Gears of War 2 - Xbox 360

Ever since Gears of War hit the Xbox 360, there’s always been one trying question that was desperate to be answered. Just how could it get any better?

The answer, simply, is turn everything right up to 11. From the graphics, the visceral combat, and even the cinematic presentation, all has been taken to the absolute maximum to make Gears of War 2 the holiday blockbuster we were all hoping for.

Starting not long after the close of the first game, humanity is in an even worse state than before. With the Locust hordes surviving the Lightmass bombing in the first game, they’re back and more powerful than ever. Jacinto, the last bastion of humanity is now at risk, and humanity is ready to fight back in the only option left. Attack.

Epic Games promise of offering a gaming experience closer than ever to a summer film blockbuster was no false promise. From the game’s opening section, which comes complete with rousing speech, through to the epic conclusion, this certainly feels like you’re playing the kind of jam-packed thriller that you’d happily enjoy in the cinemas.

Though saving humanity is the true centre piece to Gears of War 2, that’s not the only story thread packed in here. Everything from love, betrayal, death, and everything in between is touched upon offering a touching, if slightly lacking in depth, story. We don’t want to give anything away, but not everything is tied up in a neat little bow, so this isn’t another major franchise that’ll be coming to a premature end.

To play this is good old Gears of War goodness once again. It’s all about hopping from cover to cover, picking off Locust, and inching your way forward to the next check point.

That’s not to say that things haven’t been tweaked. The cover system feels tighter, with snapping from spot to spot happening with the kind of ease that everyone who played the first game dreamed of. Your speedy roadie run too is much easier to utilise during the middle of a hectic fire fight too.

Additions have been made, with the ability to now pick up the lifeless body of an opponent and use them as mobile cover when you’re truly struggling. It’s a handy extra when stuck without firm cover options. Close-quarters combat too has been tweaked, with more in the way of signature finishing moves, each of which being incredibly brutal and bloody.

Of course Gears of War 2 is a stunning game to look at. If the detail of the game world wasn’t enough, the sheer amount of it will astound. Every level is jam packed with clutter to use as handy safe points from the brutal fire fights. Not that you can rest on your laurels for too long with the Locust fairly adept at giving you a pummelling. It’s not all about crumbling cities this time too, with a wide variety of levels introducing some truly stunning lighting effects later on in the game’s six chapters.

If there’s one minus point, the return of the vehicle-based sections is it. Just like the first game, they’re short and infrequent, but they continue to be fiddly and awkward to play. They’re by no means inherently bad parts of the game, but compared to the rest of the action, they simply don’t hit the same heights.

And if all that wasn’t enough, there’s a mass of goodness for multiplayer fans. In addition to a drop-in campaign mode for two players, there are lots more maps and game modes to fiddle with online. Again, there’s nothing essentially new when compared to the best multiplayer titles currently out there, but they are done to such a high level of accomplishment that you can’t help but find yourself totally addicted. There’s even offline "training" options with bots for all multiplayer modes, making getting right into the action a breeze.

And still there’s more. Horde mode is the kind of score grabbing gameplay that used to make gaming great. With five COG members - up to all 5 can be human controlled - you take on wave after wave of locust. And as long as at least one COG member is alive at the end of that round, you’ll all respawn and take on the next batch. It’s supremely addictive, and it’s bound to be a real hit with gamers worldwide.

Verdict

As far as balls out action titles go, the real big hitter has always been the original Gears of War. And what better than finally give up that top spot for its truly stunning sequel?

Packed with moments you’ll be eager to replay again and again, this is truly a gaming masterpiece. No it doesn’t do much new. But when the original was such a fantastic experience, why on earth would you want something new? A must buy for anyone.


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