Gears of War 2
Can Epic move things forward again in this year's overcrowded shooting genre?
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Gears of War arrived at a crucial time for the Xbox 360. It brought gargantuan, testosterone (and steroid) pumped space marine action to the console when its flagship gargantuan green space marine was still some way off. Thanks to an intuitive (and oft copied) cover system, a new and extremely impressive game engine (also now featured on a vast number of releases) Gears of War gave the hardcore gaming horde Microsoft built its base upon a new, exclusive IP they could be proud of. Arriving almost exactly 2 years after the original brought chainsaw bayonets to our assault rifles, Gears of War 2 makes Emergence Day seem like yesterday.
This is both Gears 2's strength and its downfall. Those who enjoyed the first game will certainly find themselves engrossed again in humanity's last push against the invaders. Those who found the macho attitude and OTT gore of the first game will similarly find Gears 2 as off putting as they did the original. I'm unashamedly and unapologetically in the former camp. In the post match changing room, Gears of War 2 is the burly bully boy, spanking other shooter's buttocks with a damp twisted towel.
Epic have tried to bring more mortal emotions to its hulking meathead soldiers, the COGs. Dom is involved in a sometimes touching search for his wife, who has been captured by the Locust. Many of the civilians these walking bastions of humanity are fighting to protect are now suffering from rustlung, a disease caused by Delta Squad's deployment of the Lightmass Bomb at the end of the first game. This is touched upon at numerous points in the game, however it feels underplayed; the squad never analyse the effect their efforts have had on the survivors they are fighting to protect. Marcus remains as belligerent as ever, uttering little more than barked orders or his usual sarcastic grunts upon decapitating, disembowelling, and dismembering the Locust at every opportunity. With new finishing moves to dispatch your prone opponents, it seems the only chance Epic missed was to include one where you bite off an opponent's ear by introducing Mike Tyson to Delta Squad.
A few new characters have been introduced to Gears 2 however. Most memorable are Stetson wearing Dizzy, and Tai, a truly psychotic warrior. His nonchalant comment "I like the look of Locust blood in this light" is far more chilling than any of the visceral gore the game has to offer. Indeed, for a game so full of blood and horror, there are few genuine scares. On the other hand, a change of tactic by the Locust to capture and torture human prisoners leads to some discoveries which certainly left my skin itching. Gears 2 will fill you with the trepid squeamishness of a Saw movie, rather than soiling the couch at frequent intervals like Dead Space or Condemned do.
The plot sees humanity's last stand turned around into a last push to try and finally destroy the Locust menace. This once again involves Marcus and co. heading through desolate cities, Locust caverns, and some epic travels aboard giant drilling stations, tanks and even flying on Locust Reavers. Epic have managed to pack in enough variety in Delta Squad's travels across Sera for players to see not only how a war torn world looks across destroyed cities, but also lush fields, frozen lakes and ancient Locust-built monasteries. Gears 2 makes everything that the original did well bigger and better. Even the mighty Brumaks (who you previously had no choice but to beat a retreat from) are mercilessly squashed under your drilling rig after you have mown them down with Troika fire.