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Review: Gears of War 2

Gameplay in Gears of War 2 can do no wrong. I don't mean that in the hardcore, mouth-breathing, 1337 sense that the entire experience is flawless but the gameplay itself is already well established ... and, why shouldn't it be? Gameplay in Gears 2 is nearly identical to the 2006 Game of the Year original from Epic Games with slight tweaks that make the experience less jumpy and more enjoyable. Writing a review that focuses on the gameplay of Gears of War 2 would be about as helpful as explaining the importance of breathing so the focus of this review will be based on the story and additions.

Ultimately, Gears 2 has a few promises to live up to. When it was announced the first marketing spiel thrown out with it was, "Bigger, better and more badass." Does it answer those claims or does Gears of War 2 fall faster than a burning Locust Reaver? Jump in for the full review.

Ed. Note: This review does not include any story spoilers.

When last we left our heroes Marcus and Dom, the pair helped ignite the hollows with a lightmass bomb, designed to destroy the Locust horde beneath the surface of the fictional world of Sera. Six months later, the beginning of Gears 2, we learn that the Locust have survived and the human race is in an epic final fight.

Gears of War 2 does something the original only did in cutscenes, it makes players feel like they are in the middle of a war. While the original had fantastic encounters, each felt compact and separate from a much larger battle. From the beginning, Gears 2 feels like a broader world experience. Gears of War was a more isolated experience and while Gears of War 2 could be compared to the battles in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (specifically the War Pigs level), ultimately the scenarios are more intense due to the variety of enemies on screen and limited character movement.

While the battles are intense and large the sense of scale may be misconstrued as more than it actually is. The bigger and more badass in Gears 2 is directly pulled from the amount of enemies on screen but the entire experience is unfortunately very linear. While the game does break off from time-to-time, much like the first one did where players choose to go one way or another, the decisions ultimately only separate teams for a matter of minutes and then they are back following the yellow brick road to win town.

Gears 2 performs better than the original. The enhanced Unreal Engine 3 adds new detail to character models while splashing beautiful color throughout the various levels. While pop-in, textures jumping into place during level loads, has gone the way of the Dodo bird the engine now suffers from fade in textures from time to time. Some levels load with smooth surfaces as detail fades into view within a few seconds. It's strange at first but less abrupt than the original issue of jumping into detail.

Gears of War 2 nails encounters with countless waves of various enemies, all with intelligent strategies and tactics to end your push to victory. Every battle feels perfectly constructed and while the intensity rises throughout the game, the experience never became overwhelming in the 10-hours it took for the single-player to be completed.

Unfortunately, the boss battles in Gears of War 2 do not live up to the same promise of bigger and better. While the game includes superior regular encounters to the original, only one boss fight and subsequent strategy stands out as memorable and worthy of multiple attempts or discussion and that battle is very early in the game, while Gears 2 included a few memorable boss battles.

At the end of the original Gears of War players were thrown multiple questions. Who are the Locust and why do they fight? Unfortunately, Gears of War 2 won't answer most of those inquires but will pose new questions while giving generally reasonable, sometimes heartbreaking answers. However, the game also asks new questions that are ultimately never addressed. Maybe they'll make a third one of these huge blockbuster games, you think?

When Halo 2 was released and players were faced with the shocking reality that the ending was completely missing, the internet exploded. Gears of War 2 isn't as frustrating but ultimately the ending is quite abrupt. Make no mistake, it does end but those who glean satisfaction from a final encounter and epic cutscene may walk away disappointed. If you're the type of player to remember the whole experience and not just the last five minutes then the end won't hit you as hard and you'll walk away happy. In the end, I did.

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