I'll be completely blunt, Gears of War 1 is perhaps the perfect co-op experience. The game just "got it" in so many ways. Drop in/drop out? Check. Integrated co-op into the story? Check. Online, LAN and Local Play? Check. Yes, Gears of War has it all in terms of co-op, and perhaps that is why it's the most popular cooperative game on our site. With Gears of War 2 finally coming out, we can only wonder...can it fill the big shoes created by it's older brother? I think the answer is a resounding yes.
We decided to do something completely unprecedented, play through an entire game in co-op in one sitting. 8 hours later, we managed to get to Act 5 of Gears of War 2, the game's final act, just short of our goal. We did finish it the next day, but it goes to show there's a lot of meat here. Along the way we went above ground and we went underground. Above ground became underground. We rode tanks, we rode reavers, we even went in one of the most disturbing and disgustingly hilarious levels I've ever witnessed in a game. Through every twist and turn my buddy and I worked together as a tightly integrated team.
Gears of War 2 promotes cooperative play through and through. Whether it's laying down covering fire to move or flanking an enemy position while your buddy distracts, the game just ooozes a level design that's perfect for co-op play. Nothing feels forced, everything just feels right. Those moments are back when you and your squad must split up, one player covering the other player who is in a dire situation. These paths appear every few levels, and never last for too long.
Graphically the game is as impressive as ever. There are some serious jaw dropping moments in the game, especially when you come to terms that you are looking at actual level geometry and not just a static background bitmap. There's rarely a hiccup in frame rate either, even when the screen is littered with a hundred or more locusts, brumaks, and other baddies. Everything about the game is bigger. The boss battles in Gears of War 2 are definitely bigger and badder. Some are timing based, some are skill based. The only disappointing one really is the final boss, which, by the time we figured out what we were actually doing - well we killed it.
And when it was all done, and the locust lay defeated at our feet our only thought was...lets do it again.
Of course the best thing about Gears of War 2's co-op story mode is, once it ends, the co-op doesn't. There's a brand new 5 player co-op Horde mode in the game that is both incredibly addicting and incredibly difficult. It epitomizes what it means to play co-op. It forces players to work together against an AI that is not only relentless, but intelligent. Wave after wave of the locust horde are thrown at you in ever increasingly difficult batches. In between waves you'll have a few seconds to gather weapons and ammo, and quickly discuss strategies with your team mates.
Each map has a few spots you'll slowly learn are the best places to make your little round top. But like any good fort, there's more than one door - and you'll definitely want to coordinate with your teammates who is covering what. Otherwise before you know it you'll have a giant bloodmount on your face, and frankly, they don't lick quite like little Rover.
With 50 waves of enemies, Horde mode is going to keep you and your friends busy for quite some time. In the few hours we put in, we were only able to make it to wave 10, and then consistently got mauled over and over and over again. There's a nice photo tool that'll let you take pictures of the action and upload to the Gears website, I highly suggest it. This way you can point and laugh at your teammates later.
When all is said and done, Gears of War 2 is the game to experience with friends. Whether it's an intimate setting like the story mode with two players, or it's more of a party like atmosphere with five players in Horde mode, there's very little to complain about. Once again Epic has set the bar in terms of a cooperative experience, everyone else - take note.