Gears of War 2 includes ten maps on the retail disc and seven game modes. Each mode, with the exception of Horde, can be played alone with up to nine bots -- five per side. Creative modes like Submission, previously known as Meat Flag, really shine out and will be a huge hit with online and offline gamers. Horde pits players against wave after wave of various Locust enemies, scoring them for kills with multiplyers for number of survivors and difficulty setting. Each of the ten maps are well designed with settings ripped directly from the single-player campaign. Multiple maps include beautiful, and some deadly, environmental effects like the rolling avalanche in the map, Avalanche or the intermittent hail in the map, Hail. Yes, both cleverly named.
Major questions have been asked of the Gears of War 2 online experience but unfortunately we do not have the answers. Our experience was not online so questions regarding host advantage and other very specific online questions cannot be answered at this time. But, a significant amount of multiplayer was played.
Epic Games is best known for the Unreal Tournament series, a fast-paced, intense multiplayer shooter famous for its well designed bots. The inclusion of bots in Gears of War 2 is probably one of my favorite features. Jump in with friends or alone and tear up the computer controlled baddies, set enemies to any difficulty setting in the game (Casual to Insane) and go. The experience is insanely fun and literally took hours of my life away in one sitting that felt like ten minutes. The game also allows for all achievements to be obtained offline with progress bars showing up from time-to-time to show you how close you are to completing an objective. By the end of my experience I had downed 1,600 enemies, not even a dent in the 100,000 needed for Seriously 2.0.
Gears of War 2 also includes a very cool screenshot function for use as you wait to play or respawn in multiplayer that can be uploaded to the official Gears of War 2 website. Nothing in the vein as saved films but a welcome addition.
Scattered throughout the world are various collectibles, ranging from newspaper clippings, medial records and pieces of the environment which. The game includes 41 collectables found throughout the game and can be difficult to spot because they only give off a small flicker of light when approached. Replacing the COG tags of the original, these collectibles each include a short blurb on the back-story or current situation in the game. It's another nice addition that fleshes out the entire world for those who care to learn more. If the major push at Epic was to create an interesting, emotional story for its follow-up to the 2005 Game of the Year, Gears of War 2 is a resounding success.
Gears of War 2 is, overall, better than the original. Not only does it include a well-written and superbly voice-acted story (Cole Train stands out again) but the experience will stick with you. While there are boss battles in the original Gears of War I will never forget, the story seemed non-existent. In Gears of War 2 players are sure to remember multiple intense encounters but more importantly players should remember the story and characters.
The narrative isn't ripped out of a Cormac McCarthy novel or anything but in the pantheon of videogame stories, Gears of War 2 shoots the series beyond even the Halo franchise. This isn't meant to be a slight against Halo - another series we love here at X3F - but to go from a completely forgettable story in the first Gears to more emotionally charged than Halo is a big leap. Gears of War 2 shows the desperation of the human race in its last throes of survival, Dom searches for his missing wife, Marcus returns to the only thing he knows how to do and civilians holds onto a fading hope that one day the war will be over. As cliché as it is, it works.
As an overall package, Gears of War 2 is as epic as the company that makes it. Fans and newcomers alike, you will not be disappointed.
Ed. Note: Expect a follow-up to this review when the game is released after we've extensively tested the multiplayer modes online.