Sometimes you have to make your own fun.
Gears of War 2 is not a hard game. In fact, it would be fair to say that on its default settings everyone will see the ending cinematic if they’re willing to sink the time. With this in mind I decided to give myself some additional challenge in my second playthrough, so I increased the difficulty to ‘Hardcore’, meaning when enemies took me down I would actually die instead of being revived by my AI companion. On top of that I decided that I would see how far I could get without taking cover (with the exception of vaulting over barriers, which requires it), expecting to make ample use of the ‘dive’ mechanic. A couple of hours into the game I discovered something surprising:
The cover mechanic in Gears of War 2 is completely superfluous.
In Gears 2 the most effective way to take cover is to simply stand behind something, and there is always something you can stand behind. This is actually more advantageous than ‘taking cover’ because it allows you to quickly dart in and out of fire without having to re-aim. It also helps that there’s almost never a need to flank in Gears 2; if you can get behind something you can stay there for the entirety of an encounter.
This situation is probably because all the level designers at Epic grew up with and got jobs making levels for first-person shooters. As a result they’ve created maps, perhaps unconsciously, that can almost always be played without resorting to Gears of War‘s signature mechanic.
The real question is whether or not these additional contraints made Gears of War 2 more interesting and unfortunately the answer is ‘no’. Maybe I should try ‘Insane’ difficulty with no cover in co-op?