gears of war 2

a review of Gears Of War 2
a videogame developed by epic (mega)games
and published by microsoft game studios
for the microsoft xbox 360
text by tim rogers

4 stars

Bottom line: Gears Of War 2 is “Videogames: The Videogame.”

Let’s get all the important stuff out of the way:

1. We are not “gay” for Cliffy B — we are merely “correct”.

2. If you have not played Gears of War yet, you probably should.

3. You do not need to play Gears of War in order to appreciate Gears of War 2. Really, it’s just a story about meatheads shooting evil meatheads.

4. If you have not played Gears of War 2 yet, you must.

5. The back of the box negligently does not caution the player about several dangerous factors regarding the game experience. We will tell you that if you are male, you might want to prepare an icepack to place on your crotch before pressing the Start Button, or risk puncturing your expensive high-definition television.

6. The ESRB is still, shamefully, unable to rate the content of online interactions. You figure that those guys are so smart that they’d have invented a brain surgery procedure that enables psychic powers by now.

7. The ESRB also fails to mention the “AO” potential: some players are experiencing an “unintended feature” wherein one real-life article of clothing vanishes from their body for every hour of play. We know a guy who ended up without skin, for example.

8. Any females accidentally overhearing the in-game dialogue or spying a chainsaw duel might become literally impregnated with Cole Train’s baby. Some male players, in fact, are also experiencing this. We felt a little nauseated this morning, and are now knee-deep in contemplating which tight orifice the infant is going to crawl out of.

That’s about it. Gears of War 2 is here, it’s huge, and it’s great. It’s about as much fun — about as easily and painlessly and relentlessly devourable — for a thirty-year-old man as the “X-Men” Saturday morning cartoon was when we were thirteen. The online deathmatches are tight, the co-op campaign is hilarious, and the horde mode is a shining star of game design, evidence that for once the people making a great game understand that it’s great enough to just sit to jiggle on a silver platter until infinity.

We cannot stress enough how much we like “Horde”. A scan of reviews listed on Metacritic leads us to the brick-wall-like realization that not everyone screams about how great it is, so we will have to scream enough for all. Horde is fantastic. If you don’t know what it is, here’s is a description, courtesy of our friend the bullet point:

1. Gears of War basic rules: cover-based shooting: take cover, shoot guys, move to strategic locations, gate / bottleneck / suppress coming enemies
2. Cooperate with (ideally) up to four teammates via voice-chat to optimally secure and hold strategic locations and take down the enemy threat
3. Kill one wave of enemies, and more come
4. The setting never changes
5. The enemies come in 50 waves
6. You might as well just call it an “endless” mode

If anything about Horde disappoints us, it’s that the break between waves is a tiny bit too long, and that some of the epic firefight venues from the single-player campaign don’t make it in as Horde-only levels. We eagerly await the PC version (if they end up making one) so that we can craft our own levels.

Seriously, one Horde level where the player characters have a distinct territorial advantage (maybe they’re shooting from atop a castle wall, trying to keep enemies from getting in a big gate) couldn’t have hurt.

Either way, Horde is real, it is alive; it is Gears of War meets Tetris; it is game mechanics on a silver platter; it is The Contra Stage Which Never Ends. It is the distilled joy of being with one’s bros and fighting the good fight. It is probably better than sex, both on emotional and physical levels. By the end of a ten-wave, brutally unsuccessful slog, you will know more about your bros on the other end of the Xbox Live headset than you learned about your future wife in six years of dating, whether you’re playing the game seriously or not.

Let’s go ahead and mint a brand new law to be obeyed from here on out by all those seeking citizenship in the kingdom of videogames: if your game isn’t fun enough to be enthralling in the context of an endless mode, nothing else about it means shit.

The campaign mode, on the other hand, simply put, is not the Horde mode. That is about the same as saying that blueberry pancakes are not strawberry pancakes. They are both fantastic, just in queerly different ways.

We will admit to being a tiny bit disappointed with the campaign the first time we played it. There were entire placid thirty-minute segments when we could have sworn our trigger fingers had contracted poison ivy. Eventually, there’s a part that pays gripping and obvious homage to Contra, R-Type, Abadox, Life Force, and a dozen other 8-bit Japanese video games with undeniable virtuosity. Then there’s a long segment where you wander around a ruined building (shades of BioShock) while listening to a disembodied computer voice (shades of Portal). The gun battles are sporadic; the dangers are mostly environmental. You are sneaking around and flipping switches. What the hell is this? you might exclaim.

Eventually, the game opens back up, and the developers are answering the question-mark-less question re: how much the vehicle segment in Gears of War sucked by giving you a turbo-tank capable of Mega Killing two dozen dudes at a time. Shortly afterward, the Real Game Begins, and the promised football-field-sized battlegrounds stacked with staircases and parapets and catwalks and towers and windows begin. After two years of many games trying to be like Gears and not entirely succeeding, after Uncharted gave us scenes of cover-based shooting punctuated by scenes of us pressing the analog stick in various directions to see which one the game wanted us to jump to, we were stricken with a malaise; we wondered, when would someone make a game that combines Shooting Stuff and Doing Stuff into one experience? Gears 2 is that game; one scene has you trying to cross a wide aqueduct while the enemies on the other side attempt to unscrew the wheel and send the water washing you out. You have to keep your eye on the wheel while also keeping your eye on the guys shooting you. It’s simple, and it’s fascinating. Then there’s the part where you’re on a circular elevator, and the enemies are all around you, and overwhelming, and you can screw the wheel to pull the elevator up so you’ve got the high ground temporarily. Again, fascinating. Then you’ve got a soccer-field-sized mad charge toward a badass brick wall, guys with invincible, scary, unpredictable mortars on the other side, and clockwork bulletproof walls activated by pausing long enough to jerk a switch. How can you not love this? You simply can’t come away from this experience above the impression that level design is everything. Hell, the New Yorker caved in and wrote its first-ever in-depth feature on game design because of Gears of War 2. Though we’re aware it would sound crude it we called you an idiot or a brain-dead hater for doubting Gears of War‘s power at this point, we feel confident and correct when we say that you obviously wear a football helmet to bed every night.

