Review: Gears of War 2 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

: Gears of War 2
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: 11/7/2008

Gears of War 2 (GOW2 henceforth) is a gritty, hard edged, unapologeticly bloody game. As the (first) sequel to one of the most popular games for the 360, Epic’s team has a lot of expectations to live up to. The cover system, unique weapons, inhumanly tough opponents, and frenetic online play of the first game pleased a lot of fans. However, the puddle-deep story and abruptly short campaign also upset those same legions. What’s the verdict on the new one? Does it chainsaw through those complaints, leaving them a pile of bloody giblets on the floor? Or does it trip over them and fall facefirst onto a grenade, paneling the walls with whining chunks of gore? Let’s find out. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, this game is M for Mature.

Heroes Marcus Fenix (Still just a Sergeant even after he pretty much single-handedly killed General RAAM and detonated the Lightmass Bomb at the end of the first game) and Dominic Santiago start the game by training Rookie Ben Carmine. Turns out the Locust Horde was not exterminated by aforementioned WMD, and they seem ticked off that humanity still isn’t off their world. To that extent, they’ve started sinking cities, and Jacinto is one of the last human holdouts. The fact that it is on a giant plateau is what is keeping it from falling into the Locust’s pits. After a brief tutorial (Which you can skip if you want), you get to repel a raiding party from a hospital, see the effects of the war on some wounded, and start looking for Dom’s wife. After that, you get an actual cinematic to give you the plot of the game. You’re going on the offensive, and your role will be to guide Fenix and Dom into the very heart of the Locust to drop another Lightmass Bomb (Proving that these men are really just guys-Hey, the first one didn’t work, let’s do it again!). From there, it’s a short chopper ride to a long vehicle ride to a quick drill into Sera’s crust to a sunken city to…well, you get the picture. GOW2 covers a lot of new ground, ground that is covered by your bloodstained boots. While it is designed to answer a lot of questions and provide a reason for the gunplay, the main storyline opens up as many questions as it answers. Epic has created a universe that may be as compelling as the Halo series, but they are content to barely scratch the surface (see what I did there?) in the campaign. The characterization and is spot on for the setting. Old friends like General Hoffman, Anya, Baird and Cole make appearances, new characters such as Chairman Prescott give impassioned speeches, and Marcus will grunt and complain in all the right times. This isn’t high drama, and some of the dialogue barely passes for high school drama, but you’ll be too immersed to care.

Knock, knock!
Knock, knock!

One of the major shortfalls of the original GOW was the lack of back-story and details. Who are the Locust? Where do they come from? Why do they hate us? What forces evolved their society, and in particular, their vocal cords? But hey, you don’t need motivation beyond “We are facing genocidal CHUDS, here’s a gun, go go go!” right? GOW2 addresses this issue by throwing a LOT of story at you. There are subplots all over the place. The detonation of the bomb has caused the Immulsion (read: Oil) to sublimate into the atmosphere, causing a disease known as Rust Lung to afflict humanity. Rookie Carmine wants to follow in his brother’s footsteps by joining the elite Delta Squad. Man-Bear Tai is looking for his destiny in the battle. Mobile-Derrick driver Dizzy is having a love affair with his vehicle (no, really). Cole has completely lost his mind during the war, and now thinks that this is all some sort of playoff game of his Thrashball past. And yes, Dom is looking for his wife. GOW2 does a good job of wrapping up pretty much all of these plots, but the main storyline is another kettle of fish. Once again, there is an ending, but it is as much of a setup for Gears 3 as anything. And hey, that’s not a bad thing. There are also some amazing multiplayer options, but we’ll get to that later.

Story: Great

This game doesn’t know how pretty it is. There were times when I was underground that I just wanted to look around at the caverns and marvel at the detail of 100-foot thick pillars that seemed to be a quarter mile away. The devastation and desperation of Jacinto is wonderfully realized, down to the survivors’ gaunt forms as they try to eke out a living. The character models have all been upgraded a bit, and so too have the weapons. Gone are the iron sights from the first game, replaced with a blue crosshair. In fact, the blue on Marcus and his weapons are one of the few bright spots in an otherwise gray and brown game. But what grays and browns! The devastation and destitution is wonderfully realized. Personally, I get the feel from the level of tech in the game that it is essentially a WW2 feel for all of the gadgets, weapons, and locations. This isn’t a Star Trek type of future, where everything is shiny and clean. The future in GOW2 is clearly powered by diesel fuel. It is a future that crosses the architectural philosophy of Ancient Greece and Gothic Paris with the can-do, elbow-greased know-how of Junkyard Wars.

