Gears of War 2 != 9/10

I recently acquired Gears of War 2 as an early Christmas present and had the opportunity to play it in cooperative mode with my roommate. It didn't quite live up to my expectations and it failed to fix some of the game play mechanics that I hated from the first Gears of War (GOW) game. I'm not sure how it was given a 9/10 on's website, but I certainly do not agree with them. Here's my breakdown on the single player/coop experience.

Gameplay: 6/10

The game play works well for "paintball" style combat. The combat is the most enjoyable part of the game.

However in tight corners it breaks down and can be very confusing and hard to manage. Most of the time I found my character diving for cover on the wall when I wanted to run away, because the control scheme uses only the "A" button for running and crouching/covering. This lack of control in close combat lead to a lot of deaths that could have been avoided. GOW relies on cover as game play mechanic, but once your in close quarters there's no solid game play mechanic other than the glorified chainsaw. (Which makes you invincible for the animation sequence) The camera moves around a lot and it can be very hard to focus on an enemy. (-1)

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It's nice to have the game scripted, but it doesn't provide enough "quick escapes." I repeatedly fought the same boss monsters over and over and each time we had to watch the same scripted sequence. I couldn't pass through it and had to listen and watch the same dialog time after time. This "scriptedness" is one of my pet peeves in video games. There always should be a quick way out of any dramatic sequence to get back into the game. To help explain I'll provide an example. My roommate and I spent 2+ hours trying to defeat a water monster. The only way to kill it was to "kill it from the inside," which involved throwing a grenade into it's secondary mouth while you were standing in the first mouth (There was a theme of killing things from the inside throughout the game). Killing the monster was similar to shooting a proton torpedo into the Death Star, but you don't have as much control and the mouth moves side to side. (-2)

The other problem that plague the game are the vehicle levels, where you have to shoot things and try to stay alive. I didn't like them in the first game and they're not any better in the new one. As the player I feel very removed from the vehicle and I have to fight the game mechanics/level to do what I want. There's no cover system or any tactical aspect to the vehicle levels other than kill or be killed. (Give me a warthog from Halo) (-1)

My biggest beef with the GOW series is that they take mechanics that are used in other games (e.g. driving) and try to incorporate them into their game. The concept is cool, but when it comes to implementation they don't have it nailed down. I would rather have development time spent on improving the tactical combat system, than to introduce new gameplay concepts that aren't as well rounded.

Graphics: 7/10

I want to give it a 10, but there were a bunch of things that really bothered me.

1. The tank engine flame is the worst flame I've ever seen. (Impulse's flames look better) They did not fit the style or the quality of the GOW2 textures/animations. (-1)

2. On the rig/truck level when I was pushed off the side by flying reavers, I saw trees and foliage that looked out of place. (Don't show low resolution textures/low polygon models when everything else in the game is gorgeous) The game camera should never look at it up close, it's background art. It's like a red apple in an green apple basket. You're eyes will just become attracted to it because it looks different and it'll ruin the moment. (-1)

3. There is noticeable lag on loading textures, bump-mapping, and all the other texture goodies. Don't show the rendered scene if it's not ready yet. That's why loading screens are used. Though I do give them props for making the load transition less abrupt and more pleasing on the eye.

4. There is an ABUSE of blur effects to provide depth of field and "realistic" gases. At one point we were in the intestines, (inside another monster) and the entire screen is blurred beyond recognition. I couldn't make anything out and it actually made both of us nauseous because our eyes couldn't focus on the screen. Blur != Fog/Gas. When used right it can make a scene pretty, because it can help hide low detail and exagerate fast moving objects (race car game). (-1)

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Music/Sound: 9/10

There's a lot of great music and sound effects. Compared to some of Halo's epic soundtracks, GOW2 has a lot of room for improvement

Controls: 5/10

Sometimes the controls are nice, but most of the time they are very difficult to use. I feel like I'm indirectly controlling my character and I have to fight the level to do what I want. It's not fluid, and it's not nearly as precise as Halo's movement controls. The controls feel dumbed down just to make the game more difficult to play.

1. When aiming I found myself overcompensating around an enemies head/body. It just doesn't have the sensitivity that I can get in Halo, or in any PC shooter. (-2)

2. The other big issue I had was changing weapons using the directional pad. Most of the time it wouldn't change. A directional pad is not a good input device to switch weapons (use real buttons). The pad would normally get caught on the wrong weapon even when I was pointing in the weapon's "direction." Feels like bad code. (-2)

3. The menus are difficult to use when I tried to get my roommate into the game. I really give Bungie props for doing it right with Halo. Halo is much more user friendly when you try to do things, such as adding a teammate to the game. (-1)

Story: 5/10

Too much hype on a story for the first game, and then nothing improved with the second game. I swear I could tell a better story than the people making this game. From the start of either game I don't feel like I accomplished anything. The COG's (good guys) aren't any better off by the end; so what's the point? All the objectives were dumb and just jumped around. I don't know how to describe it, but it just feels fundamentally flawed. It's a two/four man army taking on the world. (But then so was Halo...) A story should be something that I can try to believe, not something I'm just forced into.

The only character I enjoyed was Cole, aka the Cole Train. He's got real personality and it doesn't feel fake.

Overall (Not including multiplayer): 6.4/10

While at parts the game was enjoyable, it was filled with far too many frustrating areas to give it anything higher. I wanted too love the game, but a combination of poor controls, abused game play mechanics, and a weak story left it in the dirt.

Horde Mode: 8/10 One semi-redeeming feature was the ability to play "Horde," which lets you fight onslaughts of enemies using the combat system. Its one of the features I really wanted back with the original game since it focuses on the combat system. Horde glorifies that aspect and really helps you enjoy the game.

It's downsides are that enemies spawn randomly, rather than appearing from grubholes. And it can get frustratingly hard as you go up in levels with only two people. Close quarters combat becomes almost sudden death.

Last thought:

I don't heavily recommend buying the game. You're better off borrowing it from a friend, since it's not worth $60.

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