Last year’s E for All Expo was a depressing event, but at least it had Metal Gear Solid 4 and Super Mario Galaxy to help cut through the obscure sci-fi convention vibe. This year, Nintendo decided to stay home and Sony continued to want nothing to do with the show, so it was up to Microsoft to bring the thunder. And bring the thunder they did, in the form of…umm…Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, Braid, and Castle Crashers? What is this crap? Where’s Banjo Kazooie or Fable II or anything that isn’t already on shelves or, even worse, up on Xbox Live Arcade for download?
Just when we were about to storm out and topple a couple of free magazine stands, we spied a curiously crowded booth in the back of the hall bathed in red lights. And lo and behold, in all its arterial-spraying glory, there it was: Gears of War 2.
“Horde” was the only mode on display, but it was a new one. Up to five players work together to fend off wave after wave of Locust Drone, Boomer, and dog-like creature whose name I didn’t catch. Once a wave is completed, points are tallied (to what effect we’ll find out November 7th) and then you are thrust into the next more difficult round of carnage. It’s a pretty simple concept, and one which we have a hard time calling “new,” but there you have it.
The most striking thing about Gears of War 2 is how much it plays like the original. Granted this new mode is just the smallest taste of the game and many neat surprises undoubtedly await us all, but some severe déjà vu crept in during these short firefights. Cover works the same, shooting works the same, the weapons are the same, even the bad guys absorb bullets the same. There are some interesting little twists to be found, such as the ability to use an enemy body as a shield or to crawl toward your buddies when you are on death’s door, but the nuts and bolts of the experience are unchanged.
Graphically, this Gears is a step above the first one. More richly colored and detailed, the game moves beyond the limited rust-and-gray color palette fans know so well. One of the maps we played in recalled Crackdown more than Gears of War, featuring a dilapidated city street complete with glowing neon lights. One of the other maps featured a Fable-esque village with snow covering the rickety buildings’ rooftops. We’re a long way from the scorched earth vistas of the first game and couldn’t be happier about it.
There is admittedly little we can gather from our short multiplayer taste of Gears of War 2. Aside from its color transfusion, it plays and feels very much like the original Gears. There was nothing earth shattering on display, but the tried and true stop-and-pop gameplay was as fun as ever. The foundation for another solid multiplayer experience seems to be in place. Now let’s just hope for a little more depth in the campaign mode.