Saturday, 13 December 2008

Review - Gears of War 2

  • Game: Gears of War 2
  • Format: Xbox 360
  • Other Formats: None
  • Developer: Epic Games
  • Publisher: Microsoft
  • Genre: 3rd Person Shooter
Gears of War, for the uninitiated, is essentially what you would get if you take Resident Evil 4 – with it’s over the shoulder camera and excessive gore – then cultured it in a petri-dish of cover-based combat and squad mechanics. Gears is a shooter; with big guns; big guns and a chainsaw. Now we have that out of the way we can move onto Gears of War 2

The second game of the proposed trilogy (yes, that’s right), Gears 2 seems to hit all the right buttons from the very start. The menus are more intuitive with little descriptions for every selection you can make. Multiplayer has an abundance of modes and options to choose from, including the opportunity to play against bots – something that is missing from many contemporary shooters. There is also now a training mode for newcomers and veterans alike, allowing you to dip the proverbial toe into the pool instead of charging head-first, Master Chief style, into a royal arse-kicking from players in the new matchmaking modes. You get the impression that everyone and their mum at Epic was given a slip of paper to fill out, with only the words, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” emblazoned across the top. One of said slips must have mentioned the inclusion of chainsaw duels. As many - if not all - of those who played multiplayer on the original Gears of War will know, winning is not always a matter of how skilled you are at the game. As much as many of us would like to think otherwise, if two players ran at each other with chainsaw bayonets raised, whether the winner was decided by complete random or by the salinity of water at the north coast of the Red Sea – no one quite knows. To counter this in the sequel, both attacking players get launched face-first into our old chubby friend Quincy ‘Quick-Time’ Event, mashing the ‘B’ button until one character resembles jam. While an admirable attempt to reconcile the problem, I can’t help but feel this mechanic could grate later on in the game’s lifespan, as some of us probably had more chance of winning when it was decided by the Red Sea.

You really need to click this pic to fully understand the beauty of this disgusting worm-thing.

Something I have purposely not touched on until now is how stunning Gears of War 2 really does look. The phrase ‘eye-candy’ does not do justice here; a new phrase is in order - such as ‘pizzazzual-oomf’, or something else of a similarly eccentric calibre. Utilising the newest build of Epic’s own Unreal III engine, the Gears 2 team have been able to realise an unprecedented scale to the environments, only hinted at in the first game. At a glance, the objects and characters themselves are not a leap away from the models in the original – which is no bad thing. But a little fiddle with how lighting is handled behind the scenes however has enabled Epic to render roughly twenty times the amount of enemies and characters on screen at once. This is shown to full effects in the campaign’s second chapter where you and your army buddies ride a huge drilling platform through legions of the evil Locust horde, with explosions, smoke and bodily fluids hurtling around you. It’s this kind of ‘pizzazzual-oomf’ (I knew I’d be able to use that again) that you would show off your 360 with to prove to your parents that it wasn’t a waste of money buying a games console. Naturally they will just nod and smile while edging ever closer to the door, but you won’t care because it looks totally fucking sweet.

The experience is made all the more cinematic by the use of what Epic rather unimaginatively call a ‘Cinematic Camera’, unlike the pseudo real-to-life styling of the original. What this essentially boils down to is the use of lighting within the game more akin to that of a blockbuster movie and the inclusion of depth of field with the camera. The latter looks great for the most part, blurring objects in the background while you are ‘focused’ on whatever you are aiming at. The problem however, is how the game determines what it thinks you are focused on. Allow me to elaborate; You might be peering down the lens of a sniper rifle at your mark the other side of that chicken wire fence, but you can’t see him properly because the bloody camera is focused on the intricate weaving of that pathetically thin fence, whilst Liam the bad Locust is trotting on his merry little way, about to do unspeakable things to your family. It’s a slight oversight by the developers that can actually affect the outcome of a match.

It really doesn't look that much different to the original GoW, but that's not a bad thing, as the original is still a testament to true graphical greatness. Also, GoW2 is a hell of a lot more epic - appropriate, considering the name of the developer.

I only briefly mentioned the multiplayer earlier, which for many of us is the main draw for getting Gears of War 2, and I’m glad to say that it doesn’t disappoint. As well as including an extra player to each team, and all the old game modes – Assassination has even had a facelift – there is a smattering of new kids in the class. Wingman is a game type taking the old Execution rules a step further, where up to five two-player teams compete against each other until one team reaches a set amount of points. Submission is a fantastically twisted, err, twist on Capture the Flag, where players have to down a stranded character and take him as a hostage to the drop-off point. It utilises an addition to combat that is a particular favourite of mine - meat shields. No, there is nothing quite as satisfying as capping an enemy in the knee, running up to them and exploiting their dazed state as a shield for yourself, then – new friend in-hand – firing your sidearm at another enemy to down them, finishing them off with a swift cosh to the head and finally snapping the neck of your portable cover. Its OK, you’re allowed to be sadistic to computer game characters, just don’t tell the Daily Mail.

The player’s choice game type, however, has to be Horde. You and four comrades dig in on any multiplayer map and battle wave after wave of Locust, getting progressively harder and more bad-ass. Imagine holding a house as your last bastion of hope with the waves of enemies getting closer by the second, every shot has to count because you don’t want to venture outside your comfy confines to get that ammo pack. But then, the dreaded sound of “c’tunk, c’tunk” echoes from your gun as the clip runs dry … sound cool?

That’s Gears of War 2 for you. More of the same, but with everything tuned, expanded, or just downright bloodier. It’s a guy’s game. It turns up at house parties with beer and power tools, chugging kegs in the name of manliness and action. Just don’t expect anything to convert you if you felt the first game was too shallow.


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