"Cry havoc, let slip the dogs of war", as they say in Julius Caesar, but is Gears of War sequel cashing in or the must-have for adult gamers this Christmas? We were given a couple of hours with pre-gold code to find out.
The new game, due out on 7 November, will once again pick up the story of Marcus Fenix and the rest of the COG Delta Squad as they take the fight to the Locust Horde.
It seems the tactics of the last battle didn't work and deciding that the human race is likely to be wiped out if they sit and defend, the Gears are taking the battle to the Locust in one final last-ditch attempt. What follows is your attempt to make that last stand a reality.
To meet that end, the developers have focused on a new mantra: "New, better, more" and so you get new weapons, new characters, new monsters, new vehicles and of course new locations. Those new locations are stunning, while this time around there seems to be a greater emphasis on using vehicles and monsters to get you around areas quickly. Epic has clearly enjoyed playing the Halo series.
Action is, as it was before, packed in with plenty of Locust Horde to kill off in the opening sequence, set in a hospital, before you've managed to catch your breath. Controls have virtually stayed the same, although there are tweaks with the introduction of a new control system similar to Uncharted on the PS3.
According to Cliff Bleszinski, the lead designer of Gears of War 2, those tweaks at times have gone to the extreme with the cover system getting over 400 improvements alone, something we have to admit we didn't really notice in our brief play.
One we did, was the new addition of a crawl mode when you are dying waiting to be rescued by one of your team. Now instead of lying there like a dead duck you can try to crawl to a mate or out of harm’s way. It certainly adds to your plight. But the tweaks aren't just on single player. The co-op mode, which stays two-player, gets individual difficulty levels so two people of different skills can play together at the same time: ideal for Master and Padawan.
Beyond the control and gameplay tweaks there is also the addition of a new multiplayer mode called Horde. Similar to the Horde mode in Alien vs. Predator on the PC, you and four others get to face wave after wave of oncoming Locust Horde for, if you can live that long, 50 waves.
Incredible fun, it's bound to be a hit when it hits Xbox Live as it allows you to work as a team against the bad guys rather than just another all out Multiplayer mode. As long as one person survives you get to go on to the next wave, I managed a rather poor wave 7 before the monsters got the better of us.
Graphics get the customary enhance and overhaul with a bit more colour making its way into the still very grey landscape. One nice feature is the depth of field. Just as in real life, moving fast or trying to see stuff in the distance outside your focal point will be blurred. It's a small detail but one that works effectively in making the gameplay even harder/real.
With a stronger emphasis on the storyline than the first instalment Gears of War 2 is clearly trying to break out of the "it's just another video game" to something a lot more.
As with all sequels, it really just boils down to more of the same with improvements and enhancements rather than breaking from the Gears roadmap. Luckily for Gears of War 2, Gears of War was a phenomenal game that influenced plenty of video games since and so it’s still likely to be a phenomenal game.
Although we've only played the second instalment for a couple of hours, it reignited our urge to play the original as we wait for our full review code to come through the door - a good thing in our mind.
Expect good things when the game hits the UK on 7 November.