But it’s not just how far into the distance that the world is rendered, it’s also the level of detail that Epic has created in that world. The textures and lighting are both of the highest quality, and I found myself questioning how Epic managed to squeeze so much out of the Xbox 360 on several occasions. It’s the amount of action going on that really shows how accomplished Epic has become on Microsoft’s hardware though. I’ve never seen so many enemies, so many bullets flying, so many missiles launching and so many explosions going on at once in a console game. The highlight comes towards the end of the campaign where you’re riding a massive locust beast (a Brumak), and blasting anything in your path. At any one time during this section there are literally scores of enemy troops firing at you, as well as Reavers flying around, launching missiles at you. Not only does this section of the game look amazing, but it also plays superbly, without a hint of slowdown or pop up.
And to make things even harder on the poor Xbox 360, Epic has thrown environmental damage into Gears 2 as well. So as well as all those troops, missiles, bullets, Reavers and other creatures to worry about, the physics engine is also having to calculate how all this carnage is damaging the environment, then that damage has to be rendered. To say that Gears 2 is a technical accomplishment is a serious understatement!
That environmental damage really adds to the gameplay too. As in the original game, working with cover is the key to survival – running headlong into enemy troops will result in short, sharp death. But whereas in the first game, you knew that you were safe as long as you stayed behind cover, this time around, that cover can literally be blown to pieces. Thankfully you can do the same to your enemies, so if you know there’s a locust hiding behind a concrete block, you can literally shoot the corner off it and get a clear headshot. The more powerful the weapon, the more damage it can do to the environment, and the more likely it is to be able to shoot your enemies even when they’re behind cover.
You get new weapons to play with too, with my personal favourite being the flame thrower – when you’ve got wretches coming at you from all angles, there’s nothing like a bit fire to thin the herd. Obviously the flame thrower is a close range weapon, but there are a couple of great long range affairs thrown in too, like the wall mountable minigun and the mortar. The latter is particularly useful when you’ve got a host of locusts hiding behind cover – get your range right and you’ll be raining down pain on all your foes. The new weapons just enhance the need to get your weapon tactics right, with only two slots at your disposal, along with your pistol and grenades. Making sure that you have the right tool for the job takes a lot of forethought.