Mark Gears up...
In last year's Halo 3 review, we said that big sci-fi series follow specific rules – notably, that the second instalment needs to up the ante in every conceivable way. Gears of War 2, with its tagline of Bigger, Better and More Badass, is looking like a perfect example of that philosophy.
Gears 1 was arguably the Xbox 360's first killer app – and, some would say, the flagship title for the entire next-gen era. Its enduring success is there for all to see. With the Master Chief kickin' Covenant ass last year and Halo 3 Recon on the late-2009 horizon, sci-fi shooters are clearly a core part of the console's popularity.
The sequel to the most innovative, atmospheric and gorgeously gritty-looking action game on Xbox 360. No pressure.
Gears, however, is still a little bit special. The deliciously shiny eyecandy of Unreal Engine 3 and Epic's dystopian 'destroyed beauty' artwork are yet to be bettered even two years on, and the duck-and-cover gunplay and roadie run continue to be the genre's best examples, regardless of the past 24 month's countless copycats. Gears' other innovation, meanwhile, the timed button pressing of active reload, has been all-but overlooked by the rest of the industry.
So, with Gears of War 2, we have the sequel to the most innovative, atmospheric and gorgeously gritty-looking action game on Xbox 360. No pressure.
Gears of War 2 begins six months after the end of Gears of War. The Lightmass Bomb has been detonated beneath the planet's crust, but instead of delivering humanity a victory against the subterranean Locust Horde, it's merely bought them some time. Oh, and it's caused the Imulsion at the planet's core to vaporise, spreading a fatal airborne disease labelled 'rust-lung' across the human populous. Talk about one step forwards, two steps back...
Into this world-going-to-hell once again charge Delta Squad, lead by dynamic armoured duo Dominic Santiago, and main character Marcus Fenix. Musclebound linebackers they may look like, but in Gears of War 2 we're promised far more emotional resonance with the pair. The story for Gears of War 2 may at its forefront feature the war against the re-emerging Locust, but the battle to save Jacinto Plateau will encompass more backstory on Marcus, and the affecting love story of Dom's search for his missing wife.
Don't expect Gears of War 2 to go all soppy on us, though. This is still amongst the most macho games around, laced with enough gore, guns and testosterone-fuelled one-liners to please the most avid Arnie fan.
Laced with enough gore, guns and testosterone-fuelled one-liners to please the most avid Arnie fan.
In keeping with its mantra, Gears of War 2 promises far bigger firefights than the first Gears, which featured three of four enemies on-screen at once. This time, the Locust Horde will actually be a horde, and gunplay will boast a scale and franticness designed to make you feel like you're really in the middle of terrible and epic global lizard-bashing.
Destructible scenery will help, as will all-new enemies, from kamikaze exploding Ticker monsters to giant flying tentacled things that look like Sentinels from The Matrix, and the Predator-like uber-boss, Skorge. Even the enormous missile-clad Brumack, which we barely saw in Gears 1, will be a regularly appearing enemy in Gears of War 2. More badass, indeed. As a frenetic co-op experience, Gears of War 2 could be unparalleled.
Multiplayer however might have a steeper hill to climb – not least because the Xbox Live landscape looks very different now to how it did when Gears 1 launched. Can Gears of War 2, with its 5v5 gametypes, compete with the larger-scale Halo and CoD? Perhaps so; this is a more tense, stealthy affair, requiring far greater teamwork. And the new high-scoring Horde mode, where you and four friends have to survive against waves of insatiable Locust, might even give a game like Left 4 Dead a run for its money.
Bigger, Better and More Badass, then? You'd better believe it. Gears of War 2 will be shooting, slicing and dicing its way onto an Xbox 360 near you in just two short weeks.
Preview by: Mark 'Chainsaw' Scott
Preview Published: 23.10.08