Looking back on the Gears of War 2 campaign after it’s all over and dozens of hours of online deathmatch and Horde play have evaporated, it’s apparent that it really is a perfectly put-together videogame, built with meticulous care and a common-sense knowing love of videogames. It is Videogames: The Videogame.

Gears of War 2 is The Legend of Zelda On Fire. We said before — maybe — that the Zelda series is noteworthy less because of the actual execution of the game and more because of the games’ existence as a genre in and of themselves. They are entertainment vehicles, the closest modern games have yet seen of a “Ben Hur”-worthy event. Gears of War 2 takes the he “Zelda Genre” — as perhaps most clearly expressed (for all the good and bad that entails) in the recent Twilight Princess — and cracks out a game with a big plot, with loud parts and quiet parts, with thrilling parts and stoic parts, with fuck-yeah parts and hell-no parts, and storms constantly forward, never once relinquishing its status as a game or as a piece of entertainment.

We can hardly call anything about this game “visionary” or “genius”. It’s about as down-to-earth and honest a multi-million-dollar blockbuster entertainment venture as you’re going to get. The characters are creatine-chugging meatheads because that’s what it takes to avoid tripping Middle America’s Homo Alarm prior to YouTube comment #11. It attempts a “deep” “emotional” moment near the climax of its story because this is part fucking two, and if you’re not stepping up the game in part two, you’re doing something wrong — and also because it can, and more importantly because it absolutely has to.

The game development world between 2006 and today has been a relentless flirt session with the 1990s dream of “interactive cinema”. Who played BioShock and didn’t think of those big moving chairs in those mini-theaters at Block Party, where fans blow in your face as the screen shows a flying first-person view of a shabby 3D volcano? People seem to think that hiding the main character’s face and letting the player imagine that it’s them there in that fantastical, slick, computer-generated world is the key to “immersion”. It’s probably not! Budding game developers, pay heed to the sentence following the colon: most game players are (at least) smart enough to realize that what’s happening inside the TV screen is not real. Don’t try to make them think it is real! Just entertain them. Give them a character with a personality — any personality will do — and a visual presence — any visual presence will do.

Gears of War 2 is the way an “interactive movie” is to be done, right down to its blatantly interactive-movie-like vehicle segments. It is fitting that the Unreal Engine middleware pioneers Epic Megagames were the ones to nail it down once and for all. The Unreal Engine is to the game developer as Microsoft Word (we prefer Google Docs, actually, though we say “Microsoft Word” to maximize familiarity) is to the novelist. Gears of War 2 is to the videogame industry as the established screenplay format is to the filmmaker.

(Or, at least, this is how it would be in a perfect world.)

We will not apologize for the movie analogies. In fact, we will be the negative-first ones to acknowledge that games are not movies. This debate is no fun. If you want to know how much like a movie a game should be, see Gears of War 2. Savor the mercifully short cut-scenes. Savor the big-time fights. Be awestruck in the bootpath of the colossal set-pieces.

Like the first Gears, like the beauty of Out of this World, like Shadow of the Colossus, Gears of War 2 expresses that the true glory of an action videogame comes in providing the player with the bits that would be cut out of an action scene in a film. If Shadow of the Colossus were a film, surely the editor would consider five to ten minutes of clinging for dear life on the hairy back of a stampeding stone statue to be a “tad too long”. Yet those segments are indisputably the most thrilling. As are the moments in Gears of War when you’re crouched behind a low wall, breathing heavily, waiting and listening for your enemy’s clip to run out so you can pop up and try to shoot him in the head. The audience of a film will only tolerate so many sparse seconds of a hero breathing heavily with his back against a brick wall. Gears blew the doors off what was becoming a tired genre — the 3D shooter — by forcing the player to bask in the just-barely-too-long moments of desperation. It’s said that the hook of the original Gears was that it was to be a huge-budget shooting game with a solid campaign and a highly competitive, intimate online component. The core concept of taking cover — “stop and pop” as it would later be called — did not step into the spotlight until well into the level design phase. Someone on the level design team — let’s pretend it was Cliffy B himself — envisioned a staircase with a house at the top and guys shooting down at you. How do you make it fun to get to the top of that staircase? They envisioned fallen-over pillars, piles of debris to hide behind. And then, when you get to the top of that staircase, enemy reinforcements arrive; you shoot them from a ducked position behind a window in the house. Action films are all about what happens at points A point B, with car trips elided, with Indiana Jones’ air travels shooed into a red line drawing itself on a map; Gears spoke to a future of action-based entertainments where getting there, literally, was all of the fun. The game mechanics were born of white-hot necessity.

So Gears of War 2 doesn’t have anything nearly as immediately virtuoso as the staircase sequence. It doesn’t need it. It has giant, Rube-Goldberg-device-like battlefields with interlocking gimmicks and rock-hard opponents. It’s got guys shooting mortars at you — in a game that has trained you to take cover, mortars are scarier than survival horror. You have to get out of that cover and try to kill the mortar guys, or else you’re not going to live to see the next desperate duel.

