Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The "X" Factor

Gears of War 2 is here right on schedule for November, but I don't think gamers could be more surprised.

While the original Gears of War was fun it's hard to say it was a well designed game. It played like it was made by a bunch of developers who were much more adjusted to making multiplayer games. The solo campaign was an excuse to throw a bunch of AI with a few gun types around for the player to work their way through. But somehow Epic has managed to move away from this model completely.

So how did they do this? Well it all comes down to variables. While Gears of War 2's core gameplay has strict rules the boundaries to which you use them are constantly being pushed throughout the entire experience. Standard combat now has excellent enemy variety, meaning adaptation is the key to overcoming the odds. You need to prioritize threat levels of enemies constantly based on proximity, new enemies entering the battlefield mid-combat, what cover you have, their relative location to you, and if they're making a push to flank you. These are all variables, and because of this the core combat never feels like a repeat. It helps that the number of ways you have to deal with these situations has been expanded. Movable temporary cover comes in the forms of downed enemies and shields you take from fallen enemies, and the weapon variety has created new ways for combat to actively evolve. Acid grenades force you out if you ever just bunker down in one spot, mortars need to be watched as they go up in the sky that push you laterally or towards indoor areas, and the additions to one-hit-kill/headshot weapons create a greater tension out of cover.

But Epic didn't stop there. They constantly play with how even normal combat works throughout the game, asking players to use their skills in imaginative ways. When the game plunks you down in dark areas you can benefit from using your gun's muzzle flashes to illuminate your enemies. If you find yourself becoming frustrated by the mixture of traps and fast enemies in one section you can try leading the enemies through the traps. The set pieces in Gears of War 2 don't just look pretty, they change the course of how the game is played in short intervals.

Gears of War 2 has successfully escaped the "generic" stigma it picked up after the first game. The gameplay is a changing landscape throughout that manages to fit nicely within the confines outlined by the series. It's a brilliant single player experience that shooter fans won't have any trouble immersing themselves in this year.

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