Marcus Fenix and Dom are back in Gears of War 2 and compared to the first game, Gears 2 blows the previous title out of the water. As Cliff Blezinksi was fond of saying, Gears 2 will be bigger and badder, better in every way than Gears of War. He was right as well; I spent some extra time with this game and pushed through the campaign as well as sampling the delights of the many game modes that are available. The story follows on from Gears and puts you right back in the action with some familiar faces and some new blood, from then on in it's a 'balls to the wall' action blockbuster with hordes of Locust to gun down or rip into pieces with the handy Lancer chainsaw blade.
The main campaign's length is probably between 12-15 hours depending on the difficulty level and your gameplay style, it's possible to hammer through it in less but be prepared for some frustration since the Locust AI are good at using teamwork this time around and have some extra tricks up their sleeve. Just like you are capable of beating down an opponent who is 'bleeding out' they can also return the favour with vicious head-stomps and other painful execution moves. They will also attempt to use their own chain-saw blade attacks on you and force you into a chain-blade duel, where you mash a face button to overpower your enemy.
For the second instalment Gears of War 2 brings this and more new tricks to the table with a heavily tweaked cover system and new weapons. There are some gameplay tweaks to come in terms of balance and several of the weapons, whilst looking great, have the feeling that you're really using a popgun against a tank. Overall though it's fairly solid right out of the box and there are five free maps to download from Epic as well.
It's now possible to perform different moves when an enemy is in the 'down but not out' state, and whilst they can now crawl away towards a team member, you can deliver some simple foot to face justice or showboat with a different button. The showboating moves take more time to perform and whilst they look awesome, you're in a vulnerable state from enemy fire all of the time. You can also grab the enemy off the deck and use them as a 'human or inhuman' shield to soak up bullet-fire or just parade around with them like some freakish puppet show.
Grenades can now be tagged onto walls to make impromptu traps for your hapless foes. Gears 2 keeps the same weapon switching mechanic from the first game and whilst it seems tricky to have to switch to grenades to throw them, you soon get used to it again and with a quick tap of the button you can tag a grenade onto a Locust or slam it against a surface where it primes as a proximity explosive. These can be useful to provide a tactical advantage in a combat arena where it's possible to get swarmed from all sides (this happens a lot in Gears 2).
Epic have added a knock-back value to their weapons design as well, so there's stopping power to a lot of the guns, the shotgun especially. This is to cut down on the typical tricks that were prevalent in Gears of War's multiplayer. Unfortunately the Locust AI will use the stopping power of their weapons to prevent you from closing for a melee kill and it seems as if it's nigh on impossible to chain-blade some of them without resorting to flanking moves and so on.