So, Gears Of War was the 360’s kick-ass launch title, sort of (we’re not really going to count the lacklustre Perfect Dark Zero: Attack Of The Shiny People) and many have said that it did for this generation of Microsoft consoles what Halo did for the original Big Black Bugger™. Gamers were wowed by fantastic visuals that shouted “next gen” from the rooftops, crunchy and fine gameplay, and dudes thicker than the laws of nature would normally allow.
Now Epic have stepped up to the plate again, saddled with the responsibility of bettering their own benchmark. How did they do? Find out after the jump.
Well, first and foremost, it is important to point out that there are no ground-breaking developments between the two games. GOW2 is pretty much your daddy’s GOW. Don’t expect anything new and unparalleled, the name of the game is more of the same. But having said that, it’s not such a bad thing.
GOW2 carries on shortly after GOW. Humans have retreated back to the one last safe haven on Sera, the Jacinto Plateau, and are awaiting the expected onslaught by the Locust horde. Despite the attempt at crippling the Locust wth the lightmass bomb at the end of GOW, the Locust are strong as ever and are destroying the topside cities of Sera one by one, whittling down their human enemy in a war of attrition. Knowing that it is only a matter of time before Jacinto is taken, it is decided that the COG forces will launch an all-out assault on the Locust home turf – deep underground – to destroy them and bring an end to the conflict once and for all.
As before, you take control of Sergeant Marcus Fenix, the errantly mis-spelled and particularly wide leader of Delta Squad. The familiar cast of characters will fight alongside you, although most of the time you are accompanied only by your best friend, Dominic Santiago. Which is a shame, because I miss Cole’s Mr. T-like bravado and Baird’s consistent assinine foot-in-mouth disease.
One criticism of the original GOW was that there was very little in the way of story. In fact, I tend to think that this lack of story worked rather well. You don’t make the same complaint about a mindless film like Predator, but you still enjoy the film. But, to respond to this, Epic have tried to craft a bit of a story in more depth this time around. Not a lot, but a bit. In fact, the new story can be simply broken down into two parts: Dominic’s continued search for his wife, and a whole load of plot stuff that is kinda confusing and doesn’t really fit together all that well. So, pretty much the same as GOW. But, it all works ok, and doesn’t really get too much in the way of the game. There are a couple of times when new characters are introduced, and you kind of get the impression that you are supposed to know who these guys are, but without any backstory you end up feeling no connection to them and so are not bothered when …um…what happens to them…ah…happens. Sadly, although Epic has taken the time to at least try and craft a story this time around, they seem to have lost some of what made the original plot so likeable – the banter between the characters. There seems to be much less of this in GOW2. It seems like most of the dialog centers around the mission at hand, or Dom’s missing wife, but that’s about it. The jock-like humor seems to have gone. Which sucks.
One thing that has been improved on the original is the visuals. To put it simply, the visuals in this game are phenomenal. Very much in the same vein as GOW, lots of browns and grays, but now with MORE colors! Blues, and reds, and all sorts of shades. Some of the lighting in-game is just outstanding – such as the first time you venture underground. And add to this that the settings themselves have had a boost in scale as well, and you will find yourself impressed. Jeff Gerstmann, over at GiantBomb said that he did not feel the visuals were any better that GOW – until he actually went back to the original game to check, and realised how much better they were. I tried the same, and it is true. The level of detail is much greater than the original, and thankfully it seems they have removed altogether the clumsy “layer of smear” that was overlaid on the whole screen to give a matt finish (you could see it if you zoomed in on something matt, such as the armor on a dead Seeder). Adding to the sense of scale is the headcount – the number of foes on-screen has been upped, so that there are times when you are looking down on forty, fifty or more enemies.
The gameplay is pretty much unchanged from the original, and you will still depend on using the cover mechanic to avoid a splattery death. It does feel like the cover mechanic has been tightened up a little, and is not quite as slipshod as in the first game. Now you can easily pop from cover to cover and can roadie-run across a map without attaching yourself to every item of cover that you pass. In fact, I have to give Epic props for making Roadie Run unlimited – I got quite frustrated by only being able to do it for a few seconds in GOW. Combat is also pretty much unchanged from GOW. At the end of the day, what worked doesn’t need to be fixed. Ultimately though, the one change to gameplay is not in of itself a gameplay change – it is a setting change.
