Gears of War 2 in Review.

Gears of War 2 Review

Before we get started, I realize that I am about a century late in writing this review. Gears of War 2 has been out for a while now and most people have already formed their opinions on it. Nonetheless I feel like I’ve got to get my opinions on this sucker down in writing.

Let me say that I was (and am) a huge fan of Gears of War. I liked the simple, action movie storyline that didn’t require too much brainpower to work out; don’t get me wrong, I do love the Mass Effects and Metal Gear Solids of the gaming world, but sometimes (as with movies) a good run ‘n’ gun experience is just what the doctor ordered. And that’s just what Gears delivered: the COG were the good guys, the Locust the bad guys. The game led you through a series of scenarios that culminated in a fun and challenging boss fight with General RAAM. There wasn’t much character development, but there didn’t need to be, because you immediately knew who you were dealing with: there was Mar

This is NOT what Maria looks like upon discovery.
This is NOT what Maria looks like upon discovery.

cus Fenix, the tough-as-nails conflicted sergeant, Dominic Santiago, the ever-faithful sidekick, Augustus Cole, the charismatic (if not overly bright) ex-football player and Damon Baird, the wisecracking “smart guy” of the group. Together they formed the ragtag Delta Squad, heroes of the COG and protectors of humanity.

Unfortunately it seemed to me that Gears of War 2 tried to be the brainy, heartfelt sequel to the straight up action movie that was Gears of War and didn’t quite pull it off. Now don’t get me wrong, there were some poignant moments in there: the discovery of Maria Santiago and the unfortunate end of Tai Kaliso stand out among them. Apart from that, though, the story seemed to get lost in itself with all the conspiracy theories (particularly those relating to Adam Fenix) and unanswered questions. Those unanswered questions, by the way, seemed like they were trying to inject some intrigue into the plot but left this reviewer confused, bored and tempted to reach for the “skip scene” button. As for the gameplay, there isn’t much to complain about because for the most part the original game’s stellar controls are left intact.

There were a couple bits of the game that are particularly noteworthy: the fight inside the Rockworm for example, while a tad over the top, was a refreshing change of pace for the game, especially since Gears’ traditional enemies were nowhere to be found, discounting the negligible creatures that would occasionally pop out of the worms innards and assault your squad. I really enjoyed the almost platformer feel to this section, what with the timed sprints through the worm and the stomach acid portions. The reward at the end of that bit was also great, as the thought of Marcus and Co. pouring out of the Rockworm soaked in its blood still makes me laugh.

A place where the game really fell down for me though was the “boss fight” with Skorge. Marcus at one point describes Gears 2’s main baddy as making General RAAM “look like a pushover”. I wholeheartedly disagree, as the scene where Skorge finally bites it (or does he?) wasn’t anywhere near as cool or satisfying as RAAM’s final moments, nor was the fight (on the higher difficulties anyway) as much of a struggle.

In conclusion, I would give the single-player portion of Gears of War 2 a 3 ½ out of 5.

Multi-Player

Man, do I have a lot to say about this one. However, being a man of good taste and upbringing, I have been taught that if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all. On that note:

Gears of War 2 multi-player is ____________________________________________________________.

Seriously though, Epic: what the fuck? What did you do to my dog? Y’see, we as a collective gamer family once had a beautiful, friendly golden retriever named Gears. He was

What have you done to Gears, Epic? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?
What have you done to Gears, Epic? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?
spunky, athletic, and never bit us. Sadly, Gears eventually grew old; his movement slowed, his eyesight went and his coat lost much of its original shine. We knew it was time to say goodbye to our beloved friend. Luckily (or so we thought), Epic had developed a way to clone or dog; not only this, but they promised that he would be spunkier, more athletic and even less likely to bite us. They also mentioned something about a flamethrower. So off we went with light hearts to Epic to have Gears put down and replaced with what we jokingly called “Gears 2”. To our horror, when we arrived home we realized that Gears 2 does not play well with others. He was violent, inconsistent and erratic. Now the only reason that we have not gotten rid of Gears 2 is that we live in constant terror of his indiscriminate and horrifying violence.

Dropping the dog metaphor, I have to say that I find the online experience that Gears 2 has to offer is disjointed and broken. Although the original mechanics that made Gears great are there in spirit, the reality is that they are as dead as the dog in the metaphor. Several mechanics and weapons have been introduced that throw game play balance for a loop. When Epic set out to recreate Gears multi-player they stated that they wanted it to be less of a “shotgun showdown” and for players to use other weapons as more than just clubs.