More than this, Gears 2 plays exceptionally well. Many people complained that the heroes of Gears were a little too tank-like in movement, that the aiming speed was a tiny bit too slow. Gears 2 is a more sensitive and sensible game. The crosshair’s slide speed is delicately refined. The guns feel less like GI Joes and more like Tonka trucks. The enemies are meaner. The tactics work remarkably better. The two-player co-op campaign play is fiercer — levels are more astutely designed to encourage players to communicate. Suppressing a group of enemies while your partner runs parallel to your gun-stream to flank and shotgun (or chainsaw) the cowering foe (or foes) has never been more satisfying.

The tactics of each individual battle are worthy of their own paragraph. This is that paragraph. The first Gears felt like a videogame based on a movie based on John Madden Football ’93 produced by the people behind “Super Mario Bros. The Movie”. In Gears 2, it all comes together. The pacing of every little gun skirmish is sublime: here we have a game with all the minute-to-minute clockwork-like sophistication of, say, The Lost Vikings or Portal, executed so transparently that the player never realizes he’s doing more than holding a gun, pointing a gun, shooting a gun, and killing things. Playing Gears of War 2 well will make you feel like a Nobel Prizewinning physicist — and more than that, like a man.

So let’s get back to what we were saying about the characters being dumb meatheads, and about the game being a template more than anything else. It’s very clear to us that Gears is merely an extension of Epic’s middleware developer’s conscience. It is a call to action. It is them saying, “Hey guys, let’s make more games like this”. We feel like we really shouldn’t have to explain what we mean by this; however, judging by the failure of Scotch-tape-scented cologne to exist already, we realize that maybe the rest of the world isn’t as brilliant as we are, so we’ll spell it out:

Basically, just take Gears and, say, change the heads of the main characters. Square-Enix could get Tetsuya Nomura or (hopefully) Akira Toriyama to design new faces. Slap them on there, and you’ve got yourself another hit game. Change the dialogue a little bit and it’d even feel new.

People put up serious money to see cookie-cutter action movies every year. What we’re saying is, if you’re going to make a game that blatantly rips off another game, for god’s sake, rip off Gears of War 2, not BioShock. We would never dare to say that games need good stories to be good. Though when we stop to think about it, we realize that if Gears of War 2 had a different story and characters, it’d at least feel new, and worth playing again. And what do you know — maybe, eventually, with all the game design decided from the start, someone would end up making a game with a great and actually emotionally affecting story.

Moreover, we notice an incredible and delicious void waiting to be filled: the art-film equivalent of Gears of War. Maybe this is how the producers envisioned Dark Sector, though they must have given up along the line. We’re waiting for the real deal. Maybe it won’t even involve guns. (Gears 2‘s guns are excellent, by the way. Never have guns sounded more delicious as bullets exit their muzzles and slam wetly into alien muscle-flesh.)

How about a medieval fantasy Gears of War? The Boomshield item in Gears of War 2 gets us thinking. Maybe your main character has a shield and a spear. Archers on the opposite end of the battlefield shoot arrows from time to time. You have to stop and hold up the shield. Maybe you could make this class-based and online multiplayer: transplant the aesthetics of an massively multiplayer online role-playing game into a ferociously straightforward campaign-based action game. You could make your own avatar at the beginning of the game, give him whatever armor and weapons you see fit to use from a generous pool of items (swords, spears, longswords, broadswords, throwing daggers). Each item has a plus and a minus. Heavy armor protects you longer, though makes you move more slowly, that sort of thing. One player can be an archer, suppressing enemies while the spear-man flanks and skewers them. You choose your hero’s armament at the beginning of the game; the story doesn’t change. Think of the replay value. We could replace the RPG genre entirely with something like this. Gears is The One Genre — it is the genre of gaming that, for now, we might as well just call “The Entertainment Game”.



If we had to point out any negatives, the most glaring one would be the lack of Xbox Avatar support. They should have future-proofed the game. We would love nothing more than to chainsaw and/or blast our friends’ avatars into bloody piles of pulp. Also, the distinct possibility of seeing Marcus Fenix touch a scarily accurate rendition of our real-life self on the shoulder and implore us to “FIGHT THROUGH THE PAIN!” would allow us the joyous opportunity to die of a sudden blood clot to the prostate.

Another thing — and this is especially painful when playing on Insane difficulty — why must the screen fade out completely and ask us if we want to reload a checkpoint whenever we die in the single-player campaign mode? It’s kind of maddening. If we want to restart the chapter or exit to the main menu, we will consult the in-game pause menu, thank you very much! That the Xbox 360 is still plugged into the wall and drawing delicious, icecap-melting power is testament to our will to fight through the pain and kill these alien bastards. Again, we remember something we said about Call of Duty 4, about the mind-expanding possibility of a shooting game with no “death”, a game that unfolded like a quick-time event, with each “failure” simply slotting the player down a slightly different path. This would, of course, be too much work for any group of humans to perform in today’s two-year development cycle, so we’ll just settle for Looney-Tunes-like instant rebirth.

We’re actually not sure where to end this. We were keeping a running tally of Ridiculous Sentences Uttered During Online Co-op with the intention of mentioning them in one gut-busting paragraph, though most of them aren’t that great without context, and actually kind of puzzle us to look at them.

“Cole, get your HEAD out of my FACE!”

Et cetera.

We could mention some of the incredible glitches we encountered, like how occasionally, in a battle with mortars during single-player, it would just so happen that sometimes both Marcus and Dom would be downed at the same time, crawling around toward each other, for a full thirty seconds. (Usually, mortars were involved.) This was kind of infuriating! If we’d been playing two player co-op, we would have no doubt employed the Greatest Sentences of all-time, as born in Shadowrun: “Dude, my body is still alive.” “Dude, is your body dead?” “Dude, they are going to kill my body.”

