So my gaming attention these last couple weeks was almost entirely directed on two games: Gears of War 2 and Mirror’s Edge. I’ve finished the single player mode of both, and have played most chapters in both games more than once. I’ve not played GOW2 competitively online at all, but I’ve spent a few hours with the Horde mode, and a fair bit on split-screen co-op with my girlfriend.

First, Mirror’s Edge; I know this game has gotten a lot of hassle for the short length of its single-player campaign, but it didn’t bother me at all. The plot of the game is thin and not that well told, especially with the jarring anime style it abruptly cuts to. But that didn’t matter to me. Once you finish the story, unlock all the levels, and begin to explore its race mode, that’s where this game really comes alive to me. Don’t view it as a short 6-8 hour single-player game; think of it as 10 long, detailed and complicated obstacle course tracks.

The game isn’t perfect – the combat is flawed and sometimes awkward, although it does get a lot better with practice. Most people I’ve encountered, including myself, chose to play through on Normal (Hard requires a full play-through to unlock), and most attempted to get the Test of Faith achievement/trophy on the first play-through, which requires you to use only non-lethal combat against the “blues”. This led myself, and I’m sure many others, much frustration trying to deal with large lobbies full of machine-gun armed blues kicking our ass over and over again, until you find that perfect way to move through them disarming, sliding and kicking your way to your objective.

It’s not fair, I now realize, to be as critical of the combat as many were trying to play under these conditions. While hunting the obligatory collectable items chapter-by-chapter, I’d got the achievement so started using the weapons as well, and it makes the game far less frustrating. Still, the controls even with a weapon in hand feel a little sluggish and their power inconsistent.

Despite these flaws, I find the game deeply addictive. Maybe it’s a personality thing – it’s one of those games that require your to play a level over and over and over again, always seeking the best line and use the controls a little better to squeeze a couple more seconds out. Stuntman: Ignition is the closest analogy I can think of. Getting the top time trial or chapter speed run times is extremely difficult, requiring a smooth, flawless navigation of the course along the best possible line. Fortunately, the ability to race the top-tier ghosts on the online leader boards can provide a lot of help in trying to find the perfect line, and the controls and feel of moving Faith is so pleasurable it keeps it fun for a long time. But it’s certainly not everyone’s kind of game; if you obsessed over your Stuntman times and didn’t mind restarting the level 10 times because you’ve dropped too far behind your ghost to catch up 15 seconds into the level, you’ll love it. If that kind of thing drives you nuts, give it a rent, as it really is worth experiencing, and the short campaign will only take up a few hours of your gaming time.

Gears of War 2 has been spoken enough about; a certain GotY contender, the game has exceeded even the expectations put upon it since release. If you like shooters, even a tiny bit, this game is absolutely worth your time and money. The story’s gotten far deeper and more interesting since the first, though the dialogue still leaves something to be desired. They haven’t messed with the fantastic combat system of the first, except for a couple of minor tweaks – the ability to use a shield or wounded enemy as portable cover, the gory “finishing moves” which let the timid experience a little of the up-close violence that chainsaw addicts love, and the chainsaw fans get a duel mode when going up against a Lancer-equipped enemy. Nothing major; if it ain’t broke, and all that.

I haven’t really played the competitive multiplayer, other than to run through the bot-equipped training level. The ability to use bots and play the multiplayer modes solo is a boon to those who want to play with them, but don’t want the stress of competitive online games. There’s several modes that are clever and fairly unique, beyond the standard deathmatch/CTF modes.

Horde mode I have a lot more experience with; you and up to 4 of your friends try to survive 50 waves of increasingly difficult enemies on any of the multiplayer maps. This is going to be the real time-sucker for most people, especially those who find themselves frustrated by the competitiveness and difficulty of PvP online. A pure co-op mode, which often requires teamwork and a little luck, as the computer-controlled opponents here tend to be much tougher and smarter than the Locust you encounter in the story mode.

Co-op has gotten even better, as well; while I’ve only played split-screen so far, I love that its split-screen mode is so easy to jump in to, something that’s been missing from too many shooters. If my wife wants to play while I’m playing story, she just has to turn on her controller and log in and we’re playing together. She logs out; I’m back to single-player. Even more impressive is that when setting up a co-op game, players can choose their own difficulty level – and it works surprisingly well. Currently on Act 3 of a play-through with my wife; she’s on Casual, as she’s still learning when it comes to shooters; I’m on Hardcore, and we’re playing incredibly well together, with the low death rate I expect from even Insane on co-op with a good partner is there, but I can die as quickly as I expect, forcing me to play conservatively and well. The high difficulty I expect in taking down the enemy on Hardcore to keep it challenging, and the ease my wife has I’d expect on Casual, is consistent. The only slight problem is that the higher-difficulty player tends to need to ammo hog, but we haven’t encountered any significant problems; ammo conservation has never been a core Gears philosophy anyway.

You might think it’s taken quite a game to drag me away from GOW2 so much, which is more a testament to how much I like the style and gameplay of a game like Mirror’s Edge rather than a suggestion it’s of the same calibre as GOW2. Nonetheless, with two games like these swapping places in my 360 these days, it’s hard to find time to do much else.

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