Release Date: November 2008
Six months after the events of Gears of War, what's left of humanity's forces have gathered on the Jacinto Plateau. The alien Locusts can't manage to burrow through the solid granite under Jacinto, which is slowing their advance considerably; they can't just pop up behind human fortifications like jack-in-the-boxes of death anymore, so they have to either grind down the humans via more conventional assault or — and here's the bad part — slowly weaken the continent around Jacinto so the entire city winds up falling into a deep, dark hole in the world.
The military is desperately trying to bolster its ranks by reaching out to the human survivors known as the Stranded, who have somehow managed to not only live in Locust-held territory, but thrive. At the same time, Dom Santiago begins a search for his wife Maria, who's gone missing in the events following Emergence Day. General Raam, happily, is still dead.
Meanwhile, on Xbox Live, people get sawed in half with chainsaws.
This is Gears of War 2, one of the most inevitable sequels in the history of video games. It's been coming for a long time, and while playing it, the overwhelming feeling I got was one of familiarity.
Some sequels try to reinvent the wheel or completely overhaul their characters or settings. Gears of War 2, on the other hand, is simply Gears of War version 2.0, with new weapons, characters, online gameplay modes, maps and more. Everything there was to like about the original has returned with a vengeance.
Gears, to say the patently obvious, was most popular as an online game. A lot of Gears of War 2 is dedicated to improving the player-versus-player game and building on Gears' framework. The engine has been tweaked, the online functionality is "more robust" (that's a direct quote; for all I know that means it's in bolder colors), and many of the weak spots in multiplayer have been recognized, addressed and ideally fixed.
Players can now plant frag grenades on walls as traps, take an enemy who's crawling along the ground as a human shield (immediately banishing the unlucky hostage to the spawn queue, as he's not getting out of this alive), and engage in chainsaw duels, where the winner is the participant who can tap the B button the fastest.
Many of the returning weapons have been rebalanced, and several new ones have been added, such as Nemesis grenades, which explode into an opaque black cloud of poisonous death; the Scorcher, a flamethrower; and a portable metal shield that can be used as personal armor or planted into the ground for use as hard cover. Each weapon now also comes with a certain degree of stopping power, meaning that an enemy player you're shooting at will begin to move more slowly depending on what you're shooting him with. It's not as feasible as it once was to simply wade through somebody's gunfire and take a chainsaw to his face.
Several new multiplayer modes have been created for Gears of War 2, including Wingman, where five teams of two players battle to the death; Submission, where both teams must deactivate a security fence and drag a hostile, well-armed NPC to a point behind the fence; and Guardian, a five-on-five deathmatch where each team has a randomly chosen leader, and as long as that leader remains alive, the other team members have infinite respawns.
Gears still doesn't quite play like anything else on the market, which I have to sit there and figure out for myself again every time I pick it up. It's not as fast-paced as you'd think; it genuinely rewards team-based play and actual tactics more so than just being twitchy. The new gameplay modes emphasize this to a startling degree, to the point where Epic specifically did not implement their most-requested new mode, a free-for-all deathmatch. Gears is about teams versus teams, and Wingman is as close as it gets to every man for himself.
This kind of game design used to just be the hallmark of realistic-to-the-point-of-boredom military shooters like Tom Clancy titles, but Gears of War takes it and adds a large dose of heavy metal. The entire game plays and looks like the greatest thing a 14-year-old boy ever came up with, and I mean that in a good way.
If you played Gears — and if you owned an Xbox 360 a couple of years ago, you probably did — you have a good idea of what to expect from Gears of War 2. It was not broken, so it has not been fixed.
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