Instead — and this is a little jarring — when Dom is knocked out in the single-player campaign, you literally hear his voice actor shout the wordsREVIVE ME!” Somehow, “REVIVE ME” is so much more eerily clinical than “My body isn’t dead yet dude; My body is still alive” simply by virtue of the fact that it’s being spoken by the voice actor of a character who actually has a bullet-pointed “Oscar Clip Moment” somewhere in the script. It’s weird to suddenly learn that, in addition to having a wife who has gone missing during an apocalyptic war against genocidal alien mutant freak bastards, this man also learned his military lingo from playing Xbox Live as a thirteen-year-old. These Gears have been fighting this war longer than any of us will ever know.


–tim rogers

(perhaps tangentially) related games:

gears of war
out of this world
halo 3
call of duty to the fourth power: modern warface



39 Responses to gears of war 2

  1. they need to make a game that’s a hybrid between gears of war 2 and children of men. i heard DUDE HUGE (echo) wanted clive owen to be marcus fenix in the gears movie? coincidence?

  2. You should check out Quantum Theory. A third person shooter from Tecmo that’s quite obviously heavily inspired by Gears.

  3. “if your game isn’t fun enough to be enthralling in the context of an endless mode, nothing else about it means shit.”

    Great point, that.

    It makes me wonder why other games don’t capitalize on their own (genuinely watertight) mechanics in the same way – the times in Ninja Gaiden II when all I want is to dispatch competent and dangerous enemy Ninjas, only to be tasked with shooting down a dragon, or being spammed with exploding throwing knives.

    Like you say, though, the times when you are allowed to genuinely indulge (a la Horde mode) feel like hot gaming joy, indefinitely.

    Really enjoyed the review

  4. “How about a medieval fantasy Gears of War?”

    I swear on my LIFE I was thinking the other day how Fire Emblem felt like a turn-based Gears of War, and how obviously brilliant a real-time Gears-like Multiplayer Online Fire Emblem game would be.

  5. I so very much want to play this game but I read this review and the onion’s today and now I am torn.

    The onion says… Final judgment: Highly addictive online modes dull the pain of mundane offline play. But you seem convinced the campaign is uncommonly great… so which one is it!

  6. I can’t play this game but i’m a big fan of the Endless Mode for action games. Spartan, Ratchet & Clank, Devil May Cry, The Warriors… they all need it
    actually half of them have it

  7. Demaar: re: Quantum Theory: I saw a thing on that at Tokyo Game Show. It looks like it might accidentally be kind of cool, though according to People In The Know, it’s going to have shit like levels and experience points in it :-/

    Roy: Ninja Gaiden II at least had some kind of Zen feeling about its lengthier grunt battles. Stuff like dragon fights popping up is obviously the game designers starting to feel unimportant and so forcing out some “new ideas” so as to not feel like they’re not “contributing” to the project.

    It’s funny that a lot of comments on Gears 2 concern somewhat slightly similar Japanese games; it’s obvious that the level designers of Gears know legacy Japanese games in and out. It’s just that their methods of designing a game are, from the ground level, so informed by common sense that Japanese games barely stand a chance in comparison. I would imagine that every single fight in a Devil May Cry, for example, is spelled out in the scenario, by the director, as “Dante then fights three demons in a large circular room”, and then the “game designers” go “uhhh, yeah, maybe we could use one more?” blinking with each syllable of the sentence. The programmers breathe through their teeth, extract a promise to keep this a secret from the director, and bash out a line of code. Forty-five minutes later, one of the “game designers” comes back and says “uhhh, yeah, maybe we could use one more?” Programmer breathes through his teeth, etc. Continue until we have Dante killing 100 demons at every intersection in the game. Scarily, 90% of the “work” isn’t even in the programming or the fine-tuning or (god forbid) the level design — it’s all in manipulating stilted social norms and apologizing profusely (and then being profusely apologized to) every time you so much as say “hello” to a co-worker in the hallway.

    Getting a job as a level / game designer on Gears, on the other hand, seems to rely entirely on your Knowing What The Hell Is Up.

    Kinto: I actually thought of dozens of alternate Gears of War scenarios while writing this review. Marvel at my restraint for having only mentioned one!!

    Have you played Valkyria Chronicles? That might (or might not) be the next game to be reviewed on this here website. It plays something like Fire Emblem from a Gears of War perspective. There’s no way the game designers there didn’t play Gears of War at some point.


    The Onion’s review is wrong! I was a tiny bit disappointed by bits of the campaign when I played it for the first time, though once I got far enough, I started to appreciate the whole thing. Play it co-op, with a real-life friend, with voice chat, and hear one another laughing at and/or ridiculing the story and dialogue, and you literally won’t even notice the “slow” parts.

    As a one-player experience, it’s still great.

    Either way, like I said, the game’s campaign is a perfect template, a cookie cutter with which to make dozens and dozens of hours of delicious cookies.

  8. Roy: Well, Ninja Gaiden II does have survival mode content. You just have to pay extra for it, unfortunately. A lot of those “hidden” trials are substantial in and of themselves, though.

    Also if you’re prudent about saves, I recommend keeping one on the chapter when you return to the Hayabusa village toward the end. That’s basically nothing but warding off competent ninja threats. I suppose it has a low of arrows and exploding kunai too, though.

    tim: Not sure why, but the first thing I wondered upon reading the Brand New Law was what the best way to go about an endless mode for Metal Gear Solid would be. Megaman 9’s might be a good model. Have some huge number of pre-considered maps rendered in VR style, stripped down to their essentials, randomly generated upon entering the door at the end of each. Increase the enemy density, awareness every X number of rooms cleared. Introduce cameras and pitfalls and shit in the same maps. Maybe you get more health/stamina/ammo replenished at the end of each room based on how quickly you clear it so you don’t feel free to just capitalize on the path of least resistance every time, but eventually feel threatened enough to be inclined to.

