Release Date: November 7, 2008
Someone or another on a forum I frequent made a very good point recently: there's no game that's so good that online co-op doesn't make it better. Gears of War already had this by allowing you to play through the entire game with a friend as Marcus and Dom via Xbox Live, and it's a feature that didn't get enough credit when the game hit stores.
In Gears of War 2, this feature makes a sort of return, in the form of Horde mode, a new multiplayer game I couldn't tell you about until now.
On any of the game's multiplayer stages, you can team up with up to four friends via Xbox Live to fight back a nearly endless, well, horde of oncoming Locusts, beginning with the weaker cannon fodder and rapidly escalating. The version of the game I played was early code with some questionable game balance, so it got very hard, very fast.
With a few other games writers, I was thrown into one of the new maps, a postapocalyptic cityscape called Day One. The way Horde is tuned, the new Locust in a fresh wave will spawn anywhere you aren't looking, so you can readily control that by setting up a solid perimeter. We split into separate teams and moved up to a pair of balconies overlooking the street, allowing us to catch incoming Locusts in a devastating crossfire. It also didn't hurt that sniper rifles, torque bows, and the infamous Hammer of Dawn all spawned up in our respective areas, which meant we were well-equipped to play exactly the kind of game we wanted.
The only times we got into trouble were when we ran out of ammunition at an inopportune moment, forcing us to descend into the street to reload. There are a few new weapons that helped with that, though, and which almost seem designed with Horde in mind. The Mulcher is a tripod-mounted heavy machine gun that seriously slows down the person carrying it, but it turns anything you point it at into chunky salsa. I didn't get to play with the portable Mortar, but it reportedly allows similar precision to the Hammer of Dawn with far more explosive results.
Horde is probably my favorite of the new game types that are making their debut in Gears of War 2; it bypasses the biggest problem the previous game's multiplayer had (14-year-old kids hopped up on Mountain Dew who've already spent weeks mastering the game by the time you hop on) and replaces it with twitch gaming at its finest.
Another new battleground besides Day One that's making its debut in Gears of War 2 is the Avalanche stage, a fairly simple map with a twist. At the start of the round, you and your enemies are scattered around a relatively unremarkable city park in the wintertime. A few minutes in, though, an alarm klaxon goes off, and shortly after that, an unsurvivable wave of snow and ice obliterates anything standing in the middle of the map. In the aftermath, you can barely see for a few minutes, allowing you to get in a couple of sneak kills, but more importantly, the avalanche reveals a previously inaccessible Mulcher in the center of the park.
Above and beyond that, though, the biggest new feature in Gears of War 2 is fairly straightforward, and that's bots. Any online multiplayer mode in the game will now give you the option to fill in any spots that aren't taken by human players with CPU-controlled bots, allowing you to play whatever you want without having to wait for just the right number of people to come along. The AI has been improved from GoW's standard (ever played through GoW's campaign by yourself? Dom had a death wish.), which should allow for a decent challenge.
Gears of War 2 is coming out November 7th of this year, continuing Microsoft's streak of releasing at least one title that'll take over the world every Christmas. With an already solid core game and a number of enhancements, it's a fairly sure bet.
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