Video-game review: 'Gears of War 2'
"Gears of War 2"
Platform: Xbox 360
Style 1 or 2-Player Action (Up to 10-Player Online)
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Epic Games
Release: Nov. 7
The Bottom Line: 9
Concept: Polish up the rough patches from the first game and throw a ton of new content at players
Graphics: Unreal Engine 3 looks better than ever, and the "Gears" team knows how to make it sing
Sound: The dialogue is still fresh out of a seventh-grader's notebook, but during battle the audio landscape is outstanding
Playability: The cover system frustrates less often this time, and aside from that you can't ask for a better or more responsive interface
Entertainment: Single-player is good, but co-op is amazing. The "Gears" formula still works very well
Replay Value: Moderately High
When you drove your chainsaw through someone's sternum in the original "Gears of War," did you think the game just wasn't bloody or visceral enough? How about that time when a dozen eight-foot-tall super-warriors ambushed you in a dimly lit alien cavern; did you wonder if the intensity needed to be ratcheted up a notch? You may not have asked yourself these questions, but Epic Games apparently did. "Gears of War 2" is video games' equivalent of "Jurassic Park:" a title that overwhelms you with its impeccable polish and grand set-pieces. This game is carefully crafted to not give the player a chance to catch his or her breath and wonder how much substance lies behind the facade.
"Gears of War 2" gives every impression that the designers at Epic sat down with a huge pile of money and a list of everything that could be improved from the first game, and spent all those dollars addressing that list. Technical improvements like foolproof drop-in/drop-out during co-op and faster loading smooth out the experience. Design missteps like an incoherent story and the awful Kryll levels and final boss fight have been avoided for this sequel. From cover mechanics to weaponry, the gameplay is nearly identical (if smoother and better-paced) to the original, but "Gears 2" is as polished a title as exists in gaming, and the many improvements and optimizations are great.
As a single-player game, "Gears 2" delivers enough amazing moments over its eight to twelve hour campaign to satisfy most gamers. Taken online where it belongs, however, it has the potential to have a "Call of Duty 4"-like longevity. Excellent and creative modes like Wingman, where five teams of two vie for killshots (and you can revive your partner indefinitely, barring an execution), get lots of mileage out of "Gears'" unique mechanics and provide an outstanding contrast to vanilla deathmatch or capture-the-flag scenarios. The Horde mode, which made a big splash at this year's E3, is a fantastic way to take "Gears'" excellent cooperative play out of the scripted scenarios of the campaign and enhance replayability for gamers who might pass on more competitive modes. The only thing stopping this online offering from taking a clear lead in the genre is a lack of the persistent stats and upgrades that make "Call of Duty 4" and "Rainbow Six Vegas" so endlessly addicting.
The title's relentless immaturity can grate after a while, though. Gruesome executions and grunted, testosterone-soaked dialogue sloppily plaster over the campaign's heavy-handed morality play. While the plot makes sense this time around, its clumsy mysteries are old hat to anyone moderately well read in science fiction. Still, finding bad things to say about "Gears of War 2" is like trying to hate on the '07 Patriots. The game is impeccably engineered to dominate everything it sets its sights on, and yet ultimately falls short of achieving true immortality. Still, there isn't a game out there that can compete with "Gears" on its home turf. The bombastic co-op action, impressive presentation, and unique multiplayer will thrill gamers as well if not better than the latest indie thought piece. Popcorn it may be, but Gears of War 2 is delicious nonetheless. _ Adam Biessener
SECOND OPINION: 9.25
During my second tour of duty on the crumbling planet of Sera, I piloted a Reaver, performed heart surgery on a giant worm, and rode a Brumak to victory. It's just another day at the office for a 'roid raging sci-fi super-soldier. "Gears of War 2" evolves from its impressive predecessor in every sense of the word. The sequel features better narrative pacing, deeper multiplayer options, and larger set-piece battles than the original. While the gameplay may lack revolutionary innovation, and the major plot twist failed to inspire shock or excitement, I can't deny the polish and refinement that oozes from every exit wound. "Gears of War 2" is the Ferrari of gory action shooters, a ride everyone should take at least once. The high-octane story campaign delivers water-cooler worthy thrills, and the great co-op Horde multiplayer mode will keep die-hard score seekers battling Locust waves well into 2009. Gears may not rewrite the book, but the artistry of its execution makes it a powerful experience. -- Matt Bertz
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