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The original Gears of War is a great a game. It took me a while to really appreciate it and its grim style and atmosphere but it’s a solid and fun shooter. It was followed up by Gears of War 2 and this is the game I remember very fondly. Even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original at the time, my friends were huge fans and, naturally, were hyped about 2 and I guess I got all caught up in the hype because I remember pre-ordering it either the day before release or the day of. We all went to the midnight launch at GameStop together and I remember the line being rather long complete with fans dressed in Gears garb and one little girl dressed up as Carmine. Ultimately, Gears of War 2 became one of my favorite entries in the series. Developed by Epic Games and published by Microsoft Game Studios, Gears of War 2 was released for Xbox 360 in November, 2008. For this review, I played the game on a Series X. Players are once again put in the shoes of Marcus Fenix as he leads Delta Squad on an assault in Locust territory.
The story opens with Gears mobilizing to assault the Locust directly in their underground tunnels. As Marcus Fenix and the rest of Delta Squad search the tunnels, they discover that the Locust are using a giant worm to sink human cities. Much like the first game, the plot in Gears of War 2 is very militaristic and straightforward. It’s mostly about the war and doesn’t dig too deep into the characters. However, the writing does add some drama with the sub-plot involving Marcus’ friend Dom searching for his missing wife.
Gears of War 2 is a cover-based third-person shooter and most of the mechanics from the first game are carried over. You can walk, roadie-run, roll, mantle over obstacles, snap to cover, move from cover to cover, and blind fire. The command system was scrapped and now when you fall in combat, friendly AI squad members can revive you on any difficulty lower than Hardcore. Speaking of the AI, friendlies will shoot at and kill enemies and on the Normal difficulty, they didn’t fall nearly as often as they did during my time with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. Gears of War 2 does support cooperative play and while I played through the campaign solo for this review, I have played through it cooperatively at least once before and remember it being a blast.
Even though the friendly AI does prove to be somewhat competent, any kind of planned attacks will work better when playing with another person. There are several areas in the game where the squad will split up and many encounters are set in more open-ended areas allowing for different approaches and flanking opportunities. This is war and much of the campaign has you going from one firefight to another, moving from cover to cover, and popping out to get shots off. One exception to this is the Deleted Scene otherwise known as “Road to Ruin” which gives you the option go in all guns blazing or take a stealthy approach. Most of the time, it’s always wise to stay in cover when the bullets start flying and luckily there’s always plenty of objects and structures around to use as cover.
Most of the weapons from the previous game do make a return along with the Active Reload system and Gears 2 introduces some cool new firepower like a flamethrower and heavy weapons like a mortar and the mulcher which is basically a chain gun that can be mounted to objects for better accuracy. You can throw Ink Grenades which release poison gas and even set them down like traps and stick frag grenades to surfaces. All weapons do have good feedback and slicing through foes with your Lancer’s chainsaw is still a sweet sight to behold. In general, the gore effects are awesome which makes the combat feel both brutal and satisfying.
The violence and gore does seem amped up a bit more compared to the last game so kills feel even more rewarding and you’ll often be able to trek through blood and body parts after a firefight which is awesome. Blood will gush, explosions will turn enemies to gibs, and certain weapons can rip them apart and their body parts and blood will be littered all over the battlefields. Gears of War 2 also features some awesome new mechanics like being able to use downed enemies as shields that you can execute when they’re no longer of use to you. You can also enter chainsaw duels with any enemy that wields a Lancer.
The Gears of War 2 campaign feels bigger in scale than that of the first game. You’ll travel to a good variety of locations, take part in cool set pieces, and blow away tons of Locust. Most of the enemy types from the previous game do return along with new foes like Maulers with shields, Tickers which are used as mobile land mines, Kantus which can reinvigorate downed allies and Beast Riders which are Locust riding creatures called Bloodmounts. Much like the friendly AI, enemies can revive downed allies which I saw them do often during my brief time on the Insane difficulty. Other than being more challenging on higher difficulties, in general, the Locust aren’t always the brightest bulbs but they do put up a good fight.
Most of the campaign has you running from cover to cover and blasting away foes in traditional Gears of War fashion. But Gears of War 2 does break up the typical action with some really cool set pieces and puts you in several fun combat situations. For example, you’ll get to ride a Reaver and a Brumak, drive a Centaur up a mountain, and a defend a raft from enemy gunboats. Outside of the cool set pieces, many encounters are simply set in interesting and atmospheric environments. You’ll engage foes across a sunken and destroyed city, defend a city from attacking Locust, and shoot your way through a razorhail storm.
I really enjoyed the environmental variety in Gears of War 2. I particularly enjoy the underground Locust areas. The game gives you a glimpse at their civilization. But the way their buildings and structures are designed convey a hellish and evil atmosphere. But interestingly enough, I don’t think Gears 2 conveys the same type of grim atmosphere as the first game. It doesn’t feel as dark and eerie. However, I do think the environments are more interesting. From snowy towns and mountains to underground tunnels and caves to sunken cities – it all makes for a great sense of scale and as a result, it felt like a cool adventure.
The environments are linear and open up for encounters. The game will take you to a lot of different locations including a hospital, facility, urban areas, underground areas, and inside a giant Riftworm. There’s always plenty of objects and structures to use as cover and at certain points, you’ll have to choose what path to take. Most of the time, you’re objective is to move from point A to B and there are collectibles scattered around the environments which is your incentive to explore and look for areas and rooms off the beaten paths.
In addition to the campaign is the game’s multiplayer. Gears 2 introduces some new multiplayer game modes and even lets you play against bots. I was unable to find and join any co-op games or online matches but I did play through some matches with bots. They’re not as competent as actual players but they do alright. I think one of the more unique multiplayer modes introduced is Horde. Up to five players can team up to fend off waves of Locust enemies, complete with a scoring system but, unfortunately, this mode does not support bots.
Gears of War 2 is one of many games that was enhanced for the Xbox One X and can be played in 4K. The presentation will look dated at times but it never looks terrible. I did witness some pop-in here and there and some blurry textures at certain points but other than that, I have no major complaints with the presentation. In fact, many of the backgrounds and destroyed landscapes still look impressive and beautiful. The environments showcase a good amount of detail and the visual and gore effects still look pretty good. The soundtrack contains a lot of orchestral tunes that range from dramatic to more ambient and the fit the action and situations well. The audio work in general is pretty good. I really enjoy listening to the Locust growl, snarl, and speak in their monstrous voices. On the technical side, I encountered no major issues.
Now that I’ve played through the first two games again, I still enjoy the campaign in Gears of War 2 more. It’s an action-packed adventure. Plus, the new little features like meatshields and chainsaw duels are really cool. I love the environments, I love atmosphere and tone, and I love the action. Furthermore, the campaign can be enjoyed with a buddy, the multiplayer is expanded, and the new Horde mode is cool. Other than the final boss battle (if you want to call it that) being a joke, I have no major issues with the campaign or the gameplay in general. That said, if you didn’t like the first game, I don’t think you would care for this either. Underneath the surface, Gears of War 2 is simply more of the same. It’s the same cover-based third-person shooter gameplay that was present in the first game. But the environments, set pieces, and situations the game puts you in make everything feel more exciting. At least I think so.
I would absolutely recommend Gears of War 2. It’s one of my favorite games released for Xbox 360. It’s a solid action game and third-person shooter with a fun campaign and brutal combat that can be enjoyed solo or with a friend. It’s the kind of game I can revisit frequently and still have a great time. It may not be revolutionary but it is well made and should cater to those looking for some good and violent third-person shooter action. Definitely check it out.