Gears of War 2: Dark Corners Micro-Review: Putting the Stealth in Curb Stomps

Director's Cuts: Fans love them, studios profit from them, so why don't we see more of them in gaming? That's what Epic seems to be delivering with Dark Corners, the latest update to 2008's third-person shooter Gears of War 2.

While Dark Corners comes packed with seven new maps for multiplayer gaming, the thing that really sets this bundle of download content apart from the rest is the inclusion of a lost level cut from the middle of the game and now playable as a stand-alone mission. The level, introduced with a short video by developer Cliff Bleszinski, even introduces a new mechanic, stealth, to the game.

Is this a worthy addition to Gears of War 2 or was Epic right to cut it before shipping the game last year?

Loved
Road to Ruin: The Road to Ruin single-player campaign is presented as a level cut from the original Gears of War 2 in a sort of director's cut of the game. The level takes place after the emotional reunion between Dom and his wife Maria in the underground lair of the Locust. The level has players traverse an underground highway on their way to find the queen. The Road to Ruin can either be played as a typical stop-and-pop Gears level or a stealth level. That's right, this particular level introduces the ability to put on some Theron Guard armor and become nearly invisible to most Locust. If you decide to sneak through the level, you'll spend most of your time following on Marcus' heels as he creeps past guards for about two-thirds of the level. Both the stealth approach and traditional approach culminates in the same room filled with lever-controlled pop-up barriers and a flood of enemies. The whole thing wraps up neatly with a boss battle before segueing back into the original Gears of War 2 plot. While short—it took me just 45 minutes to play through the game on hardcore difficulty—the lost level does give gamers a chance to drop back into the game and experience something new. The stealth mode is mostly wasted on the level, delivering something more tedious than exciting. Despite the lackluster mechanic, I do wish they had included Road to Ruin in the original title, the impact it would have had emotionally on gamers when played directly after the scenes of the reunion between Dom and Maria would have been significant.

Seven New Places to Play: Dark Corners also comes packed with seven new multiplayer levels, most of which are a welcome addition to the current stable of maps available to gamers. None of the maps are bad additions, but a few really stand out. In particular I enjoyed the interesting, overly-ornate setting for Way Station. My favorite map of the bunch, though, was Nowhere which features an abandoned gas station and garage.

Hated
Cliffy: Don't get me wrong, I like Cliff Bleszinski, I just don't like having to watch him talk about the reasons behind the decision to cut Road to Ruin every time I want to replay the level. Sure it's skipable, but couldn't they have made the relatively short video be a separate item instead of attaching it to the beginning of the new gameplay? It's also unfortunate that the level wasn't delivered in a way that lets you play through the "deleted scene" in-line with the rest of the game. I would have loved to see what the missing piece of the game felt like as a whole, instead of relying on my memory to see how the plot and cut-scenes fit together. Instead gamers select the new level from the main menu and the game creates an entirely separate game save for the Road to Ruin play through.

Calling Road to Ruin a deleted scene makes we wonder why more games don't release director's cuts. I'd love to replay a more bloated version of a game I really like to see what was cut out, what was tweaked. Delivering a new level for an old game is fantastic fan service, but it is also quite frustrating when it comes unleashed from the source material.

Coming in at about $15, Dark Corners is well worth the money to any fans of Gears of War 2. It bolsters multiplayer gaming with seven new maps, but much more importantly, it gives you a tantalizing taste of brand new single-player Gears.

Gears of War 2: Dark Corners was developed by Epic Games and published by Microsoft for the Xbox 360 on July 28. Retails for $15.00 USD. Played through the single-player level on hardcore both in stealth and not. Played all multiplayer maps at least three times each.

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