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Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360) artwork

Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360) review


"This is to be expected. Some new tweaks works, and I will feverishly recount infinite tales of the fun I’ve had with my shiny new flamethrower, but some, as appreciated as they may be, don’t really bring anything new to the table. What struck me hardest about Marcus’ new war to save mankind seems to have left behind."



If the first Gears of War started with a wall of noise, the second starts things off with a polite cough and a guiding hand. The pretence of the former’s tutorial stage hidden in a short trek through a dilapidated prison is replaced in a much-less subtle routine of showing a new rookie the ropes of how to survive in the locust-infested Sera. From the start, Gears of War 2 feels more like a video game, more rooted in what something mired in its media should be. EPIC finally lose their fight against obligatory clichés, and they tumble down onto Marcus Fenix’s beefy head, unapologetic and jarring. It’s to the lummox’s credit that they don’t slow him down one step.

I’ll try my best not to slip into the overly-comfortable rant everyone’s all to happy to vocalise about the pros and cons of the sequels that carelessly flood our markets, but Gears 2 really does seem to fall into all the obvious traps. There’s a lot to praise in this: new weapons find their way into your beefy hands, and it’s hard not to love the brand new option of turning the screaming Wretches into little ashen piles with a concentrated blast of the snazzy new flamethrower. You can follow in the footsteps of Master Chief’s third (and, odds are, far from final) campaign and grab up bulky heavy weaponry that makes up what you lose you in manoeuvrability with rape-inducing firepower, be it the massive Gatling gun that effortlessly mows down anything or everything, or the mortar that spits out explosive servings of death from above. There are new ways to kill downed foes, and even an option to heave them to their feet and use them as a literal meat shield, but it remains easier to plug injured locust crawling for cover from afar.

This is to be expected. Some new tweaks work, and I will feverishly recount infinite tales of the fun I’ve had with my shiny new flamethrower, but some, as appreciated as they may be, don’t really bring anything new to the table. But what struck me hardest about Marcus’ new war to save mankind seems to be what the new title seems to have left behind.

This is actually going to be a praise review by the end -- promise!

The first Gears presented a planet tinkering on the edge of destruction, and the last few humans gathered together in a desperate last stand against a rather nasty case of complete genocide. The situation was desperate; Marcus was freed from long-term imprisonment by a previous comrade, Dom, and the pair set about blowing the shit out of anything that looked vaguely scale-ridden. The Locust were a threat that climbed from the very bowels of the earth to hit Sera’s inhabitants right in the middle of a cruel civil war. The role you played felt like a part of something much bigger; Dom and Marcus provided the spearhead of Sera’s counterattack, but the gears of war turned all around you at all times, corpses of friend and foe alike left to rot on urban battlefields, hurried snatches of victory cries or death rattles playing over the airwaves. You, the player, might have been the focus of the war, but the war did not revolve around you.

Gears 1 didn’t care about where the Locust came from, but only asked how many bullets could be ploughed into their humanoid forms before they fell over and died. Plot elements were hinted at, such as Dom’s desperate search for his lost wife and Marcus’ past betrayal at the bequest of his mysterious father, but it was something that happened in gasped pockets between frantic gunfights and some of the most memorable moments in video gaming. Protecting a rotting mansion as wave after wave of bulky boomers with grenade launchers and platoons of well-armed and bloodthirsty grunts storming the grounds in an arrogant frontal assault. Sneaking through a midnight ghost town haunted by flesh-stripping Krill, nocturnal bats that cause instant death the second you step into their darkened domain, and only kept at bay by igniting propane gas canisters to provide small pockets of safety. Seeing your comrades die one after the other only then to be kicked firmly in the groin while you’re down by the sudden introduction of a nigh-invulnerable Berserker who chases you blindly around a once majestic church hall.

