Gears of War 2, A Ten Year Reunion

Bigger, badder, more badass. This was the phrase Cliff Bleszinski and the team from Epic Games used to describe their hotly anticipated sequel to one of Microsofts biggest IP’s since Halo. To most this could have been standard marketing speak to get people hyped for a sequel, but Epic took those three words and really applied it. Gears of War 2 is indeed bigger, badder, and more badass than the first game. The anticipation for this title had my brother and I hyped like never before. We fell in the love with the original due to its fantastic cover mechanics, gory themes, co-op, and the stellar multiplayer.

Not only did they up the scale, the story scope, weapons, characters, and gore; they also were able to throw in some deep personal story beats into a game that most people labeled as a “dude-bro” shooter. Epic Games made the wise decision to hire a seasoned comic book writer, Joshua Ortega, to help add a new level of depth to the franchise and thoroughly flesh out some of the characters. Anyone who has played Gears of War 2 remembers that sad scene with Dom down in the locust home turf. In fact, Gears of War 2 often felt like it was Dom’s game and I was okay with that since I often played as Dom being second player. So 10 years and 3 games later, does Gears of War 2 hold up? Let’s take a look.

Gears of War

Carmine is the real MVP.

Gears of War 2 starts 6 months after the Lightmass Bomb detonation from the first game, when it was thought that the majority of the Locusts had been destroyed. Unfortunately, the Lightmass Bomb caused the underground Imulsion to vaporize and bring about a fatal disease to human’s called Rustlung. After a short period with no Locust attacks after the bombing, the cities of Tollen and Montevado suddenly go missing, seemingly being swallowed underground. The COG obviously suspects that this is the actions of the Locust. Soon after, one of the last major safe havens for humans, Jacinto, starts to show signs that it will be swallowed up also after some recent attacks. Seeing the signs, the COG are tasked with launching a full on attack on the Locust, taking the fight to their home turf to stop whatever it is that is sinking cities. Marcus Fenix, along with his crew consisting of Dom Santiago, and Benjamin Carmine, then later joined by Augustus Cole and Damon Baird, begin their perilous journey through the underground caverns of the Locust strongholds.

After a short intro that serves to setup Dom’s quest to find his wife Maria, introduces  Tai, and also serving as a tutorial with a series favorite, Carmine, Epic starts making good on their “bigger, badder, more badass” claim. Marcus and crew start their campaign to drill down into the Locust tunnels known as “The Hallows”. This is where we are introduced to Dizzy and his convoy Betty who provide some comic relief as you plow through a massive horde of Locust.

Gears of War

(cough)(cough) I think I’m getting the rustlung, pop.

From start to finish, Gears of War 2 is chock full of great moments. From exploring the Locust underground world to uncovering a secret lab that was experimenting on combining humans with Locusts, creating Sires. Going through the emotional turmoil of Dom finding his wife and the way they trick us into thinking she is okay as Dom still see’s her as her young beautiful self. As they pan out to Marcus’ view you see Maria looking close to death, weathered, tortured, starved, and on the brink of death. Dom then makes the hard decision to euthanize her to free her from her pain.

Who can forget the emotional scene when Tai gets captured and you find him later in a Locust transport cell, his skinned torn to ribbons from torture? Not being able to bear the pain, he ends up taking his own life seeking relief from the torment he went through. How about the Riftworm? Nothing creates quite a sense of urgency quite like having to navigate through the stomach as it tries to digest you. This mixes in some basic timing puzzles to get through before being crushed and digested. Then you make your way to its hearts that need to be chainsawed through the arteries, only to have the worm start to fill up with blood. Then topping the whole ordeal off by sawing through its side, escaping in a tidal wave of blood and guts. How metal!

Gears of War

Nothing like escaping a giant worm by chainsawing your way out.

Near the end there is another revelation that apparently the Lighmass Bomb vaporized the Imulsion and was killing humans by giving them “Rustlung”, but this was actually infecting Locust as well. However, it was not killing them, but instead turning them into a rabid enemy that wants to eradicate everything. You stumble upon this when you see the Locust fighting against another enemy only to find out it is their own transformed kind. It almost makes you feel bad for the Locust. Almost.