    An alternative I’m not even pausing long enough to think about would possibly be to have an MGS3-style jungle survival situation with blocks on a grid actually connected on a large map and maybe you have to keep moving to find safe places to eat and restock and rest because guards are eventually replaced in any given location and something I dunno.

  9. No, I haven’t. I’m a student so my limited funds haven’t allowed me to get a PS3, and I’ve been feircely one-inch punching those who tell me to get one for LittleBigPlanet. It’s something of an Endless Mode, actually!

  10. I definitely agree that NG2 was designed to death in a lot of ways. Why bother fleshing out the projectile-firing sections so much if shooting the bow and arrow is still so absolutely unfun and so antithetical to the game’s attitude at the most fundamental level? Just so they could add a new bullet point to the “Ideas for Sequel List”, and then check off the “Add More Bullet Points to Ideas for Sequel List” on the “Things to Do For Sequel List”.

    And yeah, Gears2 was great, but since I’m on the topic of complaining about games I love, I thought that the boss battles were pretty underwhelming. There was the one where you’re riding the, uh, thing being chased by the other thing (I dunno how you guys feel about spoilers, but you know what I mean), and that was sheer cinematic glory. But the others were all way too much cinema and not nearly enough glory.

  11. Wait.

    Tim, are you inadvertently saying that you, of all people, would enjoy a Gears of War type game that has Tetsuya Nomura character designs? And it would have the potential to have an emotional, involving story, that you, a man(?) who is not merely “gay” for CliffyB but “correct” for him, would possibly whip out the Kleenex for?

    And what’s that you say? You’re wearing twenty belts right now, all in the most unnecessary places? Oh god…

  12. Epic just revealed that horde mode is the most popular online mode. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some DLC released in the near future focused on horde, (a storm the castle map would be freaking awesome). The Epic designers really know what the hell they’re doing.

    On another note, just got playing through all of the meaty parts on Insane, which really made me appreciate the level design. (I found myself not even worrying about cover in normal and hardcore). It was an incredible experience, even while playing solo, but go ahead and skip the damn tank level unless you want the achievements.

  13. Horde mode is actually pretty terrible. If the new dashboard wasn’t out I might not feel this way, because gears multiplayer is terrible if you have to listen to everyone and anyone on live. So I could see horde being good if it was the only way to enjoy gears with your friends.

    Horde is just a glorified training mode, and there’s no survival aspect in it at all. Everyone dies? Just start the wave over, one person dies? He’s back next round, there’s no excuse not to play this mode like an idiot because there isn’t a single consequence to your actions. Horde could be good if the waves were interesting in any way but it’s just 50 waves of, locusts, wretches, boomers, tickers and those shitty screeching guys. Why not spawn a boss every 10 waves? Why not keep the dead players out and just end when the whole team is dead.

    For a game that wants to be as hardass as gears does, it really shouldn’t reset the difficulty curve every 10 waves.

    Also river gives the players a significant advantage in almost every aspect of territory, it’s almost impossible to lose on that level if you work as a team, even with mouthbreathers.

    I was excited for it when I heard about it but giving it the actual playtime just makes it feel like a waste when I could be playing against actual players in multiplayer, rather than AI that will sit behind a dumpster the whole time I shoot him in the shoulder.

  14. This will be my first comment on any review so I think I should start by saying, I like your site, I like your perspective. However, I would like it a lot more if you didn’t constantly seem to need to remind us that you live in Japan and that you work in games. It’s the IT guy that uses every possible opportunity to remind you while working on your computer that he has a girlfriend. Can’t you just be good at computers man?

    That being said, all the reviews here make sense to me, a guy who grew up waiting in line to play Street Fighter. Taste is quite rare in this industry.

    Horde mode is the way I started Gears II, horde mode with 3 of my favorite dudes eating pizza, screaming at one another and it was perfect. Really got to connect me to my inner 13 year old, didn’t even have time to reach for a beer that night. I think Horde mode will change online games for awhile, it will be the new hot shit, at least it should be.

    Obviously I started the single player campaign with high hopes. The game starts out pretty bad, then gets better and then almost becomes great then you get really boring floaty vehicle missions. For dudes who are all about “crunch” (which could be replaced with really any word if you say it enough) I can’t believe you don’t feel the need to mention the lack of “crunch” in all the segments of GOW 2 that don’t involve the standard game mechanics. It just totally took me out of it, I found myself on that ice lake thinking “is this the best these guys could do”. The single player campaign NEEDS to be better, it needs to match the quality of it’s own standard game mechanics.

    It also amazes me that a game with such great level design and surprisingly good (not great) design in general could have characters that look like the dudes in gears. Big ass black dude, probably Mexican man, and Marcus “exactly the same design as Jim Lee’s Deathblow” Fenix. We should be able to ask that not only are games fun but that the characters have something, anything, that makes them exciting.

    Cutting through that giant worm was really badass. You should get a ripping neoclassical guitar solo every time you chainsaw anything. In fact they should just replace all the stupid dialogue with guitar solos.

  15. I apologize in advance if, as is usual for me, my comments come out exorbitantly long-winded and critical.

    The basic combat mechanics of Gears never really struck me as tight or “crunchy”, they’ve always struck me as really loose and sloppy.

    To begin with, the analog stick sensitivity in both Gears games just sucks; it’s hella jerky, a slight nudge on the stick jerks your crosshair across way too fast, while pushing the stick all the way in one direction doesn’t get your crosshair moving fast enough. Honestly, it feels like aiming with a D-pad. The basic process of getting badguys in your sights and shooting them never feels as smooth and responsive as it should, which is sad considering that by now most major console FPS have gotten this right (even Epic’s own UT3 on 360 was light years better in this area).

