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Gears creator, Cliff Bleszinski, raved about the sheer hardcore elements of the game two years ago, but in 2008, the design director touts a new philosophy for its sequel - "Epic, yet more intimate". A trolley-load of storyline, morality and companionship to go with the chunks of bodies laid out by shotgun blasts. Gears of War is growing up.
The story takes place a year or so after the events of the original game. The failure of the Lightmass mission is being rewarded by a strengthening of the enemy's resolve. In case you've forgotten, that mission involved a plan to blow up the enemy Locust creatures by planting a huge bomb at their 'hive' - sure, we all know that your actual locust lives in a swarm... but this is a game, darn it!. The Locust now occupy a large chunk of the land of Sera and the last stronghold for humanity, Jacinto, is starting to weaken.
Again, the main protagonists are Delta Squad, with Marcus Fenix and Dominic Santiago leading the fight against the Locust. There's a heavier emphasis on Dom in particular, as he tries to find out what's happened to his missing wife, Maria.
Weapons? Sure. You have new weapons to tear apart your foes with in Gears of War 2. Check out: the Mortar, a long-range double-handed rocket launcher that rains explosives on faraway foes; the Mulcher, essentially a portable turret that can make mincemeat out of Locust; the Scorcher, a flamethrower that has some additional bonuses if you perform a perfect Active Reload; the Ink Grenade, that leaks noxious gases that eat at your health at close proximity.
Naturally, online competitive play makes a comeback, with eight different modes to choose from. It's the enhancements to co-op play that will really stand out with Gears fans. For starters, you have the ability to play a co-op campaign with a friend on different difficulty settings - the plan is to allow skilled gamers the chance to play with less experienced friends.
No doubt the greatest addition to Gears of War 2, however, is a new online co-op mode called Horde. Cliff Bleszinski likened the affair to Gears mashed with Smash TV. It sees a group of five friends battle wave after wave of enemies in a confined arena. There are 50 waves to get through. Count 'em. 50.
Every ten waves, the enemies get stronger and more intelligent and you continue through until every player is defeated - it gets quite mental as you get flanked several times, sneaked up on and smacked by cheeky Locust creatures. Seeing your mate crawl towards you asking for assistance when you can see that Boomer charging behind him presents some serious decision making - let your friend become a squishy mess or save him and get squished yourself.
If you're looking for a shooter with some heart, this is your muscle-bound guy.