On the plus side of that decision, several weapons have been re-imagined or “tuned up”. The Lancer’s spray area was tightened, making it much more accurate and lethal at its higher end ranges. The Shotgun’s firing rate has been slowed so as to make it less desirable to get into the infamous shotgun duels of yesteryear. The Hammerburst has been made a much more viable choice what with the stopping power mechanic and the increased damage from the now semi-automatic weapon. Speaking of choices, the game now allows you to select which of the aforementioned weapons you’d like to start with before each match begins; a brilliant call. Also, the Boltok Pistol, previously a weapon chosen by the extremely skilled and/or suicidal, is now a major threat on the battlefield, as a few shots will take down any opponent when accurately fired from this bad boy. The downside of this is that it has effectively become more lethal than the Longshot due to said weapon’s new inability to down an enemy with a single active round. So, while the changes to the Boltok are welcome, I would’ve liked to have seen some reflective changes to the Longshot that would have made it remain the preferred choice. An easy solution to this would’ve been two shots per reload; to counterbalance that, they could have increased the reload time.

The Torque Bow has become even more unnecessarily lethal, as now you are not even required to hit your target to blow them to tiny fucking pieces. While this would make sense for a weapon like the Boom Shot, it doesn’t for the Torque Bow, since whatever that arrow strikes, it buries itself in. Thus, when it hits the couch next to you, all that should happen is that you should take significant damage and be covered in stuffing. However, no one else should be covered in your stuffing, if you catch my drift.

Also, the Hammer of Dawn, which used to be able to be used ad infinitum now has a limited battery charge.

New Weapons

As far as new weapons go, we have the Gorgon Pistol, the Flamethrower, the Boom Shield, the Mortar Launcher, Mulcher and the Ink Grenade. The Gorgon Pistol serves as the original Hammerburst’s replacement, burst-firing a relatively inaccurate spray of bullets with a long “cool-down” between each shot.

In my experience, the Gorgon, while not completely useless, is not a weapon of choice and definitely does not surpass the Snub Pistol in lethality.

The Flamethrower is a welcome addition to the arsenal, and its use is pretty straightforward: point, shoot and cackle maniacally as your enemies writhe in seething fire. When active reloaded it gains some range and killing power, and is a well-rounded power weapon.

The Boom Shield, whilst not technically a weapon, will be treated as such by this review. It serves as both mobile and stationary cover for the possessor, having the ability to be strapped to your arm or slammed into the ground as a means of entrenching your position. When used properly it is a fairly balanced way of increasing your survivability, since it doesn’t quite make you invincible as you are slower, cannot use standard cover and are still vulnerable to chainsaws, accurate shots from the front and quick attacks from behind.

The Mortar Launcher is exactly what it sounds like: a boring addition that adds a frustrating extra threat to a game which already has much more than its fair share of power weapons. That being said, had it been added to a game that wasn’t already oversaturated with “deus ex” weapons, it would serve as an excellent support weapon and would be well-balanced due to its inefficacy without the help of a spotter teammate. As for blind-firing, this reviewer would like to see the Mortar occasionally unleash a basketball, cloud of feathers and/or herd of small livestock. Any of these would be equally as predictable as the results that you currently could experience from taking such a course of action.

The Mulcher seems to be the place where efficacy and balance meet best when dealing with the new weapons. When in cover, the Mulcher can be mounted and used as an incredibly deadly turret mowing down any and all enemies that cross its path in a matter of seconds. While moving and blind-firing, it will easily outclass the shotgun as a close-range killer, but becomes inaccurate at anything more than medium-range. As with the Mortar, this heavy weapon slows you down and prevents you from taking any acrobatic action, save sliding into cover.

This is the only time this weapon will look like a good idea.
This is the only time this weapon will look like a good idea.

The Ink Grenade… Man, the Ink Grenade. The baffling decision to make this the only non-concussive grenade of the game really drags it down. At this point, it is most useful in the Territories game types where it can be used to fortify a position from enemy attack. Otherwise, it’s really only much use when combined with a smoke grenade. Had it been designed to be concussive, it would be considered useful. Had it been given a wider range, it would be useful. If it inflicted more damage, it would be useful. As is, the team at Epic has barely scratched the surface of this weapon’s potential.

New Mechanics

One of the interesting new mechanics added to Gears is the Meat Shield: while technically similar to the Boom Shield, there are some key differences between the two. For example, the Boom Shield does not allow for the user to melee from cover; the Meat Shield does. The Boom Shield will stand up to whatever is thrown at it, whilst the Meat Shield degenerates over time until there is nothing left to protect you from enemy fire. Other than that, they function pretty much the same.