Gears 2 has no Krill, no Berserkers. It doesn’t have the eye-widening stand-out moments its predecessor smugly reveled in. It has sickly, unwelcome plot points where your steroid-pumped warriors dressed in armour so bulky that Warhammer’s Space Marines would label it ridiculous stop fighting and talk about their feelings while tears slowly trickle down stubble-lined cheeks. It has battlezones less open than the first’s scattered corridors that would let a sneaky player flank unwary enemies and a camping sniper always be uneasy that someone with a machinegun and bad intentions would turn up unannounced on their unguarded flank. Now, almost every fight is a head-on attack or a planted defence. The only time this ever deviates is when the game tells you to do so; there’s no more making these situations for yourself.

It does has a lot of vehicle sections, as all shooter games are wont to do by law these days. Some of these are tolerable.

For the most part, I don’t care.

When Dom laments his dozy missing wife for the umpteenth time, I skip the cut scene and get right back to hunkering behind convenient rock formations and plough uncountable bullets into anything stupid enough to move until their limbs fall off and they stop moving. The frantic fire fights the series is forever going to shove right down your throat remain as strong as they ever were, throwing unwavering, antipoetic, gun-toting super-humans at you to mow down, explode, set on fire, cut in half or repeatedly punch in the face until they finally stop coming at you, then invite you to take on the next wave, the next set-piece, the next monstrosity.

Sure, I could carry on complaining -- and now feel I should mention the annoyingly obligatory ‘horror’ stage where you take on the flood Sires, who are so hard to take down, I need to deluge into walkthrough territory:

Step One: Stand still. Equip Lancer

Step Two: Press

Step Three: Watch Sires run gleefully into your rifle’s chainsaw bayonet.

Step Four: Enjoy spurting blood and dismembered corpses

... but even here in the spooky lab you’ve seen a hundred times before, you still fight against rusting security equipment and a sudden influx of Locust who wait until you’re pinned down by a torrent of instant-death-dealing razor hail and snipe you out while you sprint from one safehaven to the next. I could harp on about how Gears 2 does some things wrong, how the end-of-game boss is an insulting anticlimax of the highest order, or how the experience is diluted by unwise decisions to make Gears anything but a brutal high-octane battle for pure survival, forcing people who want to see the next day to construct a wall made of still-squirming bodies and detached limbs just to catch a breather.

I have complaints to level at Gears of War 2. But I still sat through it and beat it on day of release, unable to put the pad down for a second, and have still gone back to beat all difficulty levels, then play them all over again in co-op mode. I still put entire evenings aside to take on the fantastic new Horde mode, which plops you in the middle of a map then dares you to survive giant Maulers armed with a Morning Stars and bullet-proof shields, and Locust warriors riding sadistic bloodmounts whose only goal in life is to eat your face. Each wave you survive slowly lifts the difficulty and the numbers until you can hardly move without someone trying to claw, combust, poison or bludgeon you into oblivion.

The cogs might be grinding against excess baggage they can do without, but they’re greased by blood and coated in gore. It helps grind out unwanted agents and allows me to happily report with confidence that, still, all around you, all the time, the Gears of War turn.

Rating: 9/10

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (March 15, 2009)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Or else I won't come back at all.

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Lewis posted March 16, 2009:

A much better summary of the Gears 2 experience than mine. Every bone in your body screams "this should be shit." But then you carry on playing, and love every minute.
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wolfqueen001 posted March 16, 2009:

Eh. It's a good review, sure, but I still don't believe the argument. It's just way too negative for me to believe that it was as good as he eventually ends up sayiing it is (and with the score more than anything else in the review. Without it, I would've thought he considered it merely average). The most positive comes in the last paragraph with anything else mentioned being nullified by a swarm of negative counterpoints.

Anyway, dunno why I'm reiterating myself here. I already told him how I felt about this on AIM. =/
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Suskie posted March 16, 2009:

This is so nitpicky I don't even know why I'm mentioning it, but is the image of the B button really necessary? Is there no reason why you can't just say, you know, B?

