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Recently we brought you the first hands-on multiplayer impressions of Gears of War 2, made possible by a visit to Microsoftâ€™s offices in Redmond WA. While there, we got to play a bunch of competitive multiplayer and hang out with and chat up Cliff Bleszinski (no more â€œCliffyBâ€, weâ€™re all grownups here). But we also got to do something else. Something we werenâ€™t allowed to talk about until now. And for the record, itâ€™s been killing us.
Because you see, the new co-operative mode being built into Gears of War 2 â€“ appropriately titled â€œHordeâ€ for reasons that are about to become clear â€“ was far and away our favorite thing we played that day. And most of the other editors from various websites who were there, including our kissinâ€™ cousins at IGN and Gamespy, agreed with us. If Microsoft wouldnâ€™t have stopped us, I might still be there playing it.
Horde is different from your typical campaign-based co-operative game. Youâ€™re not just playing the single player over again with a living breathing buddy, though that mode will ship with the game, supporting two players. Horde on the other hand supports up to five players over Xbox Live, and offers up an entirely different thing to play. Horde offers a kind of gameplay much more akin to classic arcade games than modern shooters.
In Bleszinkiâ€™s own words, Horde is their attempt to recreate the gameplay of Geometry Wars or Smash TV in the Gears universe. Taking place on any of the multiplayer maps available in Gears 2, Horde puts you and your team in the middle of an oncoming horde or enemies, spawning from every corner of the map. You must kill all of the enemies before they kill all of you to win the round. Only one person on your team needs to survive to keep the game going, any one else that did get killed will get respawned at the beginning of the round.
There are fifty rounds total, each one more difficult than the last, not just in number of enemies, but types as well. This was where we got to see some of the new enemies that will be included in Gears of War 2. One of them is called the Ticker and is sort of like the Locust version of the improvised explosive device. This little lizard-like creature has big beaver-like teeth that click maniacally. The closer they get to you (and the closer they get to exploding) the faster they click, giving you some indication as to how much time you have before boom time. They wonâ€™t pop immediately when they find you, giving you a brief opportunity to melee them and knock them on their backs a few feet away. At this point theyâ€™re like an exploding barrel if you shoot them, giving you an extra weapon to use on incoming enemies, or even close emergence holes.
The later rounds of Horde mode start introducing new varieties of Boomers. One of the best of these we saw was called the Mauler, and he swung a big exploding flail above his head like a volatile mace. Youâ€™re going to want to take this guy out before he gets anywhere near you and your buddies. But theyâ€™re not the only gargantuan things youâ€™ll have to face in this mode. Locust will also bring vehicles in to harass you, including the flying Reavers who can land and walk around on their long tendrils and some thing called Blood Mounts, which are large lizards being ridden by Locust soldiers. Even if you pop the rider, the Blood Mount will still come after you and vice versa.
While it may sound like a crazy, chaotic battle scene (and it kind of is) Horde mode rewards gamers who work together. Playing it at Microsoftâ€™s office, I found myself talking to my teammates between rounds to discuss strategies. Sticking together wasnâ€™t working for us, so we decided it might be a better idea to split into smaller groups and create firing lanes. One of the new maps we played the mode on, Day One, was a perfect place to do that. Set in a downtown intersection, it featured to elevated areas on opposite corners, one above a movie theater and one above an arcade. Putting three guys on one side and two on the other allowed both groups to cover each other and made it harder for the enemy to find cover. Iâ€™m not saying youâ€™ll play it that way, itâ€™s just a suggestion.
There were some new weapons on display as well that weâ€™re now just being allowed to talk about as well. One is called the Mulcher and itâ€™s a heavy gatling-type machine gun that you can fire from the hip, or for more accuracy mount on the ground or a piece of cover. Itâ€™s called the Mulcher for obvious reasons, but you canâ€™t just pour the lead out indiscriminately. It will overheat if you donâ€™t watch it, but you can activate a cooling mechanism to keep it going. Hitting this at the right time is similar to using the active reload on other weapons. The Mulcher is available on the map called Avalanche, but only after the titular event happens. Some Gears 2 maps like this one will have an event that happens (in this case, an avalanche) that fundamentally changes the design of the level. Just make sure youâ€™re not in the way when it happens.
The other new heavy weapon is a mortar launcher that has to be planted on the ground. Once you do that, hold right trigger to see a range finder that will help you rain down explosives on enemies. I never did find it on any of the maps, so I cant give you any more details on how to use it, but someone did kill me with it once and I can tell you that is something you donâ€™t want to happen.
Horde mode supports up to five players, but if only two of your friends want to play with you, you wonâ€™t be able to fill out the team with bots. Whatâ€™s that? Bots? Yes, Gears of War 2 multiplayer will feature bots. Not much information is available on that at the moment, but if you consider how good the bot A.I. in Epicâ€™s other series Unreal Tournament is, then you can probably assume theyâ€™ll put the same time and effort into making Gears 2â€™s bots just as life-like.
Horde was an absolute blast to play, and we predict it will be hugely popular when the game ships later this year. Even though there are fifty rounds, at the time we played it the testers hadnâ€™t made it past round twenty-six according to Bleszinski. So those who beat the mode should be part of a pretty exclusive club. Thatâ€™s what we like in our games: insurmountable challenges that we canâ€™t stop trying to surmount. So, Gears of War 2 multiplayer is looking great. Can we please play some single player now?
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