Gears of War 2 Multiplayer: A Comprehensive Guide

Gears of War 2 single-player is fun and all, but Epic has almost overshadowed its efforts with the largely successful multiplayer component.

If you enjoyed Gears multiplayer you'll find a lot to like in the sequel--probably enough to warrant a purchase alone. And if Gears multiplayer wasn't your cup of tea, you still might want to take a look at the following breakdown, as Epic has provided a mix of both cooperative and wacky modes that may pique your interest.

And it's not just about the new maps and modes. A party system will now allow players to easily group up and stick together across matches. Achievements can now be earned in multiplayer mode. A new photo mode and ghost camera have been added.

So let's get right to it. What's new and good in the Gears of War 2 multiplayer modes players will find on November 7? I've broken it all down into several sub-sections.

1. The Modes
2. The Maps
3. The Features
4. The Unlockables

1. The Modes

Probably the most "out there" mode in the game, Submission is based entirely on the new kidnap combat mechanic, which allows players to pick up mostly-dead enemies and use them as humanoid shields.

Two teams are set at opposing sides of a map, with an NPC "Meatshield" standing in the middle. At one end of the map lays a circular endzone. The objective? Incapacitate the Meatshield, pick him up, and carry him into the circle, remaining alive for 10-15 seconds for a score.

In a hilarious twist, the Meatshield can actually fire back after being attacked, leading to dozens of kills for the NPC in the round that I played. After finally wresting control of the AI guy, it's a difficult matter to score points, as dragging the Meatshield around slows you down considerably. Submission requires a lot of teamwork, with the ball carrier using the rest of his team as blockers as he carries it to the endzone.

Watching both teams converge on the Meatshield, blowing each other away while accidentally triggering a beat-down from the shield himself, is a bizarrely unique scenario.

This was one of the more popular modes amongst the press.

Wingman takes five two-player teams and pits them against each other in a no-respawn, execution-only free-for-all. Each team earns one point per kill, and a bonus point for winning the round. The first team to a total of 15 points wins the match. Obviously the best teams were the ones that stayed together, working as a cooperative unit.

For the most part this was a very successful mode, but I did encounter one quirk. As each round was whittled down to two or three players, if one survivor chose to wait in ambush--also known as becoming a "camping bastard"--the rounds could stretch on for quite a while. Eight players waiting for two campers to kill each other can get pretty old.

Regardless, it was a pretty solid mode, and should make for a nice way to cap off a single-player co-op session.

At the start of each round of Guardian, one member of each of the two teams is chosen as the leader. Respawns are unlimited as long as the leader survives. The second he's killed, you're playing for keeps. Opposing and friendly leaders can be tracked via a directional marker on your HUD. It's basically a modified version of Assassination from Gears 1.

The trick to playing as the leader is to know when to run. Because you can be easily tracked on the HUD, you'll have to maintain a sharp sense of situational awareness. Often the map will determine how mobile you'll need to be.

For instance, the new map "Hail" consists of a train yard and surrounding buildings, providing plenty of empty cars and warehouses for leaders to hide in. Of course, if cornered, the train car can also become a death trap, with a single grenade wiping you out.

Guardian requires a leader with good instincts to function properly, and works very well under the best circumstances. Stupid leaders, however, may prove to be the mode's occasional downfall.

King of the Hill
First seen in the Gears of War PC port, King of the Hill is a rather self-explanatory gametype. The objective here is to take control of a single location on the map, designated by a glowing circle. The longer a team holds the circle, the more points it accrues.

To ensure a flow that doesn't see one team dominating the ring 100% of the time, the team that controls the ring is not able to respawn until the point switches hands.

The great thing about this mode is that it replicates the Alamo-style last-stand moments of the single-player component. Making a defensive stand behind cover is what Gears is all about, and King of the Hill exploits it well.

