There's really no more simple way to say it: sequel's are hard. With an established audience developers face an expectation that the game will be the same as the previous entries while at the same time being different enough to excite and breath new life into an existing IP. While they're a reasonably safe bet from a fiscal perspective, from a critical perspective sequels are forced to walk a tight rope while stuck between a rock and a hard place. Gears of War 2 is a sequel that corrects course for the series in some ways but falls short of the standards set by its predecessor in others; while the overall experience is excellent the less than stellar pacing and relative lack of variety in gameplay makes for a great sequel that just barely fails to live up to the phenomenal legacy established by the first game.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone, welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. You can see everything we do including both of our podcasts all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. Now in my E3 video I mentioned that I might play through the Gears game's in preparation for Gears 5 so get ready for part 2 of 4 of the gears prep marathon, lets talk about Gears of War 2.
Spoiler Alert! This video will spoil some major plot moments from Gears of War 2 so if you haven't played it yet and you're like me and planning to play it before Gears 5 do yourself a favor and stop watching now.
My biggest gripe with Gears of War was the characters. Throughout the first game the characters felt unique and interesting without actually exploring anything that made them interesting. None of the main cast of characters felt generic, through their interactions with each other and dialogue it was obvious that the characters had detailed histories and backstories that were left unexplored in the first game. While there isn't a ton of expansion on the characters beyond their being roided out bad asses in the second game there are some particularly humanizing moments that makes their journey easier to become invested in. Dom's relentless search for Maria only to end in heartbreak is a really humanizing moment for both him and Marcus that forces the characters and the audience alike to stop and face the horrors that come with war in a nuanced way that isn't as heavy handed as one would expect from a action blockbuster like Gears. I also somewhat had an issue with General Raam in the first game getting very little screen time and almost no development good or bad. And I am sad to say that throughout Gears of War 2 that presence of a big bad villain is not only not filled but if anything left more empty than before. Sure there's the Locust Queen and her main henchmen Skorge but neither of those characters get nearly enough time or interaction with either the protagonists or the audience to take any meaningful place as a big bad. This lack of a villain leads to a confusing climax that feels rushed and not as satisfying as even the final encounter with Raam in the first game. As the second game in the series Gears 2 was tasked with expanding upon what was established in the first game with the exception of a villain for the story to lean on, in the character department it absolutely achieves that. Gears 2 takes its characters from unique and charming soldiers that I enjoy playing as to being well developed people with depth and real motivations.
And characters aren't the only thing Gears 2 improves upon. While there's nothing wrong with a simple and straightforward story like in the first game the sequel offers a more complex and engaging storyline that ventures into never before seen environments. What made the first game's storyline less than satisfying was a simple human vs locust conflict with no third parties and an over reliance on a McGuffin device used to push the story forward. Gears 2's introduction of conflict within the Locust population and segmenting the Locust into the standard Locust and the Lambent brings a much needed level of complexity to the serviceable story. War over resources, and divided factions of the same groups makes for a thoughtful allegory in a game that is clearly trying to be more than its predecessor.
Gameplay is on point once again and the single element of the game that is the most unchanged from the first to the second games. Shooting and movement still feel tight and responsive, the arsenal of weapons available to the player is empowering and well balanced making what feels like a catered experience for players to gravitate towards their favorites, and minute to minute gameplay is engaging. The variety of offerings for shooting encounters the first game provided are replaced with more by the numbers corridor shooter sequences rarely offering the same degree of freedom found in the Gears 1. But while the shooting sequences feel more straightforward and less creative than those in the first game they are still able to rely on the excellent shooting mechanics and the immensely satisfying feeling of popping Locust heads like they're cherry tomatoes.
Where Gears 2 struggles is in it’s pacing. In my review of Gears 1 I commended the game for its best in class pacing keeping the player enthralled by never allowing them to do the same thing for an extended period of time. Pacing in Gears 2 isn't handled as well. The variety is cut down and the player finds themselves doing single things for longer but in addition to that the different permutations used on the same sequences are significantly curbed as well. Gears 1 offered so many different things to do between shooting sequences and so many different variations on the shooting sequences that it felt as though it all flowed together in an addicting, almost unstoppable manner. Gears 2 still features an above average level of variety but where it really struggles is the similarity of the shooting sections. Gears 1 was littered with wide open battlefields as a blank canvas, optional pathways for flanking, claustrophobic engagements in small areas, and everything in between. While Gears 2 does offer some of those things none of them feel as distinctly different as they did in the first game making for an overall less engaging experience.
Gears of War 2 is excellent, it maintains the overall standard of quality set by the first game while expanding in some ways and falling a bit short in others. When I say I didn’t enjoy Gears 2 as much as Gears 1 it's important to note that it is a marginal difference between two really excellent games. Gears of War continues to surprise me with incredible gameplay, great characters, and an outstanding universe that I'm eager to experience more of in Gears 3 and 4 so expect a video on each of those games in the coming weeks.
What are your thoughts on Gears of War? Should I play Judgement in my Gears marathon? Let me know in the comments down below. And While you're down there don’t forget to subscribe for new content every week. You can find everything we do including both of our podcasts all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I will be back next week talking about Red Dead Redemption so until then just go play some games!