    Other areas of control feels almost as clunky. Marcus moves agonizingly slow most of the time, then when you sprint, it’s so fast and the guy blocks so much of your view that you can easily glance off and run past the piece of cover you were trying to get to, or get stuck on a piece of cover that isn’t where you wanted to go. The cover system itself is really simplistic, it’s missing the basic option (found in many other cover system games) to come up to lean out left or right, or up top of the barrier – you only get one option at each location. Cover systems themselves also loose out on the nuance of manually, gradually inching your way out from behind a wall to give yourself the best shot on the target while exposing yourself as little as possible. More importantly, why is there so much emphasis in taking cover in this game when Marcus can absorb so much damage and the enemies are so dumb and such bad shots?

    The third weakness in the core mechanics of the game though is, as with many mediocre shooters, the weapons. The weapons in Gears lack teeth. They don’t give you that satisfying feeling of “oomph”. It doesn’t help that the 3rd person perspective disconnects you from the experience of seeing the weapon up close, watching the muzzle flash burst forth from the barrel, watching the pump of the shotgun ratchet back and forth after each shot. However, I believe the function of the weapons themselves is a problem whether seen from 1st or 3rd person. Most of the weapons are so weak that there’s no feeling of result, feedback, or satisfaction to shooting them; you spray dozens of rounds from the Lancer into a locust and he just keeps on running until eventually after 100 rounds or so, he falls. Even with the shotgun, enemies will frequently take 2-3 blasts at point-blank range before dieing, and the difficulty in rushing to close range with Marcus’ slow running speed doesn’t help. The Hammerburst is an improvement over the Lancer and the Gears 1 Hammerburst in that it’s just accurate and powerful enough that after blazing away on the trigger for a while, the enemy finally falls 1-2 rounds before you were about to go “wow, this thing is useless” and drop it. Of course, the slow travel speed of the bullets is no help either; even if you try to be accurate and aim carefully with the Hammerburst (as well as the Lancer and many of the pistols) the enemy will frequently move out of the way before the bullet gets to him. You can basically only hope to concentrate fire in an enemy’s general direction.

    Of course the Boomshot delivers a lot more power, but the ammo is so limited that either it’s a short-lived experience, or you can’t really justify using it unless you have 5-10 enemies bunched together. The Longshot and Torquebow will take enemies out in one shot, but between wrestling with the d-padish aiming controls and reloading after every shot, using these weapons is just annoying and a pain, so unless you absolutely need a sniper shot, it just becomes easier to pull out the Hammerburst, aim in the general direction of the enemy, and mash the trigger until everything is dead.

    Honestly, it’s really hard to believe that these unsatisfying, boring weapons are coming from the same developer that brought us Unreal Tournament. Load up UT3 and you’ll find the Stinger 100x more satisfying to use than the Lancer, the Flak Cannon 100x more satisfying than the Gnasher, the Shock Rifle 100x more satisfying than the Hammerburst, the Rocket Launcher 100x more satisfying than the Boomshot, the Sniper Rifle 100x more satisfying than the Longshot, etc, etc etc.

    Gears’ core mechanics strike me as working against eachother to make Gears caught in the middle between various types of shooter without actually doing very well in any particular area. The cover-based combat lacks the vulnerability, tactics, and marksmanship of comparable cover system games like Killswitch, Rainbow Six Vegas, or Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway. The slow movement, clunky controls. and dinky weapons also make the combat too tame for Gears to work well as a run-n-gun arcade action game like Unreal Tournament or Quake. Yes the basic core FPS truths are there that if you take cover in the right spot, aim at the enemy, and keep on firing, he will eventually die, and in a co-op environment (co-op being the bacon of videogames) Gears must undoubtedly be pretty entertaining, but I don’t think it’s nearly as tight, crunchy, or perfect as ABN has made it out to be.

    Anyway, aside from the weak core mechanics making action in either single or multiplayer feel muffled and engaging, I think the campaign suffered, believe it or not, from a lack of plot. The campaign has some really cool elements once you finally get out of the generic “ruined city” areas. The underground caverns, going inside the riftworm, the parts in the abandoned facility, the concentration camps, etc were all very cool sci-fi elements. But then it’s all dulled by Marcus’ stupid dialogue, and none of the plot points are ever really explored at all. Through the entire 1st game and 2/3 through the 2nd game, they never bother with any explanation as to who/what the Locust actually are, or where they came from. They start to imply during the abandoned facility segment that the Locust might have origination from some man-made experiment gone wrong, but they never actually give you any concrete answers – just a lot of marines’ inane macho posturing. Aside from it being disappointing that all the cool sci-fi stuff is never really taken advantage of, it’s just plain annoying to spend 30-40% of the game stuck with your fingers in your ears unable to run to the next location or even pick up ammo while you wait through the dialogue – when the dialogue has nothing to offer. It’s ok for an action game to be an action game and have a nonexistent/laughable storyline, but then the storyline should not interupt the gameplay. Make all the dialogue skippable and stop forcing us to stand around with our fingers stuck in our ears – it just spreads the gameplay thin into long stretches of “hurry up and wait”.

    And that’s all I have to say about that. *stands up from the bench*

  16. I disagree with flippantly lumping Gears in as an FPS – the cover system makes it exclusively, and noticeably, a third-person shooter. FPSes feel totally different.

  17. If you can’t move the crosshair slowly enough you’re probably trying to shoot something that is too far away. If you can’t move it fast enough you are being flanked, get the hell out of there. If not being able to see your surroundings while making a mad dash is a problem then you should check your surroundings before you do it.

    The mechanics are all pushing you towards playing the game a certain way, if you expect it to be like any other shooting game with one-hit-kill headshots, leaning or more powerful weapons you’re just going to be disappointed. I made the same mistake when I wished Megaman could duck and shoot diagonally. Take the game as it is, not as others are.