In the interest of thoroughness, I'm going to first quote Microsoft on the full details of Horde mode before providing my impressions:

Horde is a new co-op mode that is playable on every Multiplayer map in the game. In this mode, up to 5 players can take on wave after wave of increasingly difficult Locust. The goal is to complete wave 50. Once a wave has been unlocked in any match type (public, private, system link, or local), players can restart from that wave in private, system link or local games. Public games always start from Wave 1.
  • The objective in Horde is to attain the highest score possible. Think of Horde as an arcade game experience where you're always trying to get to the next level. In Horde, players work together as a team, and the score is always a team score, not an individual score. A team succeeds (or fails!) together. At the minimum, at least one player from the five player team must be alive when a given wave ends. At that point, all dead teammates revive and the next wave starts.
  • There is a separate leaderboard score for each multiplayer map, so high scores are set on a per map basis, not for Horde overall.
  • In private games, players have the ability to select the difficulty for Horde, which ranges from Casual to Insane. In public games the difficulty is set to Normal.
  • Downed But Not Out teammates can be revived a certain number of times, based on the difficulty setting.
  • Once players are dead, they can still talk to their teammates and help them with the remaining enemies by providing directions.
  • As players progress through Horde, they will find that the "Horde grows stronger." Horde consists of 50 waves, which are broken up into 5 sets of 10. After each set of 10 waves, the Horde grows stronger. For waves 11-20 they have double health. For waves 21-30, they also gain double accuracy. For waves 31-40, they also gain double damage. For the final set, waves 41-50, the Locust have 2.5 times the health, accuracy and damage they had when the players started. A challenge indeed!
Horde mode sounds good on paper, and as I mentioned in my E3 preview, it plays brilliantly--a mix of classic comp-stomping and modern online co-op.

Important to highlight is the fact that players can restart from any wave they have previously unlocked. Rounds of Horde can run in the multiple-hour length, so the challenge of Horde can have just as much to do with player stamina as it does with skill. Being able to restart from any point is a great feature that saves the mode from becoming a one-time amusement.

Of course, that's assuming you make it far enough to run out of stamina in the first place. Playing on Normal difficulty, our preview team cruised to round 15 or so, at which point we quickly began to crash and burn. The game throws wave after wave of varied Locust hordes at you, and maintaining a rhythm becomes more important than individual skill.

For example, if you've been sniping successful but suddenly run out of ammo, it can be difficult to keep the team cohesion up while you're scrounging for ammo. And the second that someone gets picked off, it can be all over. You have to constantly watch your back, while watching your teammates' backs, all while keeping the enemies charging your front at bay. It may sound simple on paper, but five players versus an onslaught of enemies is hardly a fair fight.

The challenge of reaching wave 50 promises to be one of those satisfying anti-AI goals to reach for, like the Mercenaries mode of Resident Evil 4. For those players who have more fun cooperating in a contest of man vs. machine, Horde is a fantastic goldmine of multiplayer potential.

The Rest
Gears 2 also recycles many of the modes from the original game.

Warzone is back, the standard Deathmatch mode with no respawning. Execution provides a variation on that theme, forcing you to execute players in order to score kills. Annex is basically King of the Hill, but with a hill that randomly changes position after 60 points are drained. Nothing we haven't seen here. Move along, to the next page.

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2. The Maps

  • Avalanche
  • Blood Drive
  • Day One
  • Hail
  • Jacinto
  • Pavilion
  • River
  • Ruins
  • Security
  • Stasis
nope nope nope nope nope All of these maps will work with every included multiplayer mode.

Stand-outs include Avalanche and Hail, two examples of classic random-death mechanics. In Avalanche, the middle of the map is periodically overrun by an avalanche, killing everything in its path. Hail is a little more forgiving--as the level progresses, rain storms will eventually give way to deadly diamond hail, which eventually kills any players not underneath protection. You'll have only a few moments to hide inside a train car or building before succumbing to the deadly shards.

As for the rest, they were more or less a successful mix, certainly on par with the original Gears maps in terms of design. The fact that they all work with each of the wildly varying modes is more significant than any particular geometry.

Also interesting to note is the Locust-styled architecture in Ruins, taken from a section of the single-player game that we can't quite talk about yet.

In addition to these new maps, a Flashback Map Pack will be available for download on release day. The pack will contain five original Gears 1 multiplayer maps that have been graphically enhanced for the sequel. Every new copy of Gears 2 will contain a code to download the pack for free.

The Flashback Map Pack will include:

  • Canals
  • Gridlock
  • Mansion
  • Subway
  • Tyro Station
For those interested in the changes, you can take a look at our Flashback Map Pack comparison gallery, which provides a shot of each original Gears map along with an image of the Gears 2 version.
Left, Canals in GOW1. Right, GOW2 Canals.