Anyway. This is definitely a well-written review but I'm afraid I need to agree with WQ on its tone; even an 8/10 would be understandable, but apparently you think this is a really terrific game and your negative points are too overwhelming to make it convincing enough. I guess this one is better viewed as an expansion of your glowing review for the original Gears, where you're saying, "It's still awesome, BUT..."
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EmP posted March 16, 2009:

That B button was awesome. You're all just bitter that I did it before you did.

This was an unapologeticaly selfish review that I wrote out in the odd chance that EmP v2 is living out there somewhere and he's not yet played GoW2. I figured that we already had several good reviews for the game onsite, so I could afford to do something more personal. As such, I fully expected it to not vibe well with everyone, especially WQ who hates anything I wrote post 2007.

I felt like GoW2 drops the ball in so many place when compared to the first (whose 10/10 I still stand behind) that it needs pointing out yet, at the same time, the game clearly rocks. Maybe I should add in more praise, but it's already a little longer than I wanted it to be.

I shall give this Thought.
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wolfqueen001 posted March 16, 2009:

...especially WQ who hates anything I wrote post 2007.

Yes - that's why I generally do enjoy and take no issues with the majority of your reviews, your Quake III review's my favorite review from you of all time, I loved your Alisia Dragoon review, and it's especially why I gave your Blackiste review a 92 in the last tourney. Yup. Lots of hate there. XD

Anyway, the fact that it's personal isn't the problem; it's the overwhelmingly unconvincing argument that's the problem. Nothing wrong with the review being personal.

And yes, that B button was awesome.
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EmP posted March 16, 2009:

Before this turns into a list of awesome EmP reviews and becomes the longest topic known to man, I'll specify what I mean.

The argument itself was what was personal, as in it's exactly what I would have wanted someone to say to me post-GoW2 purcahse. I would have wanted to be told "You know what? The first Gears is better. Gears 2 has no Krill, no Beserkers, the end boss is pure crap and the guy who replaces RAAM is about as manly as that time you were stuck in that chat with VM and WQ where they gossiped about lip gloss and who the cutest member of N*Sync was. But it's still awesome." Nowhere else gave this arguement, so I did it myself.

I figure I can funnel my audience like that because this is the forth review of the game we have up.
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Suskie posted March 16, 2009:

I think that's actually totally reasonable. I did something similar with my BioShock review, where I basically said, "Look, there are a thousand praise reviews out there, and yes, the game IS good, so here's what you should know going into it." That said, I consider justifying a 9/10 much more difficult than an 8/10, but I see where you're coming from, EmP. Also,

Razorhail > Krill

Though fair point about the final boss, whom I can't believe I never mentioned in my own review of the game. I remember Game Revolution saying that a five-year-old could beat him blindfolded, but I never imagined it would be literally true.
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EmP posted March 16, 2009:

There is no way the razorhail is anywhere near as cool as the Krill. For one, why can Razorhail instantly kill hardened marines with foot-deep amour who shurg off bullets, grenades and explosive-tipped arrows, but is rendered completly ineffectual by rickity wooden shacks?
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Suskie posted March 16, 2009:

Am I the only one to notice that the Gears don't have anything protecting their heads? That can't help.
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EmP posted March 16, 2009:

I'm pretty sure their beefy heads are more solid than rotten wooden beams.
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wolfqueen001 posted March 16, 2009:

...that chat with VM and WQ where they gossiped about lip gloss and who the cutest member of N*Sync was.

This... didn't happen. DIDN'T HAPPEN, I SAY! No. N*Sync is awful. We'd never talk about N*Sync. I mean, God. They're not even in synch like their title suggests.

You're a terrible liar.
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EmP posted March 16, 2009:

Don't deny the lip gloss though, eh?
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wolfqueen001 posted March 16, 2009:

Liek, no way. We so totally don't like talk about make up and fashion and stuff.

But liek OMG, Justin Timberlake is like sooo hawt. He's like the cutest guy ever!

Ugggh.....

*throws up*
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WilltheGreat posted March 17, 2009:

*gets a mop*
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Masters posted March 17, 2009:

I'm partial to JT myself.

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