Note the detail in the caves
Note the detail in the caves

Speaking of weapons, another update is that the muzzles will glow red as they get hot from continued firing. And almost every round fired has a smoke trail that dissipates in the chaos. The last game did it as well, but not as shiny. Smoke and fire from explosions look as good as anything else on the system. The cover you dive behind to save your skin will also deform as it absorbs incoming rounds. I haven’t been able to blow holes in stone yet, but certain weapons will destroy certain cover. If you try to hide behind a desk while someone fires the Boomshot at you, good night. And all of it runs as smooth as butter, once it loads. The one graphical glitch I have been able to find is that there is some texture pop-in, especially in multi-player, for the first two or three seconds. It doesn’t always happen, and it is over quickly, but it is a ding on an otherwise perfect graphical experience. I got the feeling that Epic wanted the loading screens to go by really fast, when they instead could have stayed up for five more seconds to get things right. The only other nit I have to pick here is that almost all of the gameplay seem to happen within the middle third of the screen. There is a lot of real estate on my TV not being used for anything other than window dressing.

Graphics: Classic

You’ll want to make sure the neighbors aren’t around, and crank this one up. Especially if you have surround sound. The music all sounds vaguely Hans Zimmer-esque, perfectly appropriate. I’m glad it wasn’t rock guitars or metal riffs the whole way through. The musical cues provide a certain air of gravity and reality to an otherwise over the top situation. The sound effects for the weapons are big and booming. The Locust are perfectly threatening when they growl out Die, Groundwalker! (try to speak like them for more than two or three sentences and you will appreciate what voice actors go through).Vehicles, when you are in them or on them, sound spot on for the kind of post-Industrial/WWII in the future feel they are going for. All of the weapons are different, too. The single shot Hammerburst sounds different than just one round from the Lancer being fired. And the Boltock Pistol is not the same sound as the Sniper Rifle.

The voice actors all do their jobs admirably. I love the fact that John Dimaggio voices Marcus Fenix. I just wish there was more of a shout out to one of his other roles. Hearing him say “Boned” or “Bite my fleshy, human @$$” would have been classic, especially since Dom exclaims “Screwed!” at a plot point. Baird is just as whiny and stuck up as ever, and Cole is a trip. Special points to go to Chairmen Prescott-as we are just getting off an election cycle here, his delivery of the motivational speech at the start of the game was ready for primetime.

This guy got lost looking for Sparta
This guy got lost looking for Sparta

Dialogue, except for that speech, couldn’t be more generic though. To be fair, this is a summer blockbuster movie, not a mid-winter Oscar contender, so don’t go in expecting too much, and you won’t be disappointed. Just put the brain in neutral so you don’t throw a gear. There are a few legitimately funny moments between the characters, and plenty of black humor that you may or may not enjoy. And another thing-the language is saltier than a boat full of sailors eating pretzels on the Dead Sea. Do not turn this up if there are sensitive ears around. I know there was some swearing in the earlier game, but this one turns that up too.

Sound: Unparalleled

You’ve got a lot of stuff to do here, and most of it you can pull off without a hitch. I do recommend turning the sensitivity for the aiming all the way up, otherwise some of the turret based stages are too hard to keep up with what you are shooting. And just like last time, there are a few times when you are jumping in and out of cover where you will get stuck. There’s a boss fight about 2/3 of the way through that this killed me on twice, but it was an isolated incident. The other bad thing here is a few puzzle-like sections where you have to turn a crank or carry a bomb with Dom that feel a little unresponsive, at least in single-player. Control, like the sound and graphics, is smooth and responsive.

