It was in its feel that Gears excelled, and here, again, Gears 2 turns the screw even tighter. Every weapon, explosion, squash, and squish looks and sounds better than the original; the Longshot sounds sharper and nastier, the Hammerburst louder and heavier; and the Lancer’s chainsaw is rougher than ever. Changes to the feedback have come with changes to weapons, too. So much of Gears 2 is fought over greater ranges than the original that many weapons have received accuracy upgrades, and the Hammerburst’s been redesigned from scratch as a powerful ranged alternative to the Lancer. Those and the other small upgrades immediately make the mechanics of Gears 2 more satisfying than Gears. Apply all of those upgrades to the original game, and you’d have yourself a better game, but Gears 2’s new Campaign is – we were promised – ‘bigger, better and more badass’. It’s a phrase Cliff Bleszinski must regret uttering, because there’s a fourth alliterative ‘B’ to stick on the end – bloated.
Gears 2 is considerably longer than its predecessor. A good thing, since Gears was long on action but short on hours. Every act of Gears 2 is bigger and – more important than being ‘badass’ – broader than the first game. You’ll begin Act One battling through a hospital, before boarding a troop transport and traveling through forests and mountains; the journey takes you to a mountain town, a darkened tunnel, and underground, into Locust territory.
Every act plays out in a similar way – just when you’ve settled into a routine, Gears 2 throws something new at you. Sure, you’re still ducking, covering, and shooting, but the locations change, the bad guys change, and the game throws out set-pieces like confetti. Every few stages there’ll be a moment when you leap behind the wheel of a vehicle, hide behind a piece of unique-to-that-area movable cover, fight an army of distant Locusts with a handheld mortar launcher, or actually use stealth to navigate a dangerous underground cavern. If Gears has one problem it’s those caverns. While Gears 2’s underground is much more varied, beautiful, cavernous, and better designed than the original, it’s also home to what feels like half your time in the game. It looks utterly spectacular, and it’s only when you’re outdoors with the sun overhead you can really appreciate just how far Epic have come since the original.
When you hit the first sunken city in Gears 2, you’ll get that same feeling in your guts you felt from the first stages of the original; that sense that you’ve never seen a game looking quite so good before, and that recurring question in the back of your mind – “just how are they doing this?” Fires burn everywhere, smoke billows all around, and buildings tower hundreds of feet overhead. With their new tech, Epic have mastered environments which are (or at least present the illusion that they are) absolutely colossal, and it makes for a more interesting world to go to war in. Every stage has multiple routes – nothing dramatic; just the occasional diverging path; some forced, using the LT/RT split technique from the original, and others no more than a choice of routes around a building. It makes Gears’ world a world rather than a series of boxes floating in space without detracting from what makes Gears... Gears. You’re always moving forward, and always under constant attack.