Microsoft Game Studios Gears of War 2

The must-own title of this holiday season for Xbox 360 gamers.

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Microsoft Game Studios Gears of War 2
  • Microsoft Game Studios Gears of War 2
  • Microsoft Game Studios Gears of War 2
  • Microsoft Game Studios Gears of War 2

Pros

  • Massive battles, superior graphics and sound, smooth controls, addictive multiplayer game types (especially Horde)

Cons

  • Loose plot threads, more unanswered questions, some scenarios don't quite pay off

Bottom Line

The good news is that Gears of War 2 significantly improves upon the original game in every possible way, addressing several key shortcomings that kept its predecessor from being a bona-fide classic. Gears of War 2 is a terrific action game that deservedly resides in the upper echelon of console shooters, and is the best shooter to hit the Xbox 360 so far this year. Action gamers, you've found your next obsession.

Would you buy this?

As a devoted fan of the shooter genre, I really enjoyed the original Gears of War — its in-the-trenches intensity was a shot of adrenaline for the entire action genre. Unfortunately, I was left somewhat disappointed by its too-short campaign and groan-worthy character dialogue, as well as its fickle online multiplayer. Despite my complaints, I knew that Gears of War was something special, with its ultra-violent presentation and intense cover-hopping action. Since its release, I've been proven right: literally dozens of other games have mimicked the style, if not the substance, of the original Gears of War.

Fall of Man

The comparisons between Metal Gear Solid 4 and Gears of War 2 are inescapable. Both games are third-person shooters that take place in teeming warzones, but they follow entirely different paths with equally pleasing results. Metal Gear Solid 4 is long-winded but emotionally complex: its combat and gameplay were riveting, but those aspects almost took a back seat to the ambitious storytelling. Gears of War 2 is the polar opposite: it's a balls-to-the-wall rollercoaster ride where massive action set pieces take center stage. If MGS4 was an art-house film, Gears of War 2 is a fast-paced graphic novel. Both approaches have their charms, and Gears of War 2 leverages its bold, colorful style to maximum effect.

The story picks up some six months after the original game, and mankind is facing some seriously grim odds. As in the original Gears of War, the storytelling here runs at a brisk pace — there are no 15-minute, Metal Gear Solid 4-style monologues to interrupt the action. But this time, you actually know what you're fighting for. Your overarching goal is to protect the last standing human outpost from The Locust, a race of subterranean monsters who can devour entire cities from below. The increased sense of desperation and horror gives Gears of War 2 an emotional charge that was noticeably AWOL from the original game. When I played the original Gears, I was left confused and bewildered by plot developments that seemed to come from nowhere. Not so in Gears of War 2: I always knew who to shoot, why to shoot, and where I needed to go next.

Though the storytelling and dialogue are enormously improved over the original game, they're not perfect. Oddly, we still learn frustratingly little about the origins of the sinister Locust, several important new foes are left virtually unexplained, and one likeable character seemingly vanishes halfway into the game. As a whole, though, Gears of War 2 succeeds in crafting a nail-biting tale of desperation, vengeance, and the atrocities of war. As the stakes ratcheted ever higher, I found myself compulsively playing on to see whether Marcus Fenix and his band of elite warriors could score a much-needed victory against their seemingly unstoppable opponents.

Like Clockwork

Gameplay wise, Gears of War 2 is very much like its predecessor, so finding cover and staying concealed is still a key aspect of combat. However, this isn't just a simple rehash of the original: a host of subtle tweaks and refinements give Gears of War 2 a sleeker, more polished feel. Dodging, hopping from cover to cover, and mounting obstacles feels smoother and more natural, and I never once felt like I was battling the controls. Gears of War 2 is clearly the leader in its unique breed of tactical action, and now more than ever it's destined to leave a lasting mark on the genre. What Gears of War 2 does, it does right.

I especially liked the arsenal of powerful new weapons, which include a satisfying flamethrower, a monstrous mini-gun, and a devastating mortar launcher that rains down death from above. Marcus and the other COG forces have learned some new tricks, too, including a new "meat shield" maneuver where they grab a downed opponent to deflect incoming shots. I found these new mechanics to be effective, particularly in certain multiplayer modes, though they don't drastically alter the basics of combat. Given that Gears of War 2's gameplay already feels so tight and responsive, this is definitely a smart move.

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