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Hands On: Gears of War Horde Mode 2.0

Gears of Horde.

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.

Gears of War 2’s Horde has had a similar effect. Wave-based survival is now the co-operative multiplayer mode du-jour. Yet few of its competitors have been able to match it for intensity or thrills. Part of the reason for this is the purity of the design. Horde boils Gears down to its bare bones, creating a place where the joy of just moving around, taking cover and shooting can be enjoyed without the narrative fluff. It’s just you, your team mates, a thoughtfully constructed map and wave after wave of enemies. And it’s brilliant.

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.

Building into all of this is an unlock system, which adds a choice of even more impressively nasty weaponry to your inventory, including the mech suit Silverbacks from the main campaign and a dirty great big sword that wouldn’t look out of place in a JRPG. It’s so big that you have to drag it along behind you. Nice.

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.

  1. McBacon
    Since: Jan 1970

    Sounds good. Glad they’re putting the time into making Horde worth going back to, as well as the all-new Beast mode which I enjoyed at Eurogamer last year.

    Comment posted on 18/07/2011 at 15:57.
  2. djhsecondnature
    Since: Forever

    Good read. Or I hope it is. I haven’t read it. This is just a sympathy comment ;-)

    Comment posted on 18/07/2011 at 16:00.
    • LeeBradley
      Since: Feb 2011

      Damn you!

      Comment posted on 18/07/2011 at 16:04.
  3. Skyfire
    Since: Nov 2009

    one of the main games that makes me wish i had a 360, looking good so far :)

    Comment posted on 18/07/2011 at 16:02.
    • e8
      Since: Jul 2010

      +1. This & Halo.

      Comment posted on 18/07/2011 at 16:33.
  4. colossalblue
    Team TSA: Editor
    Since: Forever

    Pretty much the only online shooting I ever really enjoyed was in Horde mode on Gears 2 so the news that they’re putting some extra effort in for the third game is quite exciting.

    Comment posted on 18/07/2011 at 16:02.
  5. nofi
    One for all.
    Since: Forever

    Loved it at E3, great read.

    Comment posted on 18/07/2011 at 16:49.
  6. LeeBradley
    Since: Feb 2011

    Can I be red? Red dudes are cool dudes.

    Comment posted on 18/07/2011 at 17:00.
    • mynameisblair
      Since: May 2009

      I dunno, are you willing to BE red and not just look red? It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. :p

      Comment posted on 18/07/2011 at 17:26.
      • LeeBradley
        Since: Feb 2011

        I live Red, man. I eat Red, I breathe Red and I poop Red.

        Should probably get that checked out…

        Comment posted on 18/07/2011 at 17:31.
  7. Foxhound
    Is a smart cookie.
    Since: Dec 2009

    Rent, hammer campaign, give my bro has old 360 back for it to go back under the stairs. Gears is an awesome series though, truly brilliant.

    Comment posted on 18/07/2011 at 20:26.

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