5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A Good Example of What A Sequel Should Do,
This review is from: Gears of War 2 - Xbox 360 (Video Game)
There's an unfortunate trend in action games nowadays: dividing content in a game so that it favors either fans of single-player gaming or multiplayer gaming (more so towards the latter in many high-profile franchises), but rarely letting fans of both feel like they're getting the most out of the whole experience. Often, the multiplayer experience is useless to those who are offline, or is just not that enjoyable for those who don't have the time or lack of interruptions to go through a series of matches without being seen as a quitter or bad team-mate. The good news is that Gears of War 2 is not one of those games; in fact, each of the 3 core experiences (Campaign, Multiplayer, and Horde Mode) can be enjoyed to some extent either alone or with other players. Sure, a botmatch will never really have the same level of excitement as an online match against real people, but it still beats not being able to get any enjoyment out of the multiplayer part of the game.
For those who aren't familiar with the Gears of War franchise, the first Gears of War was a different take on the kind of testosterone-laced, big-budget action gaming genre dominated by the likes of Halo, Call of Duty, and other such shooters. Coming out in 2006, it was in effect the big unveiling of Epic Games' Unreal 3 engine. As opposed to most other shooters, Gears of War eliminated the ability to jump, and instead placed an emphasis on taking cover and third-person gunplay. You followed a group of ridiculously steroid-enhanced, armor-clad soldiers on a planet where humanity is beseiged by a mutated army (the Locust) rising up from the underground as they try to locate a high-tech bomb over the course of a couple of days, and deploy it against the Locust forces. While Gears of War wasn't the first game to use the cover and shoot mechanic (see Killswitch or 007: Everything or Nothing), it did popularize it greatly, and attached glossy production values to the gameplay. The problem was that the game felt more like a tech demo at times, and didn't have the scope of say, the original Halo: Combat Evolved. The game felt somewhat abbreviated, and attempts to provide variety, such as a lone nighttime vehicular section, or avoiding darkened areas where light-sensitive flying swarms attack, felt somewhat undercooked.
Gears of War 2's campaign, on the other hand, feels like a game first, and tech showcase second. Taking a page from the Call of Duty franchise, GOW 2 moves the player through what seems to be a constantly changing series of events, while still keeping the core gameplay concepts intact. To this player, the shifts away from the 3rd person, cover-based firefights are much more smoothly integrated into the game, whether they involve riding shotgun on a huge, mobile drill as it advances through mountainous terrain, driving a tank across an ice-covered lake, or flying a monstrous creature in a surprisingly entertaining rail-shooter segment. Whether fighting it out through delapidated city streets, exploring a snow-covered village, advancing through enormous underground citadels, or attempting to make it out of a creepy, weed-overgrown, Resident Evil-inspired abandoned facility in the middle of a metallic hailstorm, the situations you're placed seem to neither last too short a time, nor overstay their welcome. In fact, only the very ending battle is a letdown, in that it is too easily won. While the somewhat clunky speed you move at takes some getting used to, the game is otherwise smoothly executed, with one notable improvement being the ability to grab still-living enemies and use them as shields. As before, the campaign can be played co-operatively, although this time co-op is more smoothly executed. While the game is as linear as it gets, there's nothing wrong with that here. It's an over-the-top, ridiculous thrill ride, that's not meant to wax poetic on the nature of humanity (although there's one surprisingly effective scene that I won't spoil which stands out from the rest of the overly macho gruntfest that characterizes the story).
A new addition to the franchise is Horde mode, which lets either a lone player (in Training Ground mode) or a team of players try to survive as long as possible against an onslaught of enemies, while racking up points. In many ways, this is like a modern, 3D take on Smash TV, but with more organic settings. The mode was influential enough for Bungie to take notice, and add a similar "Firefight" mode to Halo Reach and Halo 3: ODST. The multiplayer modes, which can be played offline with bots by a single player within the Training Grounds menu, are team-oriented, and include modes such as King of the Hill and Submission (aka "Meatflag").
If there's a negative about the game, it's that it popularized the use of "Day 1" downloadable content; in other words, content that was taken out of the game (in this case, 5 multiplayer/horde maps), and has to be downloaded using a 1-time use code linked to your gamertag. Ostensibly, this is to create an incentive to buy the game new, which is understandable. However, as we've seen, this idea has snowballed out of control once other developers started abusing it. (This overreliance on digital distribution also afflicted the Game of the Year edition, which, unlike the Fallout 3 GOTY edition, doesn't contain the additional content on a disc, but rather requires downloading the new content (around 19 extra maps, also available as the downloadable All Fronts package) using a code.)
That being said, Gears of War 2 epitomizes what a linear game sequel should strive for: provide a fuller, longer campaign, add new gameplay mechanics, refine what works, add new modes, and make all aspects of the game worthwhile and playable for both solo and multiplayer oriented gamers. Sure, it might be laughably gory, and far too "manly" for its own good, but it's a damn good time, and you'll get your money's worth.