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

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The seminal title of Microsoft's Xbox 360, Gears of War was undeniably a good game.  Whatever you felt about the game's story or somewhat ham-fisted multiplayer set up could not dampen the fact that the game had some of the most solid gameplay and most beautiful graphics that had been seen in a console game up to that point.  Now two years removed, a ton of progress has been made since Gears of War first graced our consoles, so the biggest question was what could its sequel do that actually IMPROVED on the precedent of the first.  That answere is... surprisingly a lot as Gears of War 2 is a fundamentally better experience that still maintains the classic Gears 1 feel.

The story of Gears of War was, to be gentle, incoherent.  I could honestly not tell you what in the blue hell was happening in the first Gears apart from you play as Marcus Fenix, a soldier in the human "COG" army, fighting against subterranean dwelling extra terrestrials known as the Locust.  You fight alongside other soldiers like Dom, your hetero life-mate, Baird, the smartass, and Cole, AKA Terry Tate.  You win. THE END.  Well, Gears 2 improves upon this, actually managing (for the first half at least) to inject some decent narrative into the game.  You'll actually feel more emotions than simple bloodlust for your enemies in 2's story, but that's not saying much.  The characters are still likeable and the dialogue somewhat humorous in its juvenility, but Gears 2 still isn't a phenomenal story-driven experience.  You'll like your time in the world of Sera, but not because of the story.

Gears of War 2's gameplay, on the other hand, is rock solid and if you've played the first game, you know this already.  The game is a third person shooter centered around getting into cover and outmaneauvering opponents while maintaining a relatively protected position.  The system has been copied to death by now, but Gears 2 reminds you exactly why that is; because it works so damn well.  The real improvements come with the inclusion of new/redesigned weapons, improved pacing and variety during the campaign, and a few new techniques that center around downed opponents.  Without going through the entire arsenal, just imagine some of the other weapon stereotypes not featured in Gears yet (chaingun, flamethrower, etc.) and you'll be able to figure out some of the new inclusions, which each add their own unique new strategy to gameplay.  Speaking of strategy, downed-opponents can now be used as human shields that can save you if you get your ass stranded in "no-man's-land" and need some cover, or you can finish them off with an increased repertoir of finishing moves.  Throw in chainsaw duels that help settle those simultaneous chainsawing disputes, and you come out with a familiar, but incrementally better gameplay system.

Yeah, Cliffy B, your game is pretty awesome. DON'T GET COCKY!
Yeah, Cliffy B, your game is pretty awesome. DON'T GET COCKY!
Much like the gameplay, the presentation in Gears 2 doesn't seem to be wholly different from the first, but the scrutinizing eye can see this one looks better.  Not only do the environments seem bigger, yet more detailed, but even the way characters animate (especially in their faces) is far more nuanced and impressive.  Gears 2, like Gears, looks awesome.  Likewise, sound effects are familiarly punchy, and you'll be able to identify each of the game's weapons by their unique tambor.  Voice acting might come off as a bit ham-fisted at times, but they get the job done and overall add to the likeability of each character (for better or worse).  One of the presentation elements that is far better is the score, as this Gears actually features a fully orchestrated and phenomenally sweeping soundtrack.  It is simply the cherry on top of each blood-letting battle.

Finally, Gears of War 2 was supposed to feature an "improved" multiplayer suite.  Although their are certainly more game types present here, each being fun to play and a great stand alone addition (not to mention a slew of new maps and some old ones), problems inherent with the first Gears still persist.  These include ridiculous host advantages and strange graphical and gameplay glitches as the game still has no dedicated servers.  In fact a NEW problem is the busted voice-chat featured in the game, severely hampering its playability.  Overall, if you liked and were used to the multiplayer in the first Gears, it is no better or worse in Gears 2.

I will be the first to tell you that the first Gears of War didn't blow me away, and the case is the same with Gears of War 2.  However, it still remains a juggernaut of excellent gameplay and astounding presentation.  Though the narrative has only slightly caught up and the multiplayer is still far too unpolished for my liking, the subtle tweaks in Gears' two strongest features provide an incredibly pillow-y buffer that absorbs the game's short-coming salvos.  Gears of War 2 doesn't reinvent itself, but it didn't need to.  This rock-solid war machine keeps chugging on with a markedly improved and fun to play sequel.

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