Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios Platform: Xbox 360 Exclusive Release Date: 7/11/2008
There’s a simple fact that everyone has to learn to face about Gears of War and that is that, no matter how much you might like it, it isn’t really as revolutionary as the reputation it has built around itself might suggest.
Sure, it’s fun to play and the co-op campaign is a great excuse to murder your best friends when they don’t lay down the covering fire you so desperately need – but at the core of it, it’s pretty much the same as many games which have gone before.
It’s got the same gruff space-marine cutouts for characters, the same all-brown colour palette that looks like something a monkey might smear on a wall (if it could manage hi-res smearing) and the same basic gameplay. It’s just another corridor shooter – it just happens to be a very well polished one with some decent multiplayer and great graphics.
Don’t take these points as inherently bad though, as not every game needs to be as innovative as Braid or have the meaningful storyline of BioShock. Sometimes you just want to carve a Glasgow smile on something with your under-barrel chainsaw, or curb-stomp a fallen enemy – these are natural human urges which, believe it or not, aren’t totally exclusive to people in tracksuits and hoodies.
When it comes to Gears of War 2, one thing that's immediately clear is that Epic is fully-aware of this need for violence and simplicity over innovation and political sub-texts, because the game itself is essentially the same as its predecessor. It’s had a few extra improvements and multiplayer modes slapped on to help beef it out, but at the core it’s still just a run-n-gun game. And it’s still browner than last week's underwear.
The bad news however is that it still is essentially the same game and though the engine has had a few extra tweaks and there’s a veneer of emotion that’s been tacked onto the continuing story of the Locust / Human war, it is still very much just a corridor shooter. The cool cover-mechanic, path choices and grenade-aiming features which made the first game so accessible are still there – but they aren’t as impressive as they once were and very little seems to have stepped in to replace them, meaning the game does feel a little disappointing to play given how huge the hype is.
It’s a really bizarre mix of results when you actually take a step back and consider it. The super-accessible ability for you to use cover was one of the main things which made the original Gears of War stand out and Epic has been very vocal on how it has improved it further with the addition of mobile cover and some internal tweaks. The result though is less than astounding and we honestly couldn’t pinpoint any difference from the original system.
At the same time though the actual plot of Gears of War was something that a lot of people glossed over. It was interesting enough and the plot was capable of pulling players through the game – but it wasn’t all that remarkable or emotional when you got right down to it. This is a space-marine kill-fest, not an Ayn Rand tribute.
Gears of War 2 though noticeably improves in this area though, actually managing to tug on even our strained and broken heart-strings on occasion. It still might not be enough to reduce you to tears since you’re such a big, strong and assertively masculine man and the only thing you love is the chainsaw on your gun...but it may surprise you nonetheless, you big brute.