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Microsoft Game Studios  
Gears of War 2
From: Microsoft Game Studios
For: Xbox 360
Genre: Action, Sci-fi, Shooter
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)
Gears of War 2
A sequel to last year's runaway smash, Gears of War 2 has the same no-neck soldiers battling alien hordes. Again. More of the same, yes, but the same old excellence.
Posted January 02, 2009
Early on in Gears of War 2, you discover the human race is on the edge of extermination; the invading alien Locust are getting closer and closer to destroying humanity's last bastion of civilization, a besieged city called Jacinto. At this point you ask yourself whether this planet is, in fact, Earth, or whether the humans thereon are simply stranded on some vaguely-familiar planet. Think about it: Given the massive machines of war built by the humans, it would be easier by extension to simply invest heavily in spaceships, pack up civilization and take off to a fresh, uncontested world rather than fight for this one. It's a heap anyway, right? Fortunately, before you get a chance to break down the cost of adding a gianormous chainsaw rostrum to a spaceship -- mounted chainsaws are a Gears' staple -- you get the chance to shoot things. Many of them. Excellent.

For anyone familiar with the first game, the same stop-and-pop, crouch and cover-based gameplay is back. For those not familiar, Gears is played as a 3rd-person shooter that relies heavily on a hide duck 'n' cover mechanic. It seems like every other game has brought a variation of the cover-based system since the first Gears game, but developer Epic still reigns supreme when it comes to crafting random concrete blocks into an enjoyable exercise of screen-scoot-shoot.

The single player campaign is big and loud, all in a good way. Set pieces are huge and in comparison to the first game; Gears 2 levels are wide-open layers of high- and low-ground battles.

Unfortunately, the story -- when you can make it out over gunfire and explosions -- bounces around like a ping pong ball on meth. Amidst a desperate attempt by the foul-mouthed Delta squad to kill the Locust Queen, for example, there is a romantic sub-plot involving the search for buddy's wife. While the pay-off of the various story lines are reminiscent of a certain historical atrocity, the reality of what is going on in the greater scheme of things is practically unknowable. Narrative confusion aside -- like you were looking for a narrative --, the single player experience serves best as just an introduction to the real-war waiting for you in multiplayer.

The standard online multiplayer modes are exciting and tough, offering up the usual game types such as deathmatch, capture the flag, and annex to name a few. Playing against experienced players offers a greater challenge than any of the single-player campaign levels (and they're far more interesting than playing against computer controlled multiplayer opponents, or "bots," which are available for those with severe virtual-agoraphobia, or no Xbox-live Gold subscription).

In addition to the competitive multiplayer, the single-player campaign is playable as a 2-person co-operative mode, a dual-player campaign, as it were, locally or over Xbox Live.

A new addition to multiplayer is a mode called "Horde" in which waves and waves of Locust enemies attack a group of players. As you make it through each wave, it gets more and more difficult (naturally), which makes for a serious and seriously-absorbing challenge for all but the hardest of the hardcore.

Unfortunately, the online stuff does suffer from lengthy connection times -- well over five minutes in some reported cases. Too, the balancing system is wonky; teams of domineering overachievers abound -- great news of you're a domineering overachiever... not so great if you're not.

Anyway, for those looking for something different from the first Gears of War game will be disappointed, but for those who enjoyed the first, or missed out on it, Gears of War 2 continues the franchise's top-quality action tradition. Aside for the occasional, frustratingly-long load-time in multiplayer, it's mostly a case of not-broke/not-fixed (but noticeably enhanced) gaming goodness.
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Great Rental 
Good New Purchase 
Great Pre-played 
Excellent Bargain-bin Buy 

Score:  4  (out of 5)