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Review: Gears of War 2

Russ Pitts | 11 Nov 2008 13:00
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But every rose has its thorn, and this game is no exception. Your A.I. squadmates have an annoying habit of vanishing into thin air, just when you need them most, and then taunting you from the great beyond in some tinny, altered voice as if to remind you they've checked out. The Dom character is the worst. Late in the game, as you set out on a mission specifically to lend him a hand, he looks you straight in the face and says "Follow me," then stands where he is, immobile. You can wait for him if you want, but it's better to forge on ahead. He'll show up in random elevators from time to time, but again, just stand there. It's as though he's just checking in, like your mother seeing how far along you've gotten on your homework before dinner.

And then there's the game's first couple hours. Every time you turn a corner there's something new requiring a cut-scene or an in-ear communication from "control." It's as if the developers were afraid you'd be so distracted having fun with their game, you'd miss out on how awesome it was. Playing a AAA shooter lately seems more and more like visiting a friend's house to see his model train set. He doesn't want you to play with it so much as he wants you to watch him play with it, and just when you think he's going to shut up and hand over the controls, he decides to show you something else. It's a kind of insecurity you'd expect Epic to have grown out of by now, and which Gears of War 2 doesn't deserve. When it gets out of its own way, the game really is ingenious.

Yes, the story is pulp SF at best, but it's entertaining, and by the end of it I was genuinely enthralled to see how it would turn out - and left hoping for another sequel. Graphically, this game is beautiful. Someone at Epic discovered lighting angles, and for once, the tremendous amount of graphical work poured into the world of Gears of War truly shines. Level after level, I was awed by the amount of graphical whiz-bangery squeezed out of this engine, as well as the design of the levels themselves. Some truly inventive environments grace this game, like the inside of a giant worm, complete with "acid nozzles" and a gigantic, beating heart (and oceans of blood).

Gears of War 2 is more than a sequel, it's a re-boot, pairing the frenzied, testosterone-fueled, glorified-violence-shooter-inventiveness of the first game with some truly brilliant storytelling and game design. Add in the on and off-line co-op and the new "Horde" multiplayer mode, and this game easily surpasses the original, and should offer plenty of fun for shooter fans this holiday season.

Russ Pitts agrees with Marcus Fenix - they can eat shit and die for all he cares. His blog can be found at www.falsegravity.com

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