Epic rounded out Gears 2 with a production values update. This might seem a little unnecessary considering how good Gears 1 looked, but Epic has indeed pushed the visuals a little farther. The most noticeable improvement is the large amount of high-dynamic-range effects, but there have been poly-count increases in the map architecture, and the facial animation is markedly better. Epic certainly knows how to optimize their Unreal 3 engine to the 360 hardware; every surface is pixel-shaded and while there is still some texture pop-in, it’s far less common than it was in Gears 1 and not nearly as bad as it was in Bioshock.
On the audio side of things the musical score has been broadened in scope to fit the bigger battles and higher stakes of the game. There is also a wider variety of music, compared to the somewhat homogenous orchestral sound of the first game. John Di Maggio and the rest of the cast offer superb voice acting, and make the most of the less-than-stellar script.
Gears of War 2 amounts to a wide range of obvious and not-so-obvious improvements. There haven’t been too many radical, game-changing additions but the experience feels far more complete now. It’s a tighter, more robust game that feels comfortable in its own grungy COG armor, and every aspect is a lot of fun to play. In a way, I feel like Epic has taken the basic Gears formula about as far as it can go, and I’m not sure how engaging a third (but inevitable) installment can be. They’ll have to introduce a few big, genre-breaking innovations, instead of the numerous little ones they put into Gears 2. For now, though, Gears 2 is one of the best shooters of this holiday season and the definition of a sequel done right.
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By necessity, Gears of War 2 shares many similarities with its predecessor, but don’t mistake it for Gears 1.5. The multiplayer additions alone earn it sequel status, and Horde mode makes it worth buying. Gears 2 is one of the most enjoyable sequels I’ve played this year, from the continuing story mode to co-op campaign and multiplayer. Pick up this game and round up some friends—Gears of War 2 is this year’s multiplayer experience.
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