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Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360) artwork

Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360) review

"The gunplay is brutal. But it's also masterfully paced, broken up every so often by a spectacular set-piece or a superb on-rails vehicular section. Combat is as effortlessly brilliant as before, with the landmark cover-system playing a predictably huge role. Particularly on higher difficulty levels, failure to fully utilise the conveniently-positioned walls and boxes that litter Gears 2's battlegrounds results in bloody death, so a more strategic approach is often necessary. Nothing too strategic, mind. You wouldn't want to tax your brain too much, after all."

I'm 5'6" with long hair, so this is pretty escapist for me. I'm also a writer and a musician, and I can't imagine Marcus Fenix's street cred would fair particularly well if he took up these pastimes. This is about as masculine a role as I'll ever be able to play, so snapping into Fenix's world of dispassionate killing and gruff sincerity was always going to be a big step. The manliest person I know is a big stocky beast of a bloke, the sort of person you'd run a mile from in a dark alley, but even he writes poetry in his downtime. This is a league above.

Somewhere beneath the ludicrously scaled armour and grim expressions, however, is a love story. It's Gears of War 2's attempt to tone down the over-compensatory masculinity and inject a spark of actual human sentiment into its workings, but, given the relentless gun-fodder and three-packs-a-day voiceovers that comprise the rest of the game, it's hard not to feel it's a little out of place. It's also clumsily executed, revolving around the search for a woman we've never met and have no emotional investment in, other than to be drawn into bitterness by best pal Dom's incessant moaning about her. It is his wife, to be fair. But I didn't know men this manly actually cared about their women. I thought they just slapped them about and told them to do the washing up.

Ultimately, then, this gets lost beneath the real point of Gears of War 2: killing baddies. Killing lots of baddies.

The gunplay is brutal. But it's also masterfully paced, broken up every so often by a spectacular set-piece or a superb on-rails vehicular section. Combat is as effortlessly brilliant as before, with the landmark cover-system playing a predictably huge role. Particularly on higher difficulty levels, failure to fully utilise the conveniently-positioned walls and boxes that litter Gears 2's battlegrounds results in bloody death, so a more strategic approach is often necessary. Nothing too strategic, mind. You wouldn't want to tax your brain too much, after all.

The mindless violence plays out in a series of crisply-rendered, albiet somewhat grey, environments, ranging from a hospital, to a cave, to a mountainous outdoor region, to a spooky laboratory complex and just about every other hackneyed action game locale you can think of. The variety is nice, but a little more inspiration and creativity would have gone a long way. It's shamelessly next-gen, but playing Gears of War 2 often feels like playing some sort of medley of early-naughties shoot-em-ups, only with the visual detail cranked up and the blistering combat perfected to a frankly ridiculous degree. Did I mention that you spend a lot of time shooting stuff, and that it's brilliant? Just thought I'd make sure.

The main problem I have with the Gears 2 solo campaign is that - clichť time - it's infinitely stylish yet utterly insubstantial. I'm not even particularly bothered that it's over in a measily six hours, but it would be nice if, during that time, there was something to actually engage with, beyond the obsessive-compulsive need to KILL EVERYTHING IN SIGHT in each big room or big courtyard or big cavern. Maybe I'm being overly critical. I wasn't expecting Planescape: Torment, after all, and it was certainly never intending to appeal to those who require an intricate story and rounded characters to explore. Still, if you want to create something of an immersive experience - and, let's face it, which next-gen game doesn't? - you need to allow for some form of identification with the protagonist. The characters of Gears 2 are either completely vacuous, or so unfeasibly burly and grimly dislikeable that it's almost impossible to connect. The best action games grab me and violently throw me into the very world I'm exploring. Throughout Gears of War 2, as much fun as I was having, I remained very firmly on the sofa.

Maybe multiplayer was always the focus. It's certainly highly enjoyable, with a nice range of game modes and total carnage at every turn. It is a bit overly trigger-happy, even compared to the main game, with the usual reliance on cover being somewhat undermined by the fact that human players are generally that bit smarter than their AI counterparts. As a result, it's often easier to simply charge at the opposition with the chainsaw gun, playing a bizarre game of chicken and laughing maniacally while blood sprays across the screen like jam splurting out of a donut. Horde mode is particularly excellent, though. A Left 4 Dead-style four-player survival session, Horde throws reams of enemy forces in your direction, the aim of the game being to simply hold out until the end. It obviously lacks the dynamic of Valve's ingenius multiplayer FPS, but it's still exciting, tense and spectacularly good fun.