  18. A 3D shooter is a 3D shooter whether it’s got a 1st or 3rd person view. Furthermore, many FPS these days have cover systems (ie Brothers in Arms 3, Rainbow Six Vegas) and they play simultaneously very similar to Gears and very similar to other FPS. Killswitch (a game which Gears borrows heavily from) is primarily a 3rd person cover system game, but possesses 1st person iron-sight aiming, and plays simultaneously like Gears and like many FPS tactical shooters. Most importantly, you don’t need a cover system to take cover in either a 3rd person or 1st person shooter; just walk up behind a barrier and stand or crouch there. The cover system is largely superfluous. The only reason you really need it in Gears is cause there is no crouch button and the cover button is also the sprint button.

    You also don’t need to be that far away for the crosshair to jerk in Gears. Whether the enemy is 10, 25, or 50 yards away, the crosshair is always jerky compared to aiming at an enemy at the same distance in any other modern 3d shooter. As for the max speed being too slow, I don’t consider turning 30-45 degrees to shoot an enemy that’s standing still a safe distance away in a known location to be a situation where you’re being flanked. Of course, that doesn’t even cover the situations where you’re intentionally flanking the enemy, and the slow traverse speed of turning the corner around a piece of cover becomes an unnecessary obstacle. These are not design decisions, this is just sloppy analog input programming, and it happens a lot with PC developers making one of their first console games. Look at titles like Quake 4 for 360, or Unreal Championship for Xbox – you’ll see the same damn thing.

    As for the power of the weapons, it’s plain as day that the weak power of the weapons undermines the intended emphasis on taking cover if you look at the non-coop multiplayer modes. Since the Lancer and Hammerburst are weak as pea-shooters, and barely manage even make short work of an AFK player standing out in the open completely still and exposed, there is no real motivation to take cover. If you don’t take cover, there are no consequences, since the pea shooters won’t hurt you even if you’re running straight towards the shooter. In fact, taking cover and attempting to attack or suppress from any appreciable distance is just a waste of time, since you’re not going to kill anyone with your pea shooter and the chances of someone just walking right up to you and letting you shotgun them from cover are rare. Consequently, no one takes cover or plays in the fire-and-flank manner intended by the developers (and illustrated by the bots); everyone just runs around out in the open rolling around like a monkey trying to get to close range and make a rolling-monkey-shotgun kill, or trying to race to one of the power weapons and whore it at mid-range against defenseless players who are stuck with their peashooters and shotguns.

    I believe we were discussing in another thread how the true test of a game’s mechanics is to put it in versus mode, and Gears’ mechanics don’t hold up in versus mode. The only real reason they appear to hold up in campaign is because most of the enemies won’t rush you down and mostly just stand there letting you shoot them while pretending to take cover and shoot back. Try NOT taking cover in campaign sometime – chances are unless you’re standing right in front of a grinder or minigun, you’ll survive far longer than you expected. Your options in Gears, even in campaign, consist mostly over either redundantly pummeling static enemies with pea shooters over and over till they finally go down, or wrestling with jerky-crosshair-sniping, neither of which is as fun (nor “air-tight”) as it should be.

  19. “A 3D shooter is a 3D shooter whether it’s got a 1st or 3rd person view. Furthermore, many FPS these days have cover systems (ie Brothers in Arms 3, Rainbow Six Vegas) and they play simultaneously very similar to Gears and very similar to other FPS. Killswitch (a game which Gears borrows heavily from) is primarily a 3rd person cover system game, but possesses 1st person iron-sight aiming, and plays simultaneously like Gears and like many FPS tactical shooters. Most importantly, you don’t need a cover system to take cover in either a 3rd person or 1st person shooter; just walk up behind a barrier and stand or crouch there.”

    I know this is what you meant to say; it’s also what I meant to disagree with. A truly mechanically tight FPS cannot be played over the shoulder – Left 4 Dead, Quake 1, and Rainbow Six: Raven Shield might fall into this category. And a truly mechanically tight third-person shooter is defined by its awareness of the physical totality of your avatar, as exemplified by the programmatic cover system popularized by Gears. (See also, e.g., Max Payne, which derives at least half of its pleasure from watching your avatar do acrobatics, while allowing you to aim comfortably; if it was in first person your view would be tilting wildly and crazily all over the place, making aiming haphazard. You may contrast this with The Opera, a Half-Life 1 mod based on Hong Kong Heroic Bloodshed movies, which is superficially very similar to Max Payne but is in first-person, and your aim does careen around crazily, such that the simple shift in perspective from third to first person makes a completely different play experience.)

    A 3D shooter that plays just as well in first-person as in third-person is, in other words, sloppy and lazy. Most of the ones you identify (BIA, R6 Vegas, Killswitch) fall easily into this category. They play indiscriminately because they don’t have the self-awareness to use their perspective to its full potential.

    The last quoted sentence makes it seem to me like you’re unaware of this distinction. “Taking cover” in a Gears-esque game (like Uncharted or what have you) is completely different from just “crouching behind cover” in a proper FPS. One huge distinction is that in a third-person game you can survey the battlefield while taking cover. In an FPS, you can only see as much as you’re willing to risk being shot. 3rd-person games therefore allow “blind fire”, perhaps with reduced accuracy; in an FPS this is categorically impossible. And so on. I’m sure you’re creative enough to come up with more differences on your own.

  20. @demirichris: man, my friend and i just vocalized electric guitars every time we cleaned up a group of baddies.

