Today, at the Best Buy G3: Games, Gear, and Gadgets
event in Ann Arbor, MI, I got to play Gears of War 2 for about 2 hours. I have to say that I was surprised how little has changed in the new Gears of War.
The event was supposed to be on two days ago but it got rescheduled. Here is a picture of me looking disappointed on the original event date after learning the event was postponed.
The event was pretty cool. We got two play three maps, two of which are new. Gridlock is the same as before, but Security and River were the new maps. Security is an arena type map with a central area that is bounded by a laser gate. Going through the laser gate downs you. It is possible to charge through the gate, get downed, and mash A to get back up. Then you're in the room all by yourself with some good guns. The switch to deactivate the gate is on the other side of the level, so this presents some interesting strategic opportunities. River, as the name suggests, has a large river running through its middle. There is a bridge to cross over the river and there are powerful guns on top of and below the bridge. There are also two story buildings on both sides of the river that serve as sniper towers.
Overall, the River and Security are OK, but they're awfully simple. Since the maps are mostly symmetrical and not complicated, this is good for tournament play, but pretty boring if you're just having fun. I think the thing that limits the level design in Gears of War is how many hits you can absorb from the default weapons before dieing. Since you can get hit 30 times and live, someone has to be right on top of you to kill you. Also, you can crawl away after you've been downed in Gears of War 2, so it's even more difficult to kill someone. This was especially problematic in the mode we were playing, Wing Man. In Wing Man it's 2v2v2v2, so if you and your partner stay together, there should always be someone to help you when your downed. You've got to either separate the team or take them down at the same time because if only one goes down, the other can hide and wait for his buddy to crawl over.
There are a couple new weapons and some of the old ones have been tweaked. The Locust rifle now fires a slow single shot instead of a burst. A flamethrower and grenade launcher were the only new weapons I saw. The grenade launcher works and feels like a grenade launcher should in the Gears universe. You have to hit your enemy pretty much dead on to one hit kill them. This is appropriate since everyone in the game can take a ridiculous amount of punishment. The sniper rifle isn't one-shot down anymore, making it pretty difficult to use. Auto-aim with the sniper is not generous at all which was surprising to me because the auto-aim with the Brute Shot is severe. Whenever I got the Brute Shot I took down at least a couple people, even if they were moving, but I couldn't hit anyone on the move with the sniper rifle. With the flamethrower, you've got to be really close to your target but once you get within range, it's deadly. Also, you spawn with concussion grenades that can stun your enemies.
The best new feature I saw was the party system. Granted, we were playing locally but it worked well.
All told, I walked a little disappointed in GoW2. The actually gameplay hasn't changed since the original in any meaningful way. Not that Gears 1 wasn't a good game, but there have been so many clones of it that I feel that type of gameplay has been done to death.