Gears of War is undoubtedly one of the most influential series of this generation. From the crumbling cities drawn in shades of grey, to that cover system and the meat-headed space marines – no single franchise has dominated game design more in the last five years. It may not have done these things first, but it arguably did them best. The result is a marketplace awash with inferior copycats.
So with all this in mind, we come to Horde 2.0. On paper it looks like the number of tweaks and additions to the formula may be to the mode’s detriment. Why mess with something that worked so well? But the truth is that Horde 2.0 morphs wave-based survival mode into something entirely fresh. It’s almost like tower defense.
The basics remain the same: You and up to four team-mates attempt to survive against waves of increasingly nasty Locust chaps on an enclosed map. Kill everything in a wave to progress to the next. Survive for 50 waves and you’re officially badass. Simple.
It’s here that the new stuff comes in. You can now build defenses and set up command posts. At the beginning of each round you get to choose an area of the map to call your own. Then, for the thirty seconds before the wave deploys, you can set up a number of traps and tricks to help keep it safe. These defenses include decoys, sentry guns, turrets, barricades and even more outlandish weapons. Each plays its part in ensuring your survival.
When it comes to deploying these defenses, there is a currency system at play. By racking up the kills you’ll also earn money, with extra moolah dished out for the more interesting stuff like headshots and chainsaw executions. It’s this money that you’ll spend to upgrade your defenses. So a low, spikey barrier can become a barbed wire fence, or a cardboard cut-out Cole Train decoy (in a suitably cheesy pose) can become a life-size dummy, complete with a Thrashball helmet. You can also buy extra command posts in order to increase the size of your “safe” area.
But no matter how impressive your defenses are, you’ll have to work in unison to survive. In order to accentuate this Epic have added the ability to share weapons, ammo and cash. This last one is particularly useful if you’ve had a particularly poor round and failed to earn much money; a team-mate can help out allowing you to scamper off and build/upgrade defenses in a different area of your control zone.
Frankly, you’ll need all the help you can get. Aside from the seemingly endless stream of enemies, every ten waves you’ll be faced with a boss battle, going up against the likes of a hulking great Brumack or those ugly Lambent things. These big lumps don’t go down easy. God knows what awaits you on wave 50.
Our play time with Horde 2.0 was fantastically tense. Set amongst the faded grandeur of a dilapidated hotel, it was a scramble for survival as we roadie-ran and flipped around in a desperate attempt to find some cover from the Locusts masses. Even that lull between rounds is now exciting as you dash around attempting to fortify your defences and return to safety before the timer runs out. It’s breathlessly entertaining.
So despite the nagging worry that all this extra faffing about may spoil the purity of Horde, version 2.0 is looking hugely promising. Forget competitive multiplayer for a minute, the addition of some welcome depth to the original’s thrills and spills may cement Horde’s position as the go-to online mode for Gears 3. It really is that good. Give it a couple of months and everyone will be doing it.