So that’s the bad stuff, what’s good? First off, the SMG from the first game is gone. Epic realized that it stood for Silly, Meaningless Gun and replaced it with the Hammerburst Rifle. This is a one squeeze/one shot monster that has impressive stopping power. If you actively reload correctly, you’ll be able to down most targets with 2 or 3 shots to the legs. And if you get a headshot, welcome to Splatter City. This is made even easier by letting you zoom with the gun. Another new one is the Gorgon pistol, which fires in four round bursts, and has a clip of twenty. It takes some getting used to, but it is becoming my favorite sidearm. The shotgun has been toned down just a tad, but still is not something you want to face from point blank. Grenades can now be used as proximity mines, and a new poison gas grenade has been added. This features more prominently in multiplayer, but it is amazing when you see someone fall for your trap. I can’t say how awesome it is to plant a few grenades, stand back, and watch someone try to walk through. In a word-meatshower. Most weapons now have executions that are unique if you get to a downed enemy, but the tender, loving curb stomp is still there. And if you’d rather pick someone up and use them as a human/Locust shield, by all means, do so. If you’ve cleaned out the rest of the targets and still have your shield, a swift neck snap is in order. There are also three brand new “heavy” weapons-the flame thrower, the Mulcher chaingun, and the Mortar Cannon. The flame thrower is great for getting rid of those pesky wretches, while the Mulcher turns you into a mobile turret. The Mortar cannon takes some getting used to, but is amazing when you pull off that perfect shot. One more quibble-when you launch a volley, you tend to start the reload just as your rounds are hitting the targets. This makes it hard to choose to do an active reload for a faster second volley, or watch the carnage unfold. Also, you no longer just sit there and bleed out in Multiplayer or Co Op, you can now crawl towards “safety” and hope someone revives you.

The vile Bloodmount
The vile Bloodmount

The vehicle sections are still fun, but they feel a little bit tacked on. They aren’t as loose as Mass Effect, but they aren’t as solid as Halo either. Although when you score an active reload in the Centaur Tank, you will feel pretty good about yourself.

Control: Classic

There’s been one major addition to the formula of the first game, and we’ll talk about that in a second. There are some other nice little additions though. For instance, in GOW, you collected COG-Tags from dead soldiers, and these did nothing but add to a pile, you now collect bits and pieces of information from files, computer terminals, and other things around the world. These give you brief glances into the back-story and help fill in some gaps, and you of course get Achievements. Speaking of which, GOW2 implemented something I want to see in every game from now on. It tracks Achievements in real time, and gives you a progress bar. There’s an Achievement for killing 30 enemies with the Mortar called Shock and Awe. Every time I fired it, I watched that bar go up until I had the bonus. And as far as insane replayability, there’s an Achievement called Seriously 2.0. To get it, you kill 100,00 enemies. Every hundred or so, there’s that bar, showing me just how many baddies I’ve dropped. At the end of the campaign, I had killed over 2,000 Locusts. So aside from the Multiplayer kills during the solid Deathmatch, Guardian (protect the one guy and you can respawn, he dies, you don’t respawn), Wingman (teams of two) and other versus play, if you want that bonus, you’re playing the game 100 times. You poor, lifeless fool. Get out in the sun! Aside from Achievements and collectors, there are the usual unlockable skins for multiplayer to earn But really, you’ll be replaying this game for one reason: Horde mode.

This Ticker is about to pop, and ruin everyones day.
This Ticker is about to pop, and ruin everyone's day.

Horde mode joins the typical Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and etc. to give you and up to 4 other friends a true challenge. In fact, I want this gametype spammed into every other shooter on the market, starting yesterday. 50 waves of Locusts will come at you, and they will not stop until they are all dead. Or you are. If you beat a wave, another one comes and gets a bit stronger. If you are downed, an ally can revive you if you crawl to them. If you die, you respawn at the end of the wave. If all five of you die, the Horde is over and you lose. These games are fast, furious, and filled with carnage. The only way to survive is to stay together and fight as a team. My games always go well until the mid-twenties, where my team starts to get frazzled and wander off in search of ammo by themselves. If you do this, you might as well announce that you are going to get drunk and make out at Camp Crystal Lake, because you will all mutilated in short order.

Replayability: Classic


Pretty much spot on. Aside from a couple of bosses that, while not cheap, are a bit too “arcade shooter”-y, everything works out nicely. This is almost like a button masher’s shooter. People with low skill can do okay, and will probably enjoy the challenge of the lower difficulties. People with high skill will enjoy cranking up the difficulty and facing a constant challenge that they will only overcome if they take their time, line up their shots, and do things right. No weapon will fit all the situations, online or off, perfectly. The Lancer is a great all-rounder, but up close the shotgun wins, and at range the Hammerburst or sniper are better. Pick up the weapons to suit your tastes. I will say that in the campaign, I feel that there are stretches where you will have the wrong weapon if you are not careful. Having a Hammerburst and Flamethrower in the Jameson Station level was not as smart as having the Lancer and Flamer, and once I was in, I wasn’t swapping them out. Same with the Ilima City map-I had the Hammerburst and the Sniper Rifle, when having something else (Shotty or Lancer) would have been better, and there was no way to swap.

