engine can now also render large amounts of enemies that act independently. Similar to Halo there is a lot of emphasis on water and soft body physics. The last new feature has more to do with your environment, specifically cover. Now similar to Dark Sector your cover can be chipped away leaving you open for attacks.

Not much will change though in how you interact with the team. The core cover/shoot mechanics remain intact. Active reloads are pretty much intact. But in the Halo model it would not be a sequel without new weapons (Hammer Burst, Gorgon Burst Pistol, Poison Grenade). And as the trailer showed chainsaw duels are a new element to the fun.

Being a huge co-op fan I was really excited to hear about the addition of drop-in drop-out options. Mainly your buddy can arrive at anytime and leave at any time without disrupting the flow of the game. This is big as before you would lose your session if your buddy had to go. The other major addition is the addition of multiple save files. While this does not seem big initially the ability to track against different files is a welcome addition.

One of the other fun co-op additions is that you can play on different difficulty settings. This is possible as when you split down individual paths at certain points you get to experience the difficulty setting you selected.

The popular COG tags of the first game have been dropped in favor of a BioShock style of object interaction. Basically you can collect personal letters and medical records to new COG tags that can actually be examined to learn about their fallen owner.

As it stands now the co-op is still limited to 2 players. It would be a welcome change to allow for 4 player co-op similar to Halo 3. This is the ideal scenario with a squad based shooter.

One of my main concerns is that Gears 1 was like a summer blockbuster. More focus on action vs. story. With sequels we sometimes get the over-story where the studio tries to make up for the perceived lack of story in the first edition with too much in the second. My most recent case in point is Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. I am not a fan of the interactive movie model of gaming. Not to say Gears 2 will go this route, but I did see that there is definitely going to be more focus on story this time around.

From an achievement standpoint a welcome change has been made to the system. You can now track your progress in both single player and multiplayer. E.g. If you need to make 1,000 headshots you can do it in any game mode vs. the 10,000 you had to get in multiplayer only.

Gears of War 2 will be available on Xbox 360 in November of 2008. In the meantime check out the screenshots that are available now. I can’t wait!!!

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