December 28, 2008

Review: Gears of War 2

Like Fable 2, I've been dreading writing this review but for all the opposite reasons. I basically have nothing but praise for Gears of War 2, thus making this one of my shortest reviews ever.

Gears 2 is a true sequel. Some games throw some new stuff into an old formula, slap a number on it, and call it a day. Basically, most sequels are the original with a shiny new coat of paint. Gears 2 is not one of those games. In fact, Gears 2 is a rare game that not only lives up to the hype but actually exceeds it. Sure, the game looked good at this year's E3. Sure, I was dying to play it. But this is basically the same basic scenario that plays out before every big release. My expectations were not overly high and so I went in expecting just what I mentioned before, Gears 1 with a new coat of paint. I was sorely, sorely mistaken. What you get is a rare breed of game that is a true sequel in every way. Everything I can possibly think of was improved in this game. The soundtrack is leaps and bounds above the first game, new gameplay mechanics don't feel gimmicky or overused, there are new weapons and vehicles and characters, it has a legitimate plot that made me so interested in the Gears universe that I went out and bought the book, it's got an epic cliffhanger ending, and it proves that Gears is still the best looking game on the planet. In your face blu-ray! But most of all what Gears 2 does right that so many games do not is have a sense of scale. They absolutely nailed it with this game. When Cliffy B. explained that Gears 2 would be "bigger, better, and more badass," I stopped to think what he could possibly mean by that. Better. Well I certainly hoped so. More badass. Yeah, I could see how they could make it happen. But the one that had me hung up was bigger. Bigger how? Plenty of sequels turn out to be bigger. They simply add more content. Yes, Gears 2 has more content, but that's not how it's bigger. Gears 2 is also bigger in another way. For the first time I've played a game where I don't feel like it's me against the world. I don't feel like I am the guy and everyone else is secondary. I don't feel like the course of events depends on me alone. Everyone is there for a reason and everyone has a job to do. When you first start off, the game feels identical to the first. After the little tutorial is over, you're introdused to the game's massive scale. There are massive battalions of both friends and enemies, there are epic battles, and even when Delta Squad is doing their own thing, I still get the sense that grandiose battles are happening elsewhere. Eventually everything comes together. You'll battle the Horde underground only to receive backup from your buddies topside. There are many battles where you're so outnumbered you need help from your allies, all while you watch another fight unfold in the background.

Gears 2 is certainly a ride not to be missed. And it's a longer ride at that. I was pleased with the length and each chapter is identifiable from the last. All this great stuff doesn't mean Gears 2 has no flaws, it does, but they're overshadowed by all the good. Once again, Gears 2 would be the multiplayer experience if it weren't for Left 4 Dead. Horde mode is great and it's much appreciated that companies like Epic still support split screen. As always, the game is a blast to play with a friend, especially when you split up. This time around, each player's experience is actually vastly different depending on what path you choose. There are a few moments that let you down, like when you wanted to fight the Brumack in Gears 1, but, on a whole, Gears 2 is the best game experience of the year. If you buy just one game this winter, make it Gears 2. You'll thank me later.

Visuals: 10
Controls: 10
Gameplay: 10
Sound: 10
Replay Value: 10
Overall: 10/10

A perfect 10. Epic Games lives up to their name with this one. One of the only games ever made that's truly worthy of the word "sequel". (Of course, at some point I'll probably realize I'm wrong and change my mind.)

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