Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...
Did someone drop the ball, Epic? Yes, they did, didn't they?
I'd better explain first that I am not a fanatic Gears of War player let down by this sequel. No. I thoroughly ENJOYED the original, and just felt a little bit short changed by this game.
Let's start positive. Graphics are superb, the character models look amazing and the textures are fantastic. I personally feel that the lighting is a bit weird, though and that all the characters seem to have a slightly hazy glow to them, especially the light grey locusts. But on the whole everything looks great. Very sequel-y, though. You can tell they were trying to outdo themselves.
Sound effects do exactly what they're supposed to do, no more, no less. I still think the shotgun sounds and feels a bit weedy. Music seems a bit less inspired than the original, but nonetheless does its job. All of this is to be expected, though, and nothing sticks out as vastly improved.
As it is a sequel, there has to be some inexplicable changes since the original, for example, Marcus has been on a special COG training course that has taught him to be able to use locusts as shields and also to kill them when they are down in THREE DIFFERENT WAYS! AWEsome! The training course also taught him how to kill enemies from behind in a slightly different way. Perhaps his future training will teach him how to use his chainsaw against the boomer style enemies instead of just standing behind them revving the chainsaw like a fool. The locusts haven't been dawdling themselves, completely redesigning the Hammerburst carbine AND distributing it to all their forces, while removing the originals completely from service. Lots of the boomers have also retrained as grinders, flamers, butchers and maulers using Mulcher machine guns, flamethrowers, machetes and a shield and mace combo respectively. That's right, people! It's the obligatory new weapon section! The new weapons are all pretty much excellent and expertly balanced. The Hammerburst has a low rate of fire, but is more accurate and powerful, BUT the lancer has a chainsaw and faster rate of fire. The Boomshield completely covers your front from fire, but limits you to your pistol. The gorgon pistol has a terrific rate of fire, but only in bursts and can only fire 4 bursts. The chainsaw duelling is also a neat new addition, with the fastest person tapping (B) winning the duel and sawing the other person up.
So some good stuff there, but what about the irritations... Where to start?
How about with the story? Meatheads shoot things because that's what they do. They then perform more and more absurd acts of heroism, but are oblivious to obvious plot points that come up. There is an attempt at a heart wrenching scene or two, but you honestly couldn't care less about the caricatures. Oh, no! Anya might be dead! And Marcus looks inexplicably upset! Why? They haven't established any kind of relationship! Dom's wife? Only alluded to briefly in the first game and now the sole driving factor in his fight? They didn't ESTABLISH the relationship! Tai is a big tough guy who's fate we're supposed to care about? Guess what they didn't establish.
Annoying plot points pop up frequently. Dom seems surprised that Marcus's dad is on the locust's computer system, but in the first game no one questioned how he could have a complete map of the enemy tunnels. Why were the lambent on the train at the end of the first game? I think you see what I'm saying. The story is dire, but without the pace of the original, which segues nicely into the gameplay and the pace thereof.
When you are making a big, dumb action movie game, it needs to be filled with blistering set pieces and a lightning fast pace. You certainly shouldn't force your audience into wandering about for a few minutes wondering exactly where to go - it's not supposed to be an exploration game. There are a few sections of the game where a big door opens and grinders (big locusts) come out, you shoot them dead and continue through the door. Then at one point this happens, but if you go down the fairly long corridor they come out of, you then need to double back on yourself to leave the area. It takes less than a minute, but by this point you're supposed to be on the final stretch toward the big boss - it really hurts the pace. As does the many times you are just walking to the next fight, the worst part being when you have start what is supposed to be one of the most exciting and intriguing parts of the game and you spend ages walking to lift, then ages watching them on the lift, then ages walking to the next lift, then ages watching them on that lift, then ages walking to the next fight. Shoddy. And the game is peppered with areas like this. A lot of time you spend running around looking for the way out of an area, or for an enemy that has glitched into scenery that needs to be killed so you can trigger the next cut-scene.
Talking about pace, I bought Gears of War 2 on the understanding that it was a third person shooter which relied on its cover system. NOT a tank driving game and not a Reaver simulator. Why do game makers feel this need to break up the type of game that the player has PAID MONEY to play with a game type that is nothing like the game that they have PAID MONEY to play? I am trying to say that the vehicle sections are the worst kind of dross I ever played. EVER. The tank handles like - and travels at the speed of - an arthritic donkey. The level that you play in is dull until you reach the frozen lake you have to drive over (while under mortar fire, causing the ice to break all around you), then it get frustrating. You need to slow down from a crawl to an even slower crawl, or risk driving into one of the game's all too frequent insta-deaths. The end of the level is punctuated by an interminable drive through a cave with NOTHING in it until the very end, and even then, the enemies are beaten in no time. The Reaver levels are, by comparison, much better, but IF I had wanted to play Panzer Dragoon, I would have stayed in the 90's.
In all, the single player campaign is bearable as the gameplay mechanics generally stand up well, but I personally felt like it dragged quite a bit. So let's turn to the co-op mode. Hmm.... I've played through twice, and the annoying glitches are almost enough for me to trade the game in. Examples would be that after fighting the sires and opening a gate with a turny valve handle, Dom (as I was playing) decided that he like that stance so much, he would slam into the nearest wall and hold that pose while juddering in an alarming manner. Reloading the checkpoint helped, but it was annoying. Being thrown out of the tank was another bizarre one. It made it far easier, but it was bizarre nonetheless. Which reminds me... Apparently, my co-op partner was seeing a very different battlefield in the tank to what I was seeing. When I played as Marcus, I cursed him for not shooting a pack of locusts on three occasions and he claimed he had no idea what I was talking about. When I played as Dom, the same thing happened. He kept trying to run over hordes of invisible enemies. There were plenty of other times when my character would spasmodically move on the spot, or jump out of cover unbidden, or get stuck on cover for fun, or start floating. Wonderfully buggy. When everything was going right, however, the experience was nothing short of excellent.
The Horde game type has also proved fantastic fun as well. Far better than I expected. Adversarial multiplayer, however... I have played in little over 10 games and see no reason why I would ever play it again. My team was made up of people of my rank (no chevrons) and we were matched with people 3 chevrons. They duly annihilated us. It was pretty much the same story every time. The other team knew the map inside out and wiped out the new guys. Awesome. When I say "played in 5 games", I'm not counting the 2 hours plus of waiting for teammates, waiting for opponents, waiting for people to pick a map, waiting until the 10 second counter ticked down... Then getting spat out of the match because the host left. Even in the games, it seemed that certain people were bulletproof, sliding in and out of cover constantly. Not fun. Not fun at all.
So all-in-all, a decent enough game hampered by a lot of niggling faults, but not enough to render it unplayable, only enough to damage it. Although I was disappointed, I can't really say I was TOO disappointed, because I wasn't looking forward to it that much in the first place, which is lucky.