One of the biggest reasons to come to PAX 2008 is the first public hands-on showing of the highly-anticipated Gears of War 2 multiplayer modes. We put some time in with the game and are ready to give you our hands-on impressions of Epic's great follow-up to the addicting multiplayer of the original Gears of War.
First things first... the game is 5 versus 5 and it definitely adds a lot more action to the matches. Thankfully, adding two more players doesn't seem to have slowed down the game and it runs smooth, even is the most hectic firefights. We cannot comment on how these two extra gamers will affect lag over Xbox Live as we were playing over a local System Link.
So is the game "bigger, better, and more badass?"
Yes. Yes it is. If you were a fan of the original Gears, we're pretty sure you're also going to love Gears of War 2. It takes everything that was great about the first game, amps it up, and adds a lot of new things to freshen up the gameplay. Let's take a look at the new weapons first. Sadly, we didn't get to try them all.
New & Updated Weapons
- Flamethrower (NEW) - The flamethrower is definitely brutal and can down an enemy in a matter of seconds. An active reload sends the guns range into overdrive and it's fairly deadly from a good distance away. We think we also noticed a bit of splash damage for burning people behind cover, but don't quote us. While the original power weapons from Gears seemed to focus on ranged power, the flamethrower will become the dominant force in close-quarters combat.
- Boomshot (UPDATED) - The Boomshot is mostly the same, but now comes with three rockets for all your gibbing pleasure!
- Shield (NEW) - The shield deflects bullets and melee strikes alike, but locks you to a pistol. It can be planted in the ground to be used as an improvised piece of cover. A group of two teammates can move on an enemy position with a shield up front with a good deal of success. Gears of War has always been a cover-based game and going mobile with cover takes the game to the next level.
- Gas Grenade (NEW) - The gas grenade is an effective area-denial weapon, but it's a little hard to see the gas. We noticed a few people standing in the gas without even realizing they were being damaged. It doesn't obscure your vision like smoke grenades, however.
- Smoke Grenade (UPDATED) - Get ready for this... smoke grenades are useful now. Extremely useful. All players start with two smoke grenades and will actually use them. The new smoke grenades will send enemies flying with a forceful explosion before laying down a smoke screen. This is great for clearing out the area around a power weapon and grabbing a bigger gun while your enemies struggle to their feet.
- Planting Grenades (NEW) - Grenades can be planted on walls and cover and act as proximity mines to enemies. We were able to get some great kills by covering the corners with frags and smoke grenades while retreating.
- River - River was playable and fits the formula for a great Gears map. Players start on opposite sides above a canal, which has the Boomshot in the middle under a bridge. On top of the bridge, the flamethrower sits in between some sandbags. On either side of this bridge are each team's tower, which holds the sniper rifle in one and the torque bow in the other. It plays well and was definitely the better of the two new maps we played.
- Security - This map features a laser grid guarding a power weapon, but no one seemed to figure out how to turn them off. They were happy to congregate in the middle for some straight-up fragging. It's a well-designed map, but we're concerned it'll play out like Garden with no one bothering to turn the gas off to grab the sniper rifles.
- Gridlock - Gridlock has received a makeover, but plays exactly the same. This is a good thing.
Updated Melee System
Chainsaw duels are exciting, awesome, and bring the thrill of a button mashing mini-game to sawing your opponent in half. Unlike Gears of War, the sequel doesn't offer invulnerability to the man with the saw. You better make sure you're in the clear before revving your Lancer, but catch your enemy from the back and get a great new bottom-to-top sawing animation.
We are pretty sure we also saw melee clashes (think about swords in Halo 3), which would send players back from each other with no damage dealt. This should help deal with lag issues deciding who hit the melee first.
We also noticed a lot more chainsaw kills, but this could be due to the 5th man on a team.
New Observer Mode
The original Gears had a fairly lackluster observer mode for deceased players, but this is all fixed for Gears 2. You'll get the original chase cam and map views, but Epic has added a full, free-floating camera for manual observation. It definitely lets you keep on top of all the action instead of watching your stupid teammate search around the map for that elusive enemy they just can't seem to find.
Stopping Power and The Tale of the Nerfed Shotgun
Stopping power is a BIG deal. It completely changes the flow of the game and mostly puts an end to the frantic shotgun dance that was so popular in the original game. It's much harder to charge an opponent head-on, as you will lose all of your speed as you take more fire. This makes the Lancer extremely powerful at mid-range because shotgun users will have a harder time closing the gap.
This doesn't mean, however, that the shotgun isn't still deliciously powerful up close and personal. Well, unless your opponent has picked a downed enemy up and is using them as a...
The meat shield is a useful new ability that let's players grab a downed enemy as a human (or Locust) shield. The enemy's corpse holds up quite nicely to incoming fire and will even take a few shotgun blasts before it disintegrates. If you have any skill with the pistol, you'll probably want to think twice about curb stomping your foes and start picking them up for a nice shield instead.
When you're downed, but not out, you'll be able to tap the 'A' button and a direction to crawl away from your impending death. It won't get you too far, but it can get you behind cover to give your teammate time to come revive you or even make an enemy miss from a distance.
While we weren't playing on Xbox Live, we were able to check out the party system before each match. There were several options we noticed including selecting your starting weapon, map voting, and changing gametypes on the fly. Definitely an improvement over the first game and we can't wait to see how it performs on Live.
At the end of the day, Gears of War 2 takes the team-oriented gameplay from the original game to the next level. There are more options, balance fixes, and two more players. We still regularly play Gears of War, and we're looking forward to playing Gears of War 2 for the next 2 years.