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Players:1-2 for campaign, up to 10 online
Platform(s):Microsoft Xbox 360
Publisher:Microsoft Game Studios
ESRB:M for Mature
Website:Gears of War official website
When Gears of War was released during the '06 holiday season, many touted it as the best shooter for the 360, and some went as far as to say it was the best shooter across any system. Personally, I tend to agree with those people. With its visceral combat and its perfectly-tuned cover system, it brought new innovation to the third-person shooter genre. Now, two years later, the sequel has hit, but does it fill the big boots of the previous game?
Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Gears of War 2 is, as CliffyB said, "bigger, better, and more bad-ass." It manages to surpass its predecessor in every category. Everything, from the over-the-top dialog, to the incredible set pieces, to the A.I. and teamwork of the enemies is better and more complete than it was in the previous game.
Gears 2 picks up shortly after the end of the first game; Marcus Fenix (voiced by Bender Bending Rodriguez's John DiMaggio) and the rest of Delta Squad set off the Lightmass Bomb in what they thought was a spot that would wipe out the Locust. Turns out they were wrong, and all it did was piss off the Locust more, which is great for us! Now Delta Squad has to go and find the real source of the Locust and blow it up; pretty standard fare for a game like this. Gears of War 2 is a loving tribute to testosterone-overflowing one-liner shouting 80's movies. There is not one part of this game that is not over-the-top and ridiculous. Epic knows it, so they take that ball and run very very far.
Anybody that's played the first Gears of War knows the golden rule: take cover or die. Gears 2 simply pounds that thought into your head even more but now, you can't just hide under cover. The biggest improvement from the previous game has to be the dramatically improved AI of your enemies. Enemies correctly flank you and advance upon your position if they know they can. That doesn't seem like a lot until you're playing the game, safely behind cover and about to jump out at and shoot a Locust you've had your eye on, only to be shot from behind by another that crept up on you while you were distracted. Also, the enemies actually revive each other, similar to how you could help a buddy up in co-op when he's bleeding out. If you have three enemies, and one gets downed, one of the survivors will rush to help his bud while the other one lays down a HEAVY dose of covering fire. It really is incredible, and it makes it feel like I'm playing against actual intelligent enemies, not just scarecrows with guns.
"So how's the multiplayer?", you ask. First off, the campaign was made for two people to play together. Sure, it's possible and still fun to go it solo, but when you have that second person with you, it just make every firefight simultaneously more intense and easier to handle. Shouting to your friend something like "you've got a Wretch coming up behind you" while he's trying to take out the sniper that's shooting you and you're fighting other enemies just makes the two of you feel like a team. The best mode for multiplayer, however, has to be Horde mode. Horde mode takes up to five players and places them against waves and waves of the Locust. The waves start off fairly manageable but later on they get REALLY hard. Groups and groups of flamethrowing boomers and tickers are just the start. Just so long as one person finishes out a wave, everybody who died will be brought back to life. This is really the mode that people will be playing for the next year just because it's so different from anything else out there.
Gears of War 2 isn't going to change anybody's mind about the Gears of War series. If you hated the first one, this game won't make you a convert; however, if you even mildly enjoyed it, the second game is a must-play, because it really improves upon everything the first one set forth. Claiming that Gears of War 2 is a perfect five-star game seems drastic, but I really believe that this is the best game that's been released all year (and I bought a Playstation 3 JUST for Metal Gear Solid 4, which I loved) and I also believe that nothing else coming out will come close to it in terms of pure, unfiltered fun. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm about to play a five-person Cole Train Horde game.