Hoard the Horde

by Jinryu

Yesterday, at 3AM,

my cousin Jeb and I beat Horde Mode on Gears of War 2 on normal difficulty.  We’d begun at about midnight and worked our way through it, just the two of us, and finally beat it at about 3AM.

Apologies to everyone whose IMs got ignored during the battle.

For those of you who don’t know, Horde mode in Gears of War 2 is a survival mode in which you and up to four teammates survive wave after wave of attackers.  Each wave, you have one life– if you die, you can be respawned only if your allies survive the wave. Each wave has a finite amount of enemies which must be killed before you can move onto the next.  Each wave has increasingly difficult enemies.  Every 10 waves, the the enemies gain some stat bonuses. They can become more accurate (they start shooting for your face more accurately) they get more hitpoints, and they can deal more damage.  At level 1, you can basically defeat the wave using nothing but your chainsaw and slicing everyone to bits.  It’s kinda crude, but it’s relatively easy to do.  By the time you get to level 50, however it’s a different story– if you take so much as take direct fire for about one second, you’re going to be reduced to a puddle.  If you hear the whistle of a rocket inbound, it doesn’t matter if you can’t see it– you have to dive, otherwise, you will die.

As we were working our way through the game it was really about a synergy of teamwork and independance.  We had to cover different areas at the same time, yet be close enough and alert enough to save, cover and support eachother constantly.  In a true Army of Two fashion, that meant being able to flank enemies and draw their attention while the other player moved into a better firing angles, ran to pick the nearest used gun, even if it only has a few rounds in it.

By level 50, because the enemies start having so many hitpoints and you’re trying to deal some damage before they get too close, you also start running into severe ammunition shortages.  It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to be out of grenades, primary, secondary and handgun ammo all at once and just be holding a riot shield, trying to pistolwhip the Horde to death.  And there are few things as frantic as a bunchof the enemy storming your position and you’ve only got 4 bullets of a sniper rifle left.  But with proper alternation of cover fire and an attention to environment, as well as keeping your eyes and ears open, you can make your way around the map alive.

I think what I would mostly like to note is that Jeb is one of the few gamers I know who has developed the ‘artistic’ sense of TPS gaming.  That means that when we beat level 50, we weren’t doing it the cheap way of just gathering equipment from previous wave levels and planting them all around us, then camping the level Alamo style.  Even the makers of Gears of War 2, in their gameplay interview, state that the only way to survive the 50 waves (they did it with 5 people) is to start gathering shields from previous levels and to use them to fortify your position.

Jeb and I would often go into a level cold with nothing but basic weaponry and procure weapons on site.  We’d move from location to location, and when our position was compromised we’d hammer our way out, retreat and regroup, alternately covering eachothers’ escapes and, if anyone fell, going back, leaving nobody behind.   We’d fight our way for positions that were under attack from all four cardinal points, because sometimes, finding that mortar would be the only way to take out the horde– one person would man the mortar while the other would whip out the shotgun, taking out anyone who came too close to the artillery (while you’re handling the mortar, you have no means of fighting anyone who comes up to your face).

The reason why I have so much fun playing this kind of game with Jeb is because his style of combat isn’t limited to the traditional means, and by that, I mean that we don’t treat a videogame like real life– it’s a fantasy world, meant to enable you to do things that you can’t in real life. Would I pick up a rifle in real life and run into a pack of people with rifles, chainsaws, grenades, exploding arrow-crossbows and sniper rifles? Hell no.  I’d probably hide and suck on my thumb.

But this is a game, and if we can’t even be fearless in a fantasy world, then where does our bar lie in reality?

This isn’t to say that he’s the kind of gamer who will run out into the open recklessly and get everyone killed.  What I’m saying is that he’s the right kind of gamer who isn’t afraid to experiment and who will actually learn from his experiences and develop tactics to use the enviornment and the rules to his advantage.  

One of the things that’s made Gears 2 famous is the cover-and-fire system.  While it’s not revolutionary, it’s one of the fun parts of the game, and it’s basically what Campaign Mode is all about.  It’s not a difficult game.  But at the same time, Campaign mode really trains you to be passive agressive at most.  Normally, the idea is that you hide behind something, reach over and shoot things in the face.  That works, sort of.  Horde mode is different though.  As the enemy starts to get more hit points and become more accurate, and I mean this in degrees that make even the toughest parts of campaign mode seem like a tutorial mode, you’ll find that you just can’t deal enough damage quick enough from far a distance, and that while you’re pinned at a location, the enemy will come in to kill you en masse, up close and personal.  You’re required to not only understand duck-and-cover but also run and gun, roll and reload.

Well, that’s where two person close quarters combat comes in.  That means that when you’re taking on something like a BloudMount, which is basically a soldier with an assault rifle riding on something that acts like a 400 pound pitbul (which, btw, can run faster than you, incapacitate you with one single normal attack, and kill you with a second, nevermind his rider who is shooting you point blank) you take certain measures.  Both players concentrate fire on the the face of the dog, so that it gets pissed off and starts to pry off it’s armored helmet.  This takes a fair amount of ammunition, so one player has to be bait, and go through the process of ‘bullfighting’ the pitbull– a single mistake could mean doom– by going in close, getting the pitbull’s attention, and dodging sideways out of the way whenever the claws lash out.  If you manage to keep this up for long enough and continue to shoot the bloodmount in the face enough, it will get annoyed and throw his rider off.  Well, then you’ve got two separate targets, but during the moment of hesitation where the rider is hanging on to not get thrown off and the mount is fumbling with ihs helmet, the two players have to get up close and personal– usually, one takes out his shotgun and blasts the mount to bits before it gets it’s bearings, while the other whips out the chainsaw and makes some spam out of the rider before he can stand back up.

Mind you, this is when you’re two players against one bloodmount.  It often happens that there are multiple bloodmounts going after you, plus someone in the back firing boom shots (RPGs) and another person with a mulcher (a chaingun that, well, mulches you).

Like I said: most of the time, people will tell you to gather healthy amounts of ammunition and shoot from a fortified position.  But what fun is that?

That’s like playing tetris and waiting for the pieces to come to you.

Nobody ever said that in a game of survival, you had to play on the deffensive.