That's a good summary of Gears of War 2, actually. There wasn't a single moment when I wasn't enjoying myself, and that definitely has to count for something. But beneath the flashy set-pieces and beautifully balanced combat, there's not a lot to separate it from the pack, and certainly nothing to really affect its audience on anything but a purely visceral level. Depending on your leanings, this may be the deal-breaker. But as a straight-up next-gen blastathon, it doesn't come more polished or perfected than this.

Lewis's avatar
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (January 30, 2009)

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wolfqueen001 posted January 30, 2009:

Alright. I'm not too sure how I feel about this one... The intro is a bit confusing, and I don't really get a sense for the flow of things until you start talking about combat. Also, I found too many typos to list here so I'll HG mail them. The other thing is, this comes off quite critically of the game, and maybe, just from reading it, would warrant a similar score to what pickhut gave it. I don't feel like going into the score debate, but it illustrates the perception the review gives me. It seems the only reason you liked it mostly revolves around how fun it is to kill stuff, which you often interject between criticisms and in very brief statements, with the exception of that one or two paragraph(s) at the end. I'd also have appreciated more detail on the strategy and maybe a bit more depth into the combat besides "just killing things" and that cool example with the chainsaw gun.

Like, maybe explain how enemies fight... or how you have to approach them to defeat them (besides the cover system... which you describe well, though maybe an example where you explained exactly how it helps instead of just telling us would have been better). Also, maybe explanations on the types of weapons and how well they kill things, since this seems to be one of the major attracions to the game.

Anyway, what you do describe is pretty well-done for the most part. I think this could be helped by simple editing... though you put it up as a staff review which means actually editing it might be difficult.

Anyway, I think I liked the Resi one more, personally, but... that one has so much controversy and the whole "you didn't describe the game enough" thing still holds kind of true (and is really the only valid criticism in that whole mess, in my opinion). I'll leave the choice to you which game to use for the challange, or maybe our other team members (or anyone else) can give input as well.
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Lewis posted January 30, 2009:

Coupla typos I need to sort out. I'm trying my hand at a few shorter reviews at the moment, partially because word counts at Resolution are generally between 800 and 1500 words, and partly because people here used to say I wasn't concise enough.

I will let the rest of you decide which the competition entry should be.
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JANUS2 posted January 30, 2009:

My problem with this review is that Gears is all about the obsessive compulsive need to kill everything in sight. Looking for anything deeper than this is always going to be a lost cause because people aren't playing these games to identify with the protagonist. They're playing them because they want to shoot things. Gears is just one in a long, long line of games (going right back to Contra) that thrive on this premise. Immersion in shooters comes primarily from the thrill provided by the gameplay and the escapism of playing as MAD DOG (or whoever). It's an old school impulse in a world moving towards greater narrative involvement, but Gears has to be judged for what it is.

Also, six hours is the perfect length. Shooters tend to be repetitive by nature, so anything over nine hours is pushing it. Longevity comes through higher difficulties.
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Lewis posted January 31, 2009:

I absolutely agree with you. Hence the high score and repetition of, y'know, how good it is.

But, regardless of its intent and audience, it's completely vacuous. It's fantastically good fun, but nothing else.
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EmP posted March 15, 2009:

They're not aliens, you tiny, hairy, hippy!

Think I'll finally get around to reviewing this one.
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bluberry posted March 15, 2009:

I'd like this game more if Dom wasn't STILL a fucking mental incompetent. the game would play better completely without him. all he does is pepper people I'm about to snipe with machinegun fire, get himself killed, and stand right the fuck next to me even if our enemies have grenades and torque bows. this game is fucking unplayable in single player unless you're on normal or hardcore or some bullshit.

plus the driving sections are horrible.
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Lewis posted March 15, 2009:

EmP: they're very, very much aliens, no matter what the game calls them.
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EmP posted March 15, 2009:

Boo: Stop playing it in single player, twit.

Lew: They're bloody not! They're the other stereotypical shooter foe! The ones that aren't Muslims, anyway.

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