Stop and...sneak? by Charles Onyett
July 23, 2009 - How you react to the new Gears of War 2: Dark Corners downloadable content will depends a lot on what you're looking for. To the many still playing online, Dark Corners is essentially a map pack, containing seven battle zones to splatter with blood and guts over Xbox Live. The added campaign chapter, called Road to Ruin, is just a bonus. If you're someone who's been looking forward to trying out more story-driven Gears 2 content and are considering Road to Ruin to be the primary draw here, well you're not going to be a happy gamer if you drop 1200 Microsoft Points (15 USD) to get it.
Let's start with the campaign chapter. It launches from the Gears 2 main menu from an option labeled 'Deleted Scene.' Before digging into the mission, a message from Epic design director Cliff Bleszinski plays explaining how this content was cut out from the campaign while Gears 2 was still in production, and after playing it's not too hard to see why. Road to Ruin takes place right after the incident with Maria in the Locust underground, just as Dom and Marcus are attempting to break into Nexus. Though there are a few sequences of dialogue included as you progress through and an appearance by a character franchise fans will recognize, it doesn't really do much to enhance the overall narrative experience.
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The gameplay is also a little odd, since before running through the new content you're given the option to either proceed normally (kill everything you see), or to strap on some Theron armor and try to sneak past Locust guards. It plays just as strangely as it sounds. Though there aren't vision cones or anything like that on the Locust troops, Marcus and Dom will need to keep their distance since the Locust can smell them. You'll actually see the freakish guards sniffing around if you're within a certain proximity. Even so, the gameplay here feels cumbersome and underdeveloped, as it's simply a matter of waiting for Locust guards to continue on their patrol paths until there's an opening to rumble past or in some cases to take advantage of overly obvious environmental distractions.
Of course you can always shoot your gun, which comically pops your helmet off your head like a Corona bottlecap at a fraternity party, prompting the characters onscreen to start yelling and bleeding and dying. Ah right, this is more like it. Once stealth is broken or if you've just decided to forego the sneaking system altogether, since it is optional, the game plays much better, though it's still not really a standout Gears of War campaign experience. You'll encounter boomers and grinders and bloodmounts and a reaver, but none of the battle setups are particularly memorable. In one instance you'll come face to face with a brumak on a bridge, which in case you're not familiar is a gigantic monster strapped with heavy weapons and rocket launchers, but there's not much to the fight since you just hop on turrets to take it down.
The multiplayer maps are a different story, and should be greatly appreciated by people still blasting things to bits in horde and annex and all the various other modes. The most memorable map included with the new content is called Nowhere, set in a dusty station area littered with burned out husks of cars and low-lying buildings. With a few ramps up to a rooftop and a generally open view across a lot of the map, you can be sure the fighting is going to be frantic and brutal. Anyone content to sit back and peck away at others at long range may find it more difficult, since sandstorms regularly roll across the terrain, temporarily reducing visibility.
On the larger Allfathers Garden map you'll find long passageways with sniper rifle pickups at either end, so while players can move cover to cover within its stone ruins toward the map's center, it's a space that could be dominated by anyone skilled at long-range shooting. Things open up more on the sprawling Highway map that features a number of multi-level battle zones connected by a maze of ramps that mean you've really got to pay attention to your surroundings, not only so you can keep your bearings but also so you can keep tabs on where the enemy could be hiding. Here you'll also find a number of heavy weapon pickups as well as sniper rifles and bows that can be used to tag opponents from some of the map's higher perches.
Memorial should get some solid mileage online with its central stone fountain area around which jut out low banks of cover, a perfect space for a team trying to defend the area. Moving into a few of the map's indoor sections you'll find numerous holes in the walls and space that open up in the ceilings, meaning you're almost always going to be in danger getting clipped by incoming grenades or boomshot fire. The smaller Sanctuary map is more about symmetry, with a central corridor running through a towering building and flanked by two walkways, one elevated and one that leads down. At both ends are modestly-sized landings where all the action tends to funnel, so expect a lot of close-quarters butchering to occur.
Achievement points have been included here as well, and are awarded for running through Road to Ruin, playing and winning on all the added maps, along with a number of horde mode rewards on the new terrain.
If you're still playing Gears of War 2 online and have managed to struggle through its rocky development since the game's launch, then you're going to want this content. Fifteen US dollars is a pretty high price, but new maps that play well are always important to maintaining a healthy online community, and that's exactly what Epic delivers here. If you are, on the other hand, someone who just wanted some additional campaign content, then don't bother with this. The Road to Ruin chapter included is labeled as a deleted scene, and that's exactly what it feels like.
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