x360a Review: Gears of War 2's Snowblind Map Pack
Written Monday, March 30, 2009 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Just when we thought we could leave winter behind us, Epic decided to release their third map pack with a wintery theme, Snowblind. The map pack which drops tomorrow (March 31st) for the usual price of 800 points will feature 4 new maps, breaking the normal accepted view (the developers that is) of 3 maps per pack. Go Epic! We’d love to lavish them with more praise about the inclusion of more maps, but the fact that two of these are recycled from the original, we’ll refrain. Join us though as we take a look at each of the 4 maps and nitpick the hell out of them.
We’ll kick off proceedings with a Gears of War classic map; Fuel Depot. A great map that really needs no introduction because everything is how you remember it; from the two snipers inside the cargo containers on the trailers either side of the warehouse, to the Hammer of Dawn sat inside the warehouse. For those of you new to Gears of War though, Fuel Depot is a huge open map where one team starts in a warehouse at the one end of the map and the other out in the open at the opposite side of the map. In between both teams exists a helicopter pad on the one side of the map, with helicopter acting as an obstacle in the middle, and a warehouse the other side with plenty of cover for intense battles to commence. Horde is suitably tricky on it because of the sheer openness but execution is still as epic. Fuel Depot is as good now as it ever was, probably even more so with the new snowy art style that Snowblind has brought with it. We love it.
Courtyard, which fans of the PC Gears of War version will recognise, is the second of the two recycled maps we talked about but chances are this will be new to the vast majority of players. We can see why Epic brought Courtyard over to the console version as well and that’s because it’s so damn good. In some respects it reminds me of Old Bones, the free DLC for the original which I thought was a great map, but it’s a hell of a lot more open. Both teams start elevated above from the actual courtyard, across from one another and the first thing that strikes you about the map is the sheer openness of it; you can literally see everything as you head round the first corner. As the match kicks off, both teams will set off to pick up the map’s two power weapons; the sniper on the elevated platform sat further above the courtyard with the Boomshot across the other side. These weapon placements are something that Epic have perfected over the years and are undoubtedly the best in the business at creating these epic battles that take place just to gain control of a power weapon; just take a look at Mansion (Boomshot & Grenades) and War Machine from the original. A great map, no matter what the mode, one that we can’t wait to dive back into.
Grind Yard, is the smallest of the four maps so expect short, sharp fights here as team will fight for position. The vast majority of Grind Yard’s floor space is made up of burnt out cars and scrap metal cubes that act as cover but the map has a few zones that will be the key to success. Each team has access to an elevated walkway that will give you the upper ground and this connects directly to the other team walkway with a flamethrower sat directly in the middle. Directly adjacent to this part of the map is a small guard post-esque area that not only has the advantage in terms of position (an elevated room with plenty of cover and the view of the whole map) but you’ll also find the map’s power weapon, a Mulcher, sat up there. This is easily the map’s key area and one that makes victory that much easier whether you’re playing warzone or horde; this part of the map is a key stronghold. Execution ... well, it doesn’t work as well, as you have to go down to finish them off. Grind Yard on the whole is a small, but fairly solid map.
The final map in the Snowblind map pack is Under Hill and in terms of size, it’s probably around twice the size of Grind Yard. Under Hill’s battle will take place in the many different zones the map has. The main hunting ground exists in the middle of the map which is a large open area with abandoned and burnt out vehicles dotted amongst the road barriers with a sniper rifle slap bang in the middle. The other two main areas exist on either side of the main open area; on the one side there is an undercover garage area with plenty of cover and weapons to use to your advantage (flamethrower, Boomshield), but the most intriguing aspect of this map is the other side of the main area. There you will find a bridge that extends from the main area with a mortar cannon at the far end. The mortar is a fair distance up from the main area (over 150m) and each side has access to a path leading to it which means that battles for the mortar are almost a certainty. Under Hill is a great map with plenty of variety which plays great in any deathmatch or team mode, but doesn’t fare so well with horde. This is primarily because that whilst occupying the mortar area, the horde runs around aimlessly trying to find you down the bottom forcing you to move down and engage them on most occasions.
There are 9 achievements worth 250 points available with Snowblind but most of these are tied to progression in the new ranking system that dropped with TU3 (185 points, 6 achievements) with the two bigs ones requiring you to have played on the 4 Snowblind maps as well. The rest are simply tied to playing on every map, winning on every map, doing waves 1-10 of horde on every map and then getting to level 50 on one of them. Nothing too tough and plenty to keep people working towards for months no doubt.
Not only are the maps perfectly crafted in terms of layout and design, but they look bloody beautiful as well. Grind Yard could have done with a few extra weapon placements but other than that, the map pack is no doubt going to be greatly received. We’re only slightly disappointed by the fact that the two recycled maps are the best two of the pack and the other two pale in comparison but that doesn’t mean they’re bad; they just aren’t as good. Playing the map pack pre-release ultimately meant that we were unable to play ranked public matches but truth be told, nothing is going to change about the maps in that arena; we all know how Gears handles online. The maps in themselves are a fantastic addition to the Gears of War 2 arsenal whether your poison is horde or a deathmatch variant, and they are surely a must buy for anyone who plays the game even remotely regularly. Not played Gears of War 2 for a while? Then the Snowblind map pack is the perfect excuse to jump back in to it. Don’t forget as well that you’re getting 4 maps where other map packs offer you 3 means win, win. Yes we know 2 of them are recycled, but that doesn’t make them any less of a good map; buy them, you won’t be disappointed.
The Snowblind map pack is out tomorrow, March 31st for 800 Microsoft Points. Check back later for a video look at the 4 maps in action.