EW Staff
November 08, 2008 AT 05:00 AM EST

(Microsoft, Xbox 360, Mature)

Surprise! The Locust Horde — the alien baddies you thought you annihilated in the first Gears — is back. And by ”surprise,” I mean, ”duh!” because: (1) the ending all but guaranteed a second tour of duty for Marcus Fenix and his smack-talking squad, and (2) Gears of War is Microsoft’s most valuable game franchise not named Halo. To quickly recap: Gears of War 2 reunites you with Fenix, the no-nonsense killer with linebacker shoulders and a cement-mixer voice, as he and the armies of the Coalition of Ordered Governments try to save the human race from the Locusts, a marauding force of warmongering beasts. And this time, the home-field advantage belongs to the Locusts, as the COG leaders have decided to take the battle underground. And while this may be a tactically questionable decision, fans of the third-person-shooter genre should embrace the non-stop action in these scenarios.

Fans who embraced the signature elements of the first game — the excellent cover system (in which ducking behind an object puts you out of harm’s way), the chainsaw-accessorized assault rifle, and the over-the-top violence — will be relieved to see that they’ve been retained. In fact, GoW2 may not look or feel much different from the original: It’s only after you get a bit deeper into the game that you’ll begin to notice the improvements and enhancements. There are a bunch of new weapons, including a searing flamethrower and a bulky but powerful gun called the Mulcher (that lives up to its descriptive name). The environments also have a lot more variety. Combat takes place in dimly lit caves, on top of wide-open mountain ranges, and over bodies of water. There’s also a memorable mission that, as far as I know, takes the shooter genre to a decidedly uncharted territory. I don’t want to spoil the stomach-churning details, but it might very well satisfy anyone who ever wondered what would happen if you combined Fantastic Voyage with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

While the story-driven campaign is what you’ll probably play first, it’s the exhaustive selection of multiplayer options that will keep you glued to GoW2 (or, at least until the release of GoW3). The best of these new modes is Horde, a horizontal version of Space Invaders, in which you and up to four other online players must fight off wave after wave of blood-thirsty Locusts. After each successive swarm, you have a few seconds to restock your ammo before the next wave attacks. Horde distills the best qualities of Gears of War into a concentrated mixture of manic action, strategy, and teamwork.

There are, to be sure, a few minor missteps along the way. You may find yourself repeating several portions of the campaign because the on-screen prompts fail to adequately explain your next action. Piloting vehicles can also be a drag, especially in the part of the game when you have to navigate an assault buggy over some thin ice. And you’ll see some occasional graphical glitches, like a discarded pistol hovering above the ground, or your computer-controlled partner sprinting around the room for no apparent reason. But these are minor dings. This sequel delivers the goods — and it’s hard to imagine it letting down the vast legion of Gears fans. —Gary Eng Walk

· The story mode is just as satisfying as the original
· Struggling with your friends to survive in the Horde multiplayer game
· Hearing Marcus Fenix yell, ”Bring it!”
· Wielding the flamethrower and Mulcher guns

· Driving an assault vehicle over thin ice


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