dannyodwyer's Gears of War 2 (Limited Collector's Edition) (Xbox 360) review

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Memorable story & deep multiplayer makes GOW2 a solid package.

Microsoft’s hype machine was set to eleven in November 2006 when the first iteration of the Gears of War series hit shelves worldwide. Epic rode the wave and created one of the best games of this generation while simultaneously knocking Halo off the Xbox Live most played list for the first time in two years. A sequel was inevitable, but with a twenty-four month turnover and the aforementioned hype machine running at a steady five or six, you’d be forgiven to think Epic were going to rest on their laurels for this release. The good news for those of you who haven’t already dropped notes on Gears 2, is Epic haven’t released a lazy sequel. Gears of War 2 takes the winning formula of its predecessor, augments what we loved and fixes what we didn’t.

The story mode continues a number of months after the initial campaign and things have naturally gone from bad to worse for Marcus Phoenix and the COG. The light-mass bomb detonated in the first game didn’t do as much damage as intended and a very angry Locust horde have devised a method of creating emergence holes large enough to swallow entire cities. The story revolves around your last desperate strike at the Locust from humanities last standing major city; Jacinto.

The most fascinating part of the GOW2 storyline is its ability to send the narrative in directions that you never expected. Several times during the campaign Delta squad’s momentum and goal is radically shifted, keeping you engaged in the story and changing elements of the gameplay frequently. Dom’s highly publicized emotional journey runs alongside the main storyline and though it initially feels forced, it ads genuine heart to the game and builds to a memorable conclusion.

Not enough can be said about the art design and graphical power on show in Gears 2.  A quick boot up of the original game will remind you how far the graphics have really come. Textures, models and effects are far sharper, draw distance has been boosted for the larger levels and each area has a broader colour pallet than the last game. The water effects and lighting are among the best ever seen on Microsoft’s console; GOW2 just looks amazing.

Levels range from vast valleys to hollow caverns, locust cities to underground lakes. Each is given a unique design which makes the campaign feel far more compartmentalized and memorable. A number of vehicle levels attempt to stretch out the world of Gears 2. The jeep runs allow you some sort of freedom and there’s nothing wrong with riding a turret-laden Brumak for ten minutes. Unfortunately the parts where you saddle up a Reaver can feel like a bad Time Crisis level if you can’t figure out the hook, but they’re brief and at the very least exciting.

Epic’s talent for creating awesome weaponry is proven again with the addition of some heavy weapons, a semi-auto pistol, a metal locust riot shield and a flamethrower. Each, without exception, is fun to use and ads its own twist to gameplay. The metal shield works as a useful piece of moveable cover, the mortal can rain ignorant amounts of death onto larger foe’s and the ‘mulcher’ chain-gun makes ‘mulch’ about of people. Existing weaponry has been tweaked to improve multiplayer with the sniper-rifle active reload no longer downing instantly and, in an act of pure genius, grenades can now be stuck to walls including the augmented smoke grenade which knocks down anybody cost in its blast radius with hilarious rag doll action.

Gameplay has had its fair share of booster shots too. Downed enemies can no A-tap to safety or hilariously raise their hands to their faces in a final pathetic act of begging. And beg they should, because players now have the ability to finish their opponent off with a face-stomp, hammer them down with their weapon or, if you have some time, spend a few seconds beating their face like a fleshy cushion. That’s if you’re lucky, because a quick tap of ‘A’ brings the downed enemy to his feet again as you hold him up as a ‘meat shield’, using your free arm to weird a sidearm.

Multiplayer has been given the same care & attention as the solo campaign. Co-op is as popular as ever both online and off, horde mode pits you and up to five buddies against wave after wave of increasingly brutal locust attacks. New multiplayer modes include Submission or ‘meat-flag’ which uses the aforementioned mechanic to drag Gears one cameo’s to pre-set positions and wingman allows teams of two to pal-up against each other. The new maps on offer are a good mix of designs; many with environmental hazards such as ‘Rain’ with its showering painful razor-rain and the superb ‘Avalanche’ which changes completely after a snow-fall is triggered. A surprisingly excellent new addition to multiplayer is bot-support. Though they naturally lack the bite of real world foe’s they act as perfect placeholders for private matches as you wait for friends to drop-in, and adequate entertainment for light-hearted single player fun.

Gears of War 2 is one of the best shooters in recent years. It builds on what made the original such a hit, and despite the massive weight of anticipation, it doesn’t disappoint once. The story is memorable, the multiplayer deeper than ever and above all, it’s seriously good fun. If you own an Xbox 360 you should probably own Gears of War 2.

Danny O'Dwyer

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