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Preview: Gears of War 2 multiplayer

9:15 PM on 11.06.2008 // Samit Sarkar

Many of you will probably head to your local videogame retailer tonight for a midnight launch of Epic Games’ acclaimed shooter Gears of War 2. But before you do, mightn’t (yes, that’s a word) you want to hear about its multiplayer mode and how bad-ass or lame it might be?

Well, I had some hands-on time with it way back at PAX (yes, that was eons ago) and thought it prudent to bring you my impressions right before the game’s launch. What’s that? Do you mean to insinuate that I forgot about it? No, not at all. I just, uh -- oh, screw it, let’s get right into my thoughts on chainsaw duels and goregasms...

[Editor’s note: I’d like to extend very special thanks to Edelman’s Mark Van Lommel and Epic’s Pete Hayes for their time. I’m also grateful to Jordan Devore and Dtoiders Necros and The Incredible Edible Egg for their invaluable assistance in writing this preview. --Samit]

In the interest of full disclosure, I only played through the single-player campaign of the original Gears of War. I bought the game for my brother for Christmas, and I beat it before he did. But since he didn’t have an Xbox Live Gold account, I never got a chance to try out the game’s multiplayer modes. I had heard many great things about it, though, so I was eager to get my meaty paws on the multiplayer portion of Gears 2. So it was with drooling anticipation that I waited at a Gears 2 kiosk on the PAX show floor.

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I was lucky enough to be able to get coached on the multiplayer mode by Pete Hayes, an artist for Epic. If the name sounds familiar to you, it may be from the time he explained what goes into Gears’ gore. He told me that he was the man behind it all, that the beautifully rendered blood and guts you see was his doing. As for how I was doing, well, let’s just say that I didn’t, uh, come in first. Don’t feel bad, Pete; there’s nothing you could’ve done to save my inept ass.

If you’ve read up on Gears 2, you’re probably already aware of the myriad tweaks and additions they’ve made to the addictive multiplayer gameplay of the first game -- but I’ll go through some of them anyway. First off, the game now offers 5-on-5 gaming, up from the 4-on-4 action available in Gears 1. And once you got downed by an opponent in the original game, you’d simply be helplessly lying on the ground, waiting to be finished off, perhaps with a curb stomp. This time around, you’ll be able to crawl to safety (e.g., cover or a teammate to revive you).

2

Chainsaw duels are also new to Gears 2: last time, it was all about who pressed B first, but now, you’ll become locked in a who-can-jam-the-B-button-the-fastest battle. Speaking of the chainsaw, there are now multiple death animations for different approaches, such as from the side or from behind (I got chainsawed in the taint because I didn’t look behind me -- but it was worth it just to see the gratuitous gore). You’ve also got a vicious gang chainsaw attack (think gang tackling animations in Madden) where you and a teammate can slice a guy up together (see header image). Overall, it sounds like the chainsaw is going to be the way to go, doesn’t it?

Not quite. Epic has made a few tweaks to ensure that the chainsaw doesn’t become the shotgun of Gears 2 (i.e., the overpowered weapon that everybody uses). Whereas the first game had some strange damage invincibility -- such as during picking up a weapon, reviving a teammate, and curb-stomping or chainsawing an opponent -- that’s all been taken care of now, along with a great deal of overall balancing. For example, special weapons will now spawn randomly to stop people from camping out in designated spots.

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As for my personal experience with the game, I had a lot of fun. New tools like the poisonous Ink Grenade give you ways to clear out conglomerations of people, and the gunplay is just as furious as ever. I’m amazed at how a seemingly slow-paced game, with its stop-and-pop cover system, can provide such frenzied action. If I ever get an Xbox 360, Gears of War 2 will definitely be one up the first games I pick up.

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Samit Sarkar,
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