A new mechanic that is a topic of hot debate is the decision to make smoke grenades concussive. I personally believe that this is the key factor to changing Gears from a shotgun showdown to a contest of which team can throw their smoke grenades quicker. While I understand and appreciate the idea of defensive play that went into the decision to add this feature, I also recognize that the player base has done with it what it does best: manipulate the core mechanic and bastardize it however they see fit. One of the things I’d like to see in Gears 3 is a rethinking of the concussive smoke grenade or a complete removal of the mechanic from the game. An easy way to fix this problem would be to remove the “ragdoll” effect from the reaction, replacing it with a uniform animation that will always take the exact same amount of time. Many and frustrating have been the instances that I have been blasted by a smoke grenade only to slide down a set of stairs, crumple into a corner or go face-first into a wall for a solid 8-10 seconds, during which time other players can mercifully end my life at their leisure.

In Gears of War 2, when two players meet with revved chainsaws, a duel ensues. This boils down to whoever mashes the “B” button the fastest, wins. Personally I would’ve preferred to see a random sequence of buttons appear onscreen for both players and whosoever hit their sequence faster won the duel. Then again, that’s just personal preference.

Players can no longer easily quit a game; they now have to go all the way back to the dashboard to duck out. This is, in my opinion, a great step forward. However, it seems to have done nothing to stop the quitters from doing what they do best. They seem to be more present than ever… Or, I suppose it should be said that they are more absent than ever.

Another change is the cycling of weapons from round to round in each match. I can’t help but dislike this because of the fact that it often ends up placing up to three game-changing weapons on a single map.

The Lancer’s chainsaw bayonet has become much more difficult to lower, which I will address later in the review.

The ability to crawl to teammates whilst down is a welcome addition, though actively slowing your bleed-out time is an aspect of the game that I will miss.

On Brokenness

As I stated earlier, the chainsaw bayonet has become more difficult to lower. This decision is baffling, especially considering the complaints that many players had from the original game, which were that chainsaws often stood in for a player’s lack of skill. Whether or not you considered the chainsaw from Gears 1 as the game’s great balancer or the noob’s weapon of choice, this change is no good, as you can easily bull rush an opposing player with a shotgun and still, somehow, manage to cut them in half about 65% of the time.

Many are the people who have brought to light the biggest problem with Gears of War 2’s shotgun, Boom Shot and Hammer of Dawn: blind-firing just don’t work. How many of us have had the incredibly enraging experience of confidently blind-firing the shotgun/Boom Shot/Hammer of Dawn at our opponent of choice, only to watch the blast/rocket/laser painter fall directly between our legs? The answer is way too many. This is totally unforgiveable… Did Epic not play test this game for more than five minutes pre-release? This is what betas are for, people.

Another problem many people encounter is coming into play with invisible weapons. That is to say, though it appears to you that you are firing your weapon (and have unlimited ammo to boot), your enemies will never take damage or be killed by anything from the end of your barrel. Not only this, but the glitch also disallows you from picking up other weapons to replace your “broken” ones.

Player-induced glitches are more prevalent than they ever were in the original Gears of War. Not only have the old glitches not been fixed, they are now easier to perform and have a whole host of new glitches by their side. Glitches that come to mind are the shield glitch, unlimited ammo, the invisible man glitch and using a smoke grenade to pass through walls and even lasers. Again, did no one do any stress testing for this game? Ever? Unacceptable.

This. Is a different game.
This. Is a different game.

Matchmaking, as we all know, continues to be a painful experience. Many times have I been disconnected before even reaching the pre-game lobby and many more times have I reached said lobby only to find my team decimated by disconnects. I cannot fathom the sheer disregard Epic must have had for this system, as it is so clearly broken. If only there were a way to see just how good a host’s connection was before being forced into a match; oh wait, didn’t Gears 1 do that? Yes, yes it did. Not only that, but one can no longer specifically choose which game type one would like to play, instead being forced to choose from several general categories that often encompass up to four different game types. I for one strongly advocate a return to the original matchmaking system. It wasn’t broken and didn’t need fixing. Also, what happened to player matches? The only options we are given as far as matchmaking now are ranked and private. What about those of us who don’t always want to be in the constantly ultra-competitive atmosphere of ranked matches without playing with the same people over and over?

Many of the animations are sloppy at best, including vaulting over cover. Often when I or others tried to vault over cover, the character finds itself hopelessly locked in a loop that just will not let it past that cover, at least in the way it originally wanted to.

It’s hard to believe that that short list seems to encompass everything that is broken with Gears of War 2. But trust me, reader; this list is more than the sum of its parts. When all of these things come together, you will find that the majority of the time you hope to spend having fun on Gears of War 2 multi-player will be lost to frustration.

Your words bring me little comfort, Grenadier. Little comfort.
Your words bring me little comfort, Grenadier. Little comfort.

I give Gears of War 2 multi-player 2.5 out of 5, a half-assed score for a half-assed effort. This score will not be affected by the upcoming patch since I am of the belief that excessive patching is a slippery slope fallacy and that an unfinished game should not be released or use patches as a crutch, no matter how popular the IP. This has been my review of Gears of War 2. Thank you for reading.

-End Boss.

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