The one thing I wish they would have made a bit more “badass” are the boss fights. There was a lot of hype around Skorge, another general for the Locust who had a creative design with a dual ended chainsaw staff that can cut a tank in half. Unfortunately, his fight was a bit of a let down along with the finale Imulsion monster boss. They included a ton of new and amazing enemies, I just wish they gave more screen time to the bosses.

Gears of War

Skorge was badass, but was gone too quickly and easily.

Not only has the story, enemies, and scope gotten bigger and better, but so has the gameplay. The general cover mechanics, stop and pop shooting, and the overall movement all feel very similar, but more refined. Which isn’t a bad thing, considering the first one revolutionized 3rd person cover shooting. What makes Gears of War 2 much more in depth is the extra combat actions you get to use. The ability to use fallen enemies as meat shields works amazingly to keep the pressure on or for a last second bullet sponge to move back into cover. You also have the option to attach a grenade to your meat shield and shove them into a group of enemies.

They also introduced elements like “chainsaw duels” where you had to mash the “B” button faster than your opponent to win. There is also the ability to use grenades as proximity mines by planting them anywhere. This is extremely helpful online, which I’ll get to later. What I want to get into now is Horde mode. Horde mode was first introduced in Gears of War 2 and became a phenomenon as well as a staple of the series. However, going back to this one was a bit strange since it is so bare bones. It is just you and another person taking on 50 waves of enemies. No barriers, no building, no roles, just killing with your basic loadout and whatever you pick up from enemies.

Gears of War

Chainsaw duels were epic online. Unless you lost.

I wasn’t able to play the multiplayer mode again since I couldn’t find any matches, but I’d still like to reminisce about when it first came out. The multiplayer was upgraded to 5v5 which made the matches surprisingly more hectic compared to the first. Also, with the addition of all the new weapons it at least gave more variety to the combat than just a shotgun fest. The planted grenades were really useful here, as they allowed you to set traps. Even if it was just a smoke grenade, it would at least stun the enemy enough for you to get the drop on them. The meat shields also came in handy plenty of times as a last ditch effort to soak up damage until you could get back into cover. And it was oh so satisfying sniping an enemy’s head off when they thought they were safe behind a meat shield.

However, the multiplayer was not perfect, especially at launch. The first thing you would notice is the gameplay felt a lot more slowed down and there was a lot of nerfing for the shotgun. Not only did the shotgun play get nerfed, but there was a ton of issues with hipfires shooting directly at the ground and problems with hit detection in general. Even if the gameplay additions were all around better, I felt Gears of War 2′s multiplayer was its worst iteration.

The graphics are still not terrible, but they certainly look like a 10 year old Unreal Engine game. Also, Gears of War 2 had an extremely muted color pallet. Everything seemed washed out and after the newest installments, it makes this one very noticeably muted. Various colors of grey and browns for most of everything until you blast open a Locust and their bright red blood came spilling out. The character designs are still great even though they’re obviously exaggerated, but the Locust look menacing and Marcus  still looks bulky enough to saw them in half with a massive spray of blood. All in all, it still looks great during gameplay and that’s all that matters.

Gears of War

Being able to explore The Hallow was an unforgettable experience.

The sound design for the guns, the locust, explosions, guts and gore all sound fantastic. For the most part, the COG voice acting is well done outside of some wonky deliveries that weren’t all that convincing. The main attraction is the combat, however, and that is still spot on as ever. Hearing the Locust hiss at you or yell out attacks, is still intimidating. Hearing a “BOOM!” always makes you look around for where that Boomer is coming from.

It’s safe to say that Gears of War 2 has successfully delivered a superb experience even 10 years later. In fact, its story has given some of the most memorable moments outside of the Berserker in Gears of War and Dom’s sacrifice in Gears of War 3. Replaying the story in co-op was a blast, and while the horde is bare-bones and the multiplayer obviously won’t be available, I still recommend going back and giving Gears of War 2 another playthrough.

Have you recently played Gears of War 2? Give us your thoughts on this 10 year old game below in the comment section!