Gears of War was arguably one of the breakout success stories of 2006. Epic managed to create a game that stands second only to Halo on the Xbox 360 and two years later the inevitable sequel arrives. Bigger, better and more badass as creative director Cliff Bleszniski put it.
One of the aims of the developers was to put more emphasis on characters and story in the sequel. Marcus Fenix isn't the most multi layered or interesting main character I have happened upon. Even as we explored his family estate in the first game there was never any emotional depth to him, never anything that left an echo other than the bullets from his Lancer. While Marcus stays on course in the second game, the developer uses Dom and his missing wife as a device to bring more emotional depth to what is otherwise a pure adrenaline rush on the various battlefields of Sera. It doesn't really work for me, the personal drama of Dom only serves as a slight diversion, but as the story reveals more about the inner workings of the Locust horde it grabs my attention in a way the first game failed to do. Mission accomplished, Epic.
The gameplay remains true to the original with a mixture of tactical use of cover, melee combat, intense fire fights and gore. Every now and then there is an act where you are on a vehicle or an act with slower pacing more akin to a survival horror game. This is where Gears of War 2 truly shines. The variation of both environments and gameplay will attract both casual fans and die hard enthusiasts. The campaign is best enjoyed with a friend, but even for the lonely player it stands out as a great accomplishment.
The advancements made by Epic when it comes to Unreal Engine 3.0 allows for bigger environments and more enemies. But with that said the formula for the game is largely the same, most encounters will take place in rather small areas with a handful of enemies or so.
Most of the weapons arsenal is the same as in the previous game, but one new comer stands out. The mounted troika gun. I also enjoyed the mortar although it takes a couple of tries until you learn how to make proper use of it, but it is a beautiful sight to see the fires rain down on your enemies in the distance. I didn't end up uses the shield or using the Locust as cover that much. Many games make the mistake of forcing the new ingredients on the player, but in Gears of War 2 you had the option of trying the new stuff out and it wasn't forced upon you or overused.
Another new component I enjoyed was the Horde mode where you and up to four friends (or random Xbox Live people... if you dare) try and see off as many as 50 waves of invading Locust. The difficulty increases gradually, and to make it all the way takes great skills and great teamwork. From my perspective Gears of War 2 is mainly about the campaign, but that doesn't mean the multiplayer is sub par. Initially there were some issues, but a recent title update has taken care of most if not all complaints. The intensity of the close quarter combat carries through extremely well into multiplayer matches.
By now you will have gather that I have enjoyed the time I have spent with Gears of War 2. It delivers everything it sets out to do. I could have done without the obligatory "tunnel of meat" level (pet peeve of mine), but most levels showed me something new and exciting about Sera. The story may be a bit lacking in depth and sometimes Dom runs around acting crazy (that's why a prefer a human partner), but overall Gears of War 2 is an extremely polished action experience no fan of the genre should miss.