Even the big guns don’t feel overpowered. For one thing, holding the Mulcher or the Mortar means you can’t run or dive. And another, the aiming and firing process is appropriately cumbersome. When you see the results of wave after wave of young Locusts chopped down in the prime of their life, you’ll know it was worth the effort.

Balance: Classic

This has been a glowing review so far, what could stop it from being an instant classic? Well, this. As they say, there is nothing new under the sun. And GOW2 doesn’t have much new under the ground, either. Halo level? Check. And that’s Halo: Combat Evolved, by the way. Halo 3 level? Check, although personally, it reminded me more of Contra. Resident Evil 4 level? Check. Weapons and armor that look at home in the Warhammer: 40K universe? Check. Hard bitten soldiers fighting for a hopeless cause in the face of extermination? Check. Classified laboratories? Check. Smoldering with generic rage? Check. C.H.U.D.S? Check. That’s Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers if you don’t know. New bad-@$$ villain who has a staff with cutting things on the end? Check. What really makes GOW2 work though, is that it is greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, it may be one of the most derivative works in gaming, but you’re having so much fun playing it, you don’t care. And hey-if you can tell me the difference between homage to a prior game and a blatant rip-off, go ahead. I’ll just be enjoying myself playing this awesome game, thanks. Epic did remove the Berserker and the Krill from the last game. They added some new foes like the Ticker (hate), a hairless doglike suicide bomber, and the Blood Mounts (hate hate hate) which are Locusts riding on the back of two-legged land sharks.

Originality: Enjoyable

Chainsaws dont equal instant kills anymore
Chainsaws don't equal instant kills anymore


Yes. When I am leaving the gym and carrying my bag, I start to swagger like Marcus Fenix. When I am stuck in traffic, I start to snarl as though I missed an active reload. My friends and I are busy re-hashing Horde successes and defeats at work, and planning new strategies. If that’s not addictive enough, I don’t know what is. The game gets inside you. You will want to play more. And that’s not even counting the Achievement hunting.

Addictiveness: Unparalleled

Appeal Factor
This is the 360’s piece de resistance for the holiday season, and it shows. If you are willing to tone down your expectations for a great story, and instead just enjoy the compelling gameplay and onslaught of violence, you’re going to want to play this game. There is nothing so thrilling as chainsawing an opponent in half online, unless it is chainsawing an opponent in half from behind. And even that pales to the joy of downing someone, using them as a human shield, and blasting away their buddy while forcing them to watch. GOW2 is going to be what you and your friends are playing from now until….well…probably Gears 3.

Appeal Factor: Classic

If you get the collector’s edition, you get a keepsake photo of Dom and his wife, Maria. And a code for a Gold Lancer for multiplayer. It’s cheesy, it’s fun, it’s a mcguffin. I enjoyed it. Epic also has a system in place where if you buy a retail, brand new copy of the game, you get a code to download five maps from the first game to use in Multiplayer. Whatever your feelings are about used games or trading instead of buying, you have to appreciate Epic’s reasoning for this. “You scratch our back, we scratch yours.” I’d say that’s worth a buy over a rent. Also, while the online system is still a tad bit buggy (and being worked on at the time of this writing), they cribbed the party system from Halo 3 to help with matchmaking. It’s worth it, as you can grab five of your friends and go to town against anything that looks at you funny.

Miscellaneous: Classic

The Scores
Story/Modes: Great
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Classic
Originality: Enjoyable
Addictiveness: Unparralelled
Appeal Factor: Classic
Miscellaneous: Classic
FINAL SCORE: Classic Game

Short Attention Span Summary
Despite a few flaws that you really have to look for, and a bit of a bad habit of borrowing from other games, Gears of War 2 is an amazing ride from start to finish, filled with solid gameplay and plenty of “Holy Crap!” Moments. The attention to detail in graphics and sound is truly impressive. When you are done with the single player campaign, the addictive multiplayer will keep you on the couch well into 2009. This game has it all. If you are a shooter fan and have a 360, you need to get this game. Now if you’ll excuse me, I really want to go fire the mortar at more helpless victims.



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3 responses to “Review: Gears of War 2 (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. […] Review: Gears of War 2 (360) Personally, I get the feel from the level of tech in the game that it is essentially a WW2 feel for all of the gadgets, weapons, and locations. This isn’ta Star Trek type of future, where everything is shiny and clean. … […]

  2. […] only to be assaulted by a group of monstrous, subhuman freaks, you are reminded very much of the Gears setting. The story and the setting all work very well, which makes the poor execution of the […]

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