If the hype surrounding Horde mode in Gears of War 2 was to be believed, it is the only reason you need to own this game. It made me wonder if the gaming press had finally lost it, by eclipsing a retread of the previous single player campaign with what sounded like some clever variation of multiplayer. In his review of Gears of War 2, Tim Rogers writes:
Let’s go ahead and mint a brand new law to be obeyed from here on out by all those seeking citizenship in the kingdom of videogames: if your game isn’t fun enough to be enthralling in the context of an endless mode, nothing else about it means shit.
Is this an exaggeration, or an epiphany on the elegance of the game mechanics behind Horde mode in Gears of War 2?
I had the opportunity to play both the single player campaign and Horde mode over the weekend. The single player campaign starts off in almost the exact same fashion as the original game (Hospital = Prison). After the first chapter it felt too familiar; this was nothing new, and I can hardly get excited about a few new weapons. From what I’ve read, the story of Delta Squad in their endless battle with the Locust doesn’t have much to offer either, but this is an action game and I was too busy falling in love with the controls again to notice.
I’m still making my way through the PC port of the original Gears of War, and one of the stand-out aspects of the game for me are the controls when played with the XBox 360 gamepad. The third person shooter is always a dubious proposition for me as a PC gamer – especially noticeable when compared with my recent adventures in Dead Space – but Gears is one game that perfected them on the first attempt.
After a few rounds of Horde, I felt myself getting even more comfortable with these controls. The bursts of action enclosed in encounters of increasing difficulty forced me to be quicker with each wave of Locust; with only two of us playing I had to be. I stopped trying to reach for a mouse. I felt myself being programmed.
Horde mode strips away the missions and the story and the meaningless objectives that take you from point A to point B. It dumps players into a multiplayer map and throws a varying collection of Locust against the players. There is only one objective: survive the onslaught. The Locust increase in number and difficulty, mercilessly, until you get through all 50 waves. Or you die. It is you versus the game itself.
As a result, the game’s mechanics are front and centre. Everything available in the game is here for use and is on display and open for criticism. As such, the controls are revealed to be every bit as good as I originally thought. The concepts that form the very core of playing Gears of War are fucking brilliant in their simplicity. This is not a tactical FPS that gets bogged down in implementing what can only be called video game realism. Nor is it pure action, that is satisfied in putting a big gun in your hand and asking you to repeatedly pull the trigger.
Instead, Horde lets the player experience the best parts of Gears of War over and over again. Duck and cover, suppressing fire, flank, chainsaw the living fuck out of anyone that gets close enough to do so. And even when you die, it’s still pretty enjoyable. You managed to survive one more wave.
By Cliff Bleszinski’s own admission Gears of War 2 will almost certainly never see the PC; and for that reason I feel the sudden need to own an XBox 360.