  21. Actually, there was an arcade variant of Quake called “The Grid” which ran on a track ball and used a 3rd person perspective – it has vertical auto-aim and it wasn’t quite as precise as it’s PC brethren, but all the basic mechanics are there. Similarly Unreal Championship 2 went for a 3rd person perspective and possessed most of the basic mechanics of the 1st person Unreal games – sure the game had flaws but those flaws had little to do with the perspective. Many of the acrobatic moves that were in Max Payne were done in the Unreal series first, and despite the

  22. – shit, fucking keyboard. accidentally hit the enter button. –

    …despite the 1st person perspective.

    In any case, sure, there’s more of a difference when it comes to games like Max Payne or even Metal Gear Solid, but when it comes to games which use the same dual-analog stick FPS-style control scheme and revolve mostly and strafing around shooting shit, the main differences between 1st are 3rd person are mostly restricted to 1st person giving you distance vision, and 3rd person giving you an around-the-corner cheat sheet (which I generally dislike; when played through BIA2 and RSV2, I avoided using the 3rd person view at all costs. I also went on those games’ forum and said they should leave it out in the next game, replaced with a fluid stance system).

    Specifically, I’d argue there’s very little in Gears that really takes advantage of the 3rd person perspective. You don’t really need to see your avatar for anything- you’re not going to go “oops, my elbow is sticking out a bit, let me move to the right”. Yes, it allows you to see your enemies without exposing yourself, but in a game with enemies being as dumb as they are and Marcus taking as much damage as he does, is it really that crucial? No. The game’s mechanics aren’t that tight. Even if the game was 1st person only and you needed to stick your face into oncoming bullets to check out your surroundings, you wouldn’t die, so what does it matter? Does Gears do anything with its perspective and cover system that Killswitch, BIA, or RSV2 don’t? Not really. If anything, the only real purpose to the 3rd person perspective in Gears is to simplify things and make it easier for inexperienced gamers (read: usually fratboys) to understand what’s going on in the game. Sure, there’s silly novelties like blindfire and curbstomping animation, but is that really worthwhile and crucial to the game? I don’t think so.

    Getting down to the point, sure there are aesthetic and marketing reasons to make Gears a 3rd person game, and that’s fine – but underneath that most of the basic FPS mechanics; shooting, strafing, taking cover, flanking, chokepoints, etc. remain the same. There’s also nothing in the 3rd person perspective that necessitates things like jerky crosshairs, peashooter weapons, a mindless campaign, and self-defeating multiplayer mechanics.

  23. Brotip: None of the weapons are peashooters. Even the pistol can blow someone’s head off.

    Also, if you are frustrated at Marcus taking too much damage (and I hate saying this, because I think the game is fine on normal), play on Insane. You take like 5 hits maybe, if you are lucky. This forces cover usage a lot more.

    Also, I have no idea how you played Vegas not using the cover mechanic, especially on realistic.

  24. Ah!

    The old “fratboys are dumb” argument.

    You clearly have to be trolling. Or haven’t played Gears past the Casual difficulty setting.

  25. “If anything, the only real purpose to the 3rd person perspective in Gears is to simplify things and make it easier for inexperienced gamers (read: usually fratboys) to understand what’s going on in the game. Sure, there’s silly novelties like blindfire and curbstomping animation, but is that really worthwhile and crucial to the game? I don’t think so.”

    I do think so.

    You already admit that third-person Quake 1 is sloppier than its first-person counterpart, that Unreal Championship 2 sucks (and you leave out its focus on melee combat which made third-person a necessity), etc. I don’t really know what else to say.

  26. I actually loved Unreal Championship 2. It was an interesting way for Unreal to go.

  27. Tim I have one question and one hat-tip:

    1. What scene reminded you of japanese 8-bit games? I had that feeling throughout a bunch of the campaign actually. Dude-huge always bows to the great ones.

    2. I have believed for the last four years the greatest war film would involve following men in war, but depicting the slaughter of war by killing the “hero” off ever so often or at random. After the “hero” was killed the film would instantly cut to a new “hero”. Who could die at any moment. This would happen throughout the film barely skipping a beat. Someone needs to take this concept and put it to film or code. I just love how the concept diminishes the enthusiasm to live in the viewer. You get no connections. Only glimpses. It would be a very selfish game/film. I love ambiguity!

    The interesting bit of applying this idea to a game would mean the player could have a certain input into his death. Either jumping into his own demise or vainly fighting to live.

    I’m just tipping my hat for the like-minded thought.

  28. “Looking back on the Gears of War 2 campaign after it’s all over and dozens of hours of online deathmatch and Horde play have evaporated, it’s apparent that it really is a perfectly put-together videogame, built with meticulous care and a common-sense knowing love of videogames.”

    Okay, wow – I used to respect your reviews, but after playing though GoW2, along with the failure of it’s online portion, I have to say that I can’t ever trust your reviews again. How can you not see all of it’s glitches and problems (all well-documented by now) and think this was meticulously crafted? At least there’s a supposed patch coming that should fix a lot of the problems, but you wrote this swill before the patch.

  29. you’re writing off tim forever because of one review you disagreed with? that’s . . . almost kind of funny.

    also, it’s = contraction
    its = possessive


  30. yeah, for the record, glitches do not = poorly put together game.

    i was looking past the glitches, and just talking about the structure of the game!



    that’s a hell of a word!

    where are you from, kentucky?

  31. Tim I will not abide antirural sneering from a yankee gaijin like yourself.

    You can claim you weren’t sneering, but I know better.

  32. According to Wikipedia, “swill” can “refer to the act of applying cosmetics in haste” and also mean “a poor throw in the game of Ultimate [Frisbee]”.

    They say you should at least learn one new thing every day, and hey, there you go. Unless, of course, you knew already.

  33. stop masturbating over bald space marines and review persona 4 you fucking faggot

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