Sunday, November 09, 2008

Official Gears of War 2 Canadian Launch Party

This past Thursday, Xbox Canada held it's official launch party for Gears of War 2, and I was privileged enough to score an invite!

Beginning at 7:00 pm, the party was held at Lower Bay Station, the dirty, grimy "mystery" station located below Bay Station in Toronto, and Lower Bay's very atmosphere is a wonderful compliment to the gritty "destroyed beauty" style that the Gears of War franchise is known for.

How dirty was it? Well, when I got home and blew my nose, there was some lovely black residue on the tissue mixed with my nasal discharge; had to do this twice to actually clear my nose. Don't you just feel all warm and fuzzy with this lovely mental image I've drawn for you?

Now, before I go into the event itself, I just want to take a moment to say how wonderful it was to get to meet so many members of the Canadian Xbox community. Friends whom I've been chatting with for months but who I've never gotten to meet before tonight. When all is said and done, it was not Gears of War 2 that was the highlight of the show for me, but rather getting to meet all these awesome people in person (awwww.....).

Now, on to the event itself! I'm no stranger to launch parties, particularly those in the Canadian television industry, and I must say that I was very, very impressed with the setup of the Gears of War 2 party. We began by all meeting up inside Bay Station, had our names checked off on the official guest list, and then walked down to the platform and the sealed-off stairwell leading down into Lower Bay Station itself. With a TTC Special Constable on duty, we got to meet Jade, Canada's Xbox personality, and she gave each of a us a bag containing not only a free Gears of War 2 t-shirt, but also a free copy of the retail Gears of War 2 itself. I was not expecting that at all, and it was a very pleasant and welcome surprise!

Once we descended the staircase, we found ourselves on the decommissioned subway platform, with two subway cars on each side, and an LCD TV showing the Gears of War 2 Campaign. Beyond that were rows of TVs set up for Campaign, Versus, Co-Op Campaign, and at the very back, 5 consoles system-linked for Horde!

While some guests rushed right to an Xbox 360 controller to jump into the game, many, such as myself, went to a more important line: the one for free beer! The subway car on the north side of the platform featured free catering (which caterers also carried around the platform), alcohol, and pop for all to enjoy, which was another wonderful touch. The car on the south of the platform was left open for people to sit and cool off, as the platform itself had no AC while the subway cars did.

For my gaming efforts itself, while I watched all the modes, I mainly played some of the Campaign since the continuation of the Gears of War story is what I was most excited about. I got to play a bit of Act 2, and the subtle improvements that Gears of War 2 makes over it's predecessor is clearly evident. The game looks crisper, more colourful, and detailed, and the controls are a little tighter; same set up, but a bit more refined in their feel. The gameplay was fast-paced and exciting and everything flowed smoothly from one conflict to the next.

Some great improvements I noted: If you take enough damage, you'll often be down but not out, and an AI squad mate will usually revive you, thereby keeping the pacing of the game solid instead of constantly loading the last Checkpoint. This was a major gripe of mine with the original game, and I'm ecstatic that Epic Games has implemented this alternate method! You also use your Chainsaw bayonet to cut through wall obstructions or crates this time around, instead of just reviving it and letting the blade slowly eat through an object. Achievements have also had a nice overhaul. Many of them can now be earned in all game modes, and they even pop up with a progress bar, similar to what was seen in The Orange Box, telling you how many more kills or whatever you need to earn a particular Achievement.

The only thing I really didn't get to experience was the game's audio. There was a lot of ambient noise going around, including in-service subway trains going back and forth through Bay Station, so none of us could really hear anything. It all added to the atmosphere though, and of course, for the Campaign, subtitles were thankfully turned on.

The night wore on and as we approached closer to the official launch time, many people started to bid a fond farewell to head home and pop in their own copies of Gears of War 2. I myself left at 11:00 pm, but unfortunately I had work the next day and didn't get to play until yesterday :(.

And there you have it, a short summary of an excellent launch party! I want to thank Jade, Xbox Canada, and High Road Communications for hosting such an amazing launch event, and I can't wait for the next one!

Photos courteously provided by JohnnyXeo and Game-Boyz.

No comments: