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