E3 2008: Gears of War 2 Update - Co-Op Info

We take a test drive of Horde, the new cooperative mode in Gears 2.

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During our recent visit to Microsoft to try out the competitive multiplayer in Gears of War 2, we got a sneak peek at one other mode in the upcoming game, Horde. Once Epic's Cliff Bleszinksi ran through the competitive modes that we covered previously, he gave us a sneak peek at some other multiplayer elements and talked co-op. We're finally able to spill the details on the new mode and other choice bits on the Gears 2 multiplayer experience.

Horde is essentially a cooperative survival mode that lets you and four friends work together to deal with increasingly difficult mobs of enemies that come in waves. In addition to the new mode, we had a chance to check out two new maps, Avalanche and Day One, which added a new wrinkle to the multiplayer experience.

Death and destruction are best enjoyed with a buddy.
Death and destruction are best enjoyed with a buddy.

So, first off, Horde mode. The new mode lets you and four friends test your skills against waves of enemies. Every wave will be made up of a set amount of enemies, and once you clear that wave, you'll have a few seconds to prep and collect ammo, respawning gear, and whatever pickups have been left by your foes. The first waves are totally manageable and are made up of familiar enemies. However, things get crazy as the levels progress, with new enemies such as the mauler boomer, butcher boomer, grinder boomer, and the flamer boomer. Each variation comes packing new weapons and gear that bump up their threat and irritation levels to new heights.

However, you might look back fondly on the new boomers when you hear about what else is coming. The bloodmounts are new and exciting enemies, essentially the locust riding mounts that bring a world of pain. If you're fast, you can take out their riders, but these new foes are something else. At the moment the mode is being tweaked for balancing, so in terms of specifics on the number of waves, right now Epic is thinking 50 or so, but it's still being determined exactly how things will play out. We got pretty far in our play time, but the combat got pretty brutal. The biggest challenge is keeping your ammo stocked by collecting what's handy before enemies spawn in. The best way to survive is teamwork, given that your group members can revive each other if everyone's attentive and fast on their feet. If you can't be revived before something horrible happens, you'll respawn in time for the next wave if one of your team members survives.

One of the cool new twists to the mode is the stage interactivity on the two new maps that we saw, Day One and Avalanche. Day One is set in a city center and paints a disturbing picture of how things went down on emergence day. The stage is made up of a downtown city street, complete with movie theater. At its center is an emergence hole that offers an unpleasant surprise every so often: a rampaging worm that reaches out and chomps on anything that's unlucky enough to be close by.

However, the Avalanche level featured an even crazier interactive element, an actual avalanche that changed the layout of the level. What you have is a simple mountainside town, at least before the mighty rush of snow hits the level. The boxy level is bordered by structures that you can go in and explore, with a center area that has a gazebo-like structure with weapons to collect. The problem with the center area is that you don't want to be there when the snow hits, because you'll instantly die. Although the snow is dangerous, there are some nice perks to it. The biggest perk is that the level layout is changed by the snow and you'll be able to access different weapons, including some from the new weapon class being introduced in the game, the heavy-weapon class. The new class comprises incredibly powerful but challenging-to-aim firearms, and we got to see two, the mulcher and the mortar. The mulcher is a powerful chaingun-like weapon that works in close quarters, and it has so much kick that it's tough to be too accurate. Its secondary fire lets you actually plant it in the ground and create a mobile turret with a limited range of fire. The challenge is that the weapon uses a heat system that will lock up the gun if you use it too often. To help you balance usage, you can manually cool it by flushing heat. The new mechanic is called active cooling and works like the active-reload system.

The mortar follows the same logic and lets you fire a cluster of powerful explosives that present a danger to anything around, including you. However, if you plant it in the ground, you'll get a range finder and be able to take out foes at a far range, which is incredibly handy. The downside to both weapons is that you'll move slowly with them, and using them on the fly isn't very effective.

It's always nice to take a minute to sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your destructive ways.
It's always nice to take a minute to sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your destructive ways.

The visuals in Horde mode and the new maps are obviously along the same quality lines as what we've reported. We would like to call out the visuals for the avalanche, which are particularly cool. The heavy weapons are a little nutty but feature some impressive effects that sell their raw power.

Based on what we played, Horde mode is a slick new addition to the Gears experience. The five-player support is sweet, although we do still wish for some two-plus-player co-op. Another cool tidbit that we didn't get to see too much of was bot support, which sounds like another nice touch that Epic is adding. Look for more on Gears of War 2 this week when Microsoft demos it live on our stage show Tuesday afternoon. The game is slated to ship this November.

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