It's hard to describe the feeling you'll get after finishing Epic Games' highly anticipated Gears of War 2. For the best part of ten hours you'll have had barely a moment's peace as Marcus and co pummel the seemingly unstoppable Locust army with a ridiculous amount of lead. The more sedate moments would be the climax in lesser games, with the many show stopping set pieces and events setting a new bar for interactive entertainment. Following the most successful original Xbox 360 game of all time was going to be hard, and it seems Epic wanted to make sure no one was left disappointed.
Gears 2 is like every summer blockbuster of note rolled into one extraordinary package. We don't want to spoil anything for you (believe us - it's hard not to talk about some of the amazing moments in the game), but it's safe to say that you'll be playing through levels that could only have come from the minds of geniuses or the mentally deranged. Apart from one short sequence that didn't excite as much as we'd have liked, every chapter in the five-act campaign delivers the goods and makes putting down the controller incredibly hard.
As Marcus Fenix you'll be slamming into cover in Sera's cities and towns, underground caves, on board boats and more. There's a tonne of variety too, including some insanely cool on-rails sections and sweet rides. The final level is both a stunning sight to behold and what every Gears fan has wanted to do since the first game. If you thought you'd seen all the Gears series had to offer, think again - you ain't seen nothing yet. There are moments in Gears 2 that you'll want to replay immediately, make you grin from ear to ear and stare at your TV in disbelief.
In co-op the experience is even better (and you have someone to turn to with an 'OMG' expression on your face when all Hell breaks loose), with team-work being essential on the harder difficulty settings. It's still only two players, but we never felt that we wanted there to be more despite our initial disappointment that four player co-op wasn't supported. As before, there's local split-screen, system link and online support, so unless you really have no friends at all, you should be able to play through Gears 2 how it was intended. And, in a new addition, each player will be able to pick their own difficulty - adjusting weapon damage and hit points accordingly.
Of course, the core gameplay remains as it was, with Marcus being more or less a moving target with 'shoot me' stuck to his back unless he's in cover. Controls are as they were, but moving into and out of cover seems tighter than in the original and there are fewer occasions where he doesn't do what you expect. Your melee attacks (including the trusty chainsaw) are mapped to B, active reload (enabling you to reload quicker and gain slight weapon perks) is once again RB, and you can interact with various switches and revive fallen buddies with X. If you didn't like the gameplay in the first game you won't like it here, but existing fans will love the subtle tweaks to the cover system.
More significant are the new weapons you'll find in Gears 2, the introduction of portable cover and the assortment of new enemies. Our favourite new weapon is the flame thrower, able to turn Locust into glowing bags of meat, with longer range being awarded for a successful active reload. Enemies carrying the weapon are incredibly dangerous, but target their fuel tank and they explode with quite a bang. Something else that you don't want to be stood next to for too long is a Ticker. Unless you shoot them from a distance they'll run up and explode, more than likely taking you to near death - a position from which you can crawl to safety in the hope that a team mate will rescue you, or else you'll die.
Other new enemies include Locust riding on horse-sized mounts and a brutish flail-swinging monstrosity that carries a shield. You can actually pick up and use this guy's shield, giving you portable cover, although you're limited to your pistol weapon when doing so. Still, it adds a new element to the gameplay and makes you feel like even more of a bad ass. If there are no shields lying around, fear not, as you can grab a fallen enemy and use him as a meat shield - although it seems that the Locust don't care all that much about the safety of their own kind.