Gears of War remains one of the Xbox 360’s highest regarded shooters, no mean feat for a platform awash with the genre. It sequel is one of this year’s most fervently awaited games and it doesn’t disappoint. Epic has spent the last two years working on a game that is better than the original across the board.
At the end of the original Gears of War, humankind mistakenly thought that a strike in the territory of the Locust Horde had left it victorious, but instead it turns out it left plenty of room for a sequel to bring out bigger guns and even more grotesque creatures.
Things are worse than ever when Gears 2 picks up; the Locust are back in strength and strange seismic activity is driving humans from one refuge after another.
Donning Marcus Fenix’s boots again, the first couple of levels offer an intimidating onslaught including Brumaks and Reavers to get your adrenaline pumping, which reorients you in the world, but events only truly hot up when you head underground and back onto Locust turf.
Every level looks fantastic and the game compelled me to keep pushing through enemy lines. There are too many interruptions in gameplay early on though the direction is more tightly integrated into the background dialogue later on. Lovers of wide-open environments will be frustrated by the confined levels and often-linear progression, despite a good number of route choices.
Unfolding events feel more like a war than an isolated strike team, and the levels get more interesting as the mission progresses on foot and in vehicles. Difficulty ramps up at a steady and manageable rate, though a Panzer Dragoon-esque level on rails proves intensely annoying, but it won’t quell your determination to push through waves of enemies to reveal more of the unfolding storyline.
Here the game is also a marked improvement over the original, revealing more of the background behind the war. The original’s open ending was incredibly frustrating, no matter how inevitable a sequel seemed.
Epic has incorporated plenty of wrenching moments both physical and emotional, as the squad comes across broken and fallen comrades, and a touchingly well integrated story of lost love that’s handled with sensitivity – even muscle-bound marines have feelings, after all – but without indulging in levels of saccharine that would be jarring against the overall grimness.
Exciting gameplay is mixed with some amazing locations, leading you to wander through abandoned cities, fend off stranger, more hideous beasts than before, and spend a moment or two gazing at the wonderful architecture. Underground caverns are
There are plenty of checkpoints to save retreading huge portions of the game. On normal difficulty, at least, AI can be a bit flaky as enemies occasionally fail to pay attention as you sneak a few bullets around the edge of their cover. Your comrades also defy logic at times, briefly putting a chink in how convincing everything seems when one survives a longer onslaught of razorhail than Fenix can manage, but you won’t complain when he takes down another opponent to save you the bother.
Well-practised fans would do well to start on a higher than normal difficulty level, as it took us only a day or so to barge through the single-player campaign, and skilled players are likely to shave off further time. I thoroughly enjoyed Gears 2, even if the storyline didn’t advance quite as far as I hoped. Even so, there’s still the multiplayer and wave-structured Horde mode, in which up to five players can test their skills, which will keep fans busy as they wait for an inevitable third game. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take too long to arrive, although I’d gladly wait another two years if Epic is able to crank up the action even further.