Gears of War 2 came out last Friday, and ever since the Triple A title dropped from store shelves into our disc trays its been getting considerable praise. The original Gears of War is a hard act to follow. The first game combined an excellent single player campaign with a fantastic multiplayer component (which later was dragged down to a "ok multiplayer component" but that's a different story). So how do you improve something that's nearly perfect? As Cliff Bleszinski said at GDC earlier this year, you make it "bigger, better, and more badass." I won't say that Epic failed to deliver on the promise entirely, but I honestly do not understand anyone who found the campaign to be anything more than "satisfactory."
Let's set up a comparison first. The easiest game to relate Gears of War 2 to is... well, Gears of War 1. The original game opened with a quick intro as Dom breaks Marcus out of prison. These two partners are forced to escape the prison before it gets shelled by allied bombing runs, and along the way they have to kill a few Locust, and get dangerously close to a corpser. After the blockbuster break out, the game's first Act introduces the player to many gameplay designs. You fight behind cover a lot, have a run in with wretches, get introduced to franchise favorite Augustus Cole, evaporate some seeders, save Baird's squad thanks to a rail gun sequence, and finish it off with a bang by taking down a berserker.
After Act 1's astonishing first impression, we're treated with the best Act in the entire game, if not one of the best levels of all time. Act 2 combines gorgeous lightning visuals, simple but tactic-required gameplay elements (the Kryll) and ends on climatic battle where the player helps the stranded fight off the Locust. Unfortunately the preceding act was extremely disappointing. Act 3 attempted to incorporate horror themes, and strayed too far from the core gameplay. Players had to rely on dodging exploding wretches, and master frustrating mine cart sequences if they wanted to access to the remainder of the game. The third act’s boss was also laughable. Luckily Act 4 kept the player top side as opposed to sticking underground, and put the player back to urban fighting in the city’s streets. Finally Act 5 was the climax of the game, having players deal with a Berserker on a train, rush to the front before all the carts were disconnected, and finally kill General RAAM.
It’s hard not to spend at least two paragraphs on Gears of Wars’ original campaign, because it was so perfect. Alright scratch that, Act 3 was the most disappointing abortion of a level in video game history, but everyone has faults. Gears knew when to change up the pace, when to have a climatic boss battle, and when to stick to small skirmishes. Overall the experience was delightful, and everyone adored its phenomenal level design. The few problems Gears’ single player had were forgivable. The occasional unskippable radio sequence where players had to walk slow for 30 seconds or even a minute, and of course, whenever a checkpoint was placed before an annoying dialogue sequence or cut scene. We figured everything would be improved in the sequel.
Well it wasn’t.
A lot of people have not finished Gears of War 2’s campaign, but the game just falls flat in its execution of providing an entertaining experience. The first Act of the game is a borefest. Even if you choose to skip over the elongated optional tutorial, that won’t help speed things up to the good parts. The first twenty minutes of the game is running around listening to radio chatter, watching cut scenes, being introduced to character before you even get a chance to reload your weapon. Apparently Epic figured that you were tired of watching cut scenes, so split the action up by going straight to an on rails vehicle sequence.
If there’s anything more annoying in a video game, is when you get a game over, and it wasn’t your fault. The Derrick combat is flat out BORING. You’re tasked with shooting Nemacyst when you should be shooting Locust in the face. The game changes the pace before you have time to get sick of the core gameplay. There are a few sequences that require you to use a mortar or shoot at tickers in the dark for fifteen minutes, but that’s not what I wanted to do in a sequel of Gears of War.
After Act 1 ends the game doesn’t get any better. Without spoiling anything, you spend the majority of the game underground, the one place that everyone hated being in for the first Gears game. When you’re not underground you’re either in the belly of a beast that’s clearly just a tech demo to show off what Unreal’s engine can do, or you’re in some old laboratory that eerily reminds me of Act 3’s abysmal design.
Just when the game starts to get fun, it ends. Act 5 is literally the best part of the entire game. It’s the definition of what Gears of War 2 should’ve been. If you want a clearer hint of that, the demo shown off at E3 2008, it’s from Act 5, actually it’s from the last 10 minutes of the game. You know how at the end of thedemo they teased riding a Brumak? Well five minutes after that, the game ends.
What annoys me the most about Gears 2 is the return of so many elements that everyone despised from the original. There are more radio transmissions then ever, checkpoints are fewer and farer between, with more cut scenes spliced in between, and exploding wretches return with the new name “tickers.” I don’t see the point of bringing back gameplay concepts that everyone hates. Are they trying to lose fans? Maybe they’re pressuring us that we shouldn’t care about single player because it’s clearly a multiplayer game? There are so many tiny adjustments they could’ve made to this game to make it bearable.
That being said, Gears of War 2 is a fantastic multiplayer game, and any praise regarding that aspect of the game is fully deserved. However the single player experience, even in co-op is mediocre at best. I’d also like to mention that the game is a lot easier than it was before. You can spend the entire game out of cover on the Hardcore difficulty and have no problem. This may have been an attempt to make it more accessible, but my mind is boggled by how easy “Casual” must be at this point when “Hardcore” is a walk in the park.
Does anyone agree with me?