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3. The Features

Gears of War 2 also sees the addition of new multiplayer features, including a photo mode and a new method to party up with friends.

The "What's Up" feature allows players to simply hit the left bumper button and immediately and easily group up to play Gears 2 multiplayer. No more inviting friends one by one via the cumbersome sidebar. And as a party, you'll be able to keep your group of friends together across multiple matches, never having to reform after a match fizzles out. The game can automatically match your party to a similarly skilled team, ensuring you don't get immediately crushed.

A ghost camera and photo mode have also been added in order to amuse the dead. While getting ranked on your photography a la Dead Rising is mildly amusing, the freedom to zip around the map and watch the action from any angle was sorely lacking from the original Gears, and is very appreciated here.

Here's what Microsoft has to say about it all:

New things to do when dead in a MP match: When a player dies in Training Grounds, Horde or competitive multiplayer matches, there are brand new features to be found even then:
  • The new battle cameras now move smoothly from one camera to another and auto focus on the nearest action. It allows players to learn the map while watching.
  • The new "ghost camera" allows the spectator the ability to fly around the map and watch whatever action they want.
  • You can still use the player cameras to follow a teammate to watch their play.
  • Lastly players can now take screenshots using any of those cameras and save them locally where they will get a score based upon the quality of their screenshot (how much action is on the screen, etc.) and in the War Journal they can upload their photos to the web site GearsofWar.com.

Training Grounds: Speaking of Training Grounds, Gears 2 offers a training mode for players that are new to the multiplayer experience, providing an opportunity to compete against AI bots before competing with other players.

Party system: Gears 2 contains an all-new party system that allows players to fully customize their Multiplayer experience. The Party system allows players to team up with their friends in full or partial teams and stay grouped together from match to match in multiplayer and Horde modes. This is one of the most demanded features for Gears 2.

What's Up: We've added the What's Up feature, an innovative LIVE integration feature that allows friends to easily contact their friends and pull together a party in Gears of War 2 without needing to access the Xbox Guide. With one button press you can see all of your friends who are playing Gears of War 2 and with another you can invite them all to join you in a party.

Xbox LIVE: Gears of War 2 benefits from the robust technology and features offered by Xbox LIVE, such as TrueSkill matchmaking for competitive multiplayer matches. Gears of War 2 is one of the few games where the party system lets you match your team against a similar skilled team, as well we display your online rank next to your name so you can see your skill progress. And to make it clearer about which type of match to play and when, we've moved away from the terms Ranked Match and Player Match and now call them Public and Private matches.

Other LIVE features in Gears of War 2 include extensive Leaderboard support for both private and ranked matches, and the ability to upload photos taken during multiplayer matches to GearsOfWar.com.

Achievements can be earned in both single-player and multiplayer games, and in ranked matches and private matches alike. This change will help players reach their Achievements faster. Players will also be able to view their Achievement progress from within the game. Additionally, player stats will be tracked for both ranked and private matches.

4. The Unlockables

Why play a mode unless you have something to unlock? Devoted Gears multiplayer fans will have some incentive to complete the single-player campaign in order to unlock the following:

  • Dizzy Wallin: Unlock the Dizzy multiplayer character by completing Act 1 on any difficulty
  • Kantus: Unlock the Locust monk multiplayer character by completing Act 2 on any difficulty
  • Tai Kaliso: Unlock the Tai multiplayer character by completing Act 3 on any difficulty
  • Flame Grenadier: Unlock the Flamer multiplayer character by completing Act 4 on any difficulty
  • Skorge: Unlock the leader of the Kantus monks by completing Act 5 on any difficulty
Also, for those players who did their homework by completing Gears of War, a few unlocks will already be available to you, including:
  • Complete Act 1 in Gears of War: Unlock Anthony Carmine multiplayer skin in Gears of War 2
  • Find 10 COG tags in Gears of War: Unlock Minh Young Kim multiplayer skin in Gears of War 2
  • Defeat RAAM in Gears of War: Unlock RAAM multiplayer skin in Gears of War 2

An Xbox 360 exclusive, Gears of War 2 arrives on November 7.