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Gears of War 2 Impressions

Gears of War is the first exclusive that really stuck the Xbox 360 on the map post launch. At the time the game’s visuals were so jaw dropping that everyone was enthralled. The game deservingly received numerous awards and remained at the top of Xbox live’s most played list. Now will the sequel deliver?

Yesterday in San Fransisco, Design Director for Epic Games Cliff Bleszinski demoed Gears of War 2 for approximately 30 minutes. He came into the demo with one simple theme: Gears of War 2 is going to be bigger, bloodier, and more bad ass. The two minute trailer that was released was the tip of the iceberg. That trailer came from an entire level that was demonstrated to us. Needless to say, when the demo finished the room had the sense that Gears 2 was going to deliver on his promises.

Gears 2 starts out 6 months after the original game and opens on the last day of Fall. The locust have come back in full force not just using emergence holes, but by creating holes that are devouring entire cities. Humanity is backed into its last bastion of hope which is above ground believed to be too thick to penetrate by the locusts. In this desperate hour, humanity has decided it is now time to take the fight back to the locusts. To do that they must take a grind lift that can carry 2 cog soldiers into enemy territory underground. The only problem is that they’re so big you need a special truck called a derek to transfer them to the proper coordinates. The demo took us through an entire convoy of dereks attempting to deliver grind lifts. Your favorite Gears characters are back such as Baird and Epic is introducing some new ones. There is an unforced conscription occurring for humanity. Families who are desperate for food and protection can agree to send their father to war so that their family may be fed and sheltered. This is how you come to meet a new character named Dizzy. Dizzy sounds like your typical country boy from the south and he is piloting one of the dereks throughout the mission. I think we’ll be seeing and hearing a lot from him in the coming months toward release.

My initial reaction to the demo according to my notes is as follows, ” visuals sick as ever, outdoor environment looks great”. That was easily the first thing I noticed. Back in Gears 1 everything seemed in closed quarters, the outdoors environments were a bit uninspired and dark. In Gears 2 the environment outdoors feels alive and well. HDR lighting is all over the place and this should quell any more delusions that the Unreal engine is incapable of producing outdoor environments.

Our stroll through the forest is obviously not going to go smoothly and soon we are attacked by locust vehicles with mortars. Your first take is to destroy these mortars before they take you out. Cliff equipped the shotgun and kept on destroying mortars in time before they struck his derek. This is soon followed by a second wave attack of reevers which you must quell. All the while, the shooting mechanics and overall feel of Gears 2 are largely unchanged from Gears 2. I tried to notice the new weapon reloading mechanism but could not really differentiate it from the old one. There were a nice details here and there such as the chainsaw on the lancer smoking at times which gave it that authentic chainsaw feel.

Following the reever attack your derek breaks down and Dizzy says he’ll try to fix it. Of course, Marcus is now tasked with covering Dizzy. This was straight out of Gears 1. Kill all the bastards that come out of those emergence holes. Now, there was a part in the trailer and in the demo that you can clearly see tens if not hundreds of locusts running across a path. While you can shoot them, Cliff did confirm that there would be no large scale battles in the game in the sense of large engagements because it wouldn’t make any sense for 5 cogs to survive against 100s of locusts. When the emergence hole opened Cliff threw a grenade that also looked like its mechanic was unchanged from Gears 1.

The most intense moment of the level came when you got derek back up and running but the derek you had been traveling with got taken over by locusts. Not just your normal run of the mill locusts, but locusts with grappling hooks called grapplers. Think of your very own Gears of War 2 pirate scenario. Like a boarding party locusts start to board your derek as you repel them. In this battle there was some really cool moments such as seeing a locust who had its legs shot off struggling for life and to continue the attack. We were also treated to a chainsaw battle. The chainsaw battle mechanics are whoever presses B the fastest wins. Although multiplayer was not discussed much at this presentation, Cliff said that a chainsaw battle online would last only the length of an actual chainsaw. I guess no finger breaking B button mashing contests. I guess the questions remains if the lag issues and host advantage can be resolved to make chainsaw battles fair.

Moving along in the battle the locusts introduce their next heavy combat warrior the Brumak. Imagine the largest enemy you saw in Gears 1 mounted with a massive rocket launcher. The brumak is introduced by rocketing down two helicopters which were supposed to be escorting you. Your entire derek concentrates fire on the brumak with a turret until it goes down. The level ended where we came to a bridge and only derek was going to make it, thankfully it was ours while the other exploded. Some other tidbits I noticed was that most of the weapons looked the same and not much different than before. The music in the game was very much in the vein of Gears and the sound effects were all satisfying and true like the first game. Other than that, it was kind of odd to be sitting there watching Cliff play the game for that amount of time without anyone in the room uttering a word.

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