Encounters are pretty much as they were in GOW. Although there are times when you see great numbers of enemies, they are generally a long way away. When you are actually engaged in encounters on a more intimate level, you still have a small number. But the difference this time around is that the scale of the locations is much bigger. Gaping chasms, vast halls, open city streets. So what you find yourself doing most of the time is picking off enemies before they get anywhere near to you. This, coupled with the more reliable aim of the Lancer rifle (still the “go to” weapon of the game) means that for the most part, there is no reason for you to get up close and personal, and can just pop up from behind cover and take dudes out, one by one. Still fun, but you do come away feeling that the huge locations are pretty much wasted. There are a number of settings where I have battled all the enemies in one room, to find three or four other rooms, all fully detailed and lavishly designed, and no use whatsoever. Which seems odd. So you do come away with a “whack-a-rat” feeling.
And this leads to another difference – the lack of suspense. In the first GOW I always had that sense of expectation, never knowing what was coming up. So I would slowly move round a building or location moving from cover to cover, going all Rainbow Six style, scoping out the rooms ahead. Very exciting. But in GOW2, somehow, it doesn’t have that effect. It feels more formulaic, and you very quickly pick up the pattern and flow of enocounters. So in this game I found myself simply running around freely and only using cover when an enemy popped up.
However, the saving grace for all this is that despite these shortcomings, the combat is fun. Despite the lack of tension or suspense, you will have a good time. The Lancer has been given a decent sound effect, at last, and no longer sounds like an anaemic typewriter. A few new weapons have been added to the mix and a couple of new grenades, but by and large you will most likley find yoursef sticking with the Lancer and the sniper rifle like GOW. However, similar to Halo 3, we now also have heavy weapons in the armory. There is the Mulcher – a portable chain gun which is rather awesome in that to operate it Marcus turns a wheel rather than pulling a trigger (hence there being an achievement in the list called “organ grinder”). There is also a Mortar, which is possibly the most complicated weapon to aim I have come across (but when you “get it”, you certainly “get it”), and a flamethrower. Also as in Halo 3, these weapons are two-handed and reduce your movement speed.
So gameplay-wise, not really much to differ from GOW, aside from these extra weapons and a few new bad-guys thrown in. I like the new Boomer who carries the Mulcher and instead of shouting “Boom!” shouts “Grind!” On the other hand, I think the Locust Queen is a complete let down, cop-out, and it is unfortunate that the voice actress who voices her is the actress who also voiced pretty much the same character (“Mother”) in Prey. That was a bad choice. Not because of her talent, but because all I could think every time I head her was “Oh, that’s just like Mother from Prey all over again”.
There are some vehicle sections in the game, most of which are pretty good. The scenes we saw in pre-release gameplay footage are actually probably the least interesting, although they are a spectacle to behold. Some folks have stated that the vehicle sections are clumsy, but personally I found the tank section quite fun. After all, you’re in a tank. What can go wrong with that? The Reaver chase, though, is pretty naff, and totally confusing. But hey. And let’s just say that my favorite vehicle section would be…um…how to put this without spoiling…the last one.
So, all in all, I would say that other than a visual improvement over GOW and a lamentable reduction in intra-squad bitching and humor, the game itself is more of the same. Same gameplay, same hokey plot that is enjoyable nontheless, same thick dudes being badass all over the place. I think this game is pretty much on a par with GOW. I feel let down a little that so much of the game is underground, as most of the most exiting combat and battles are above ground. And there is a bit of repetitiveness. Thankfully, there are no game-stopping boss battles (well, one, but it is not too hard). And one character in particular (no spoilers here) is totally, totally dissapointing. When you see her, you’ll know who I mean. On the flipside, on character is also quite emotional and moving, and when you see her, you’ll know who I mean. And as with GOW, much more fun can be had co-op.
So, anyway, to put this puppy to sleep, I would say a great game, lots of solid gameplay and good fun to be had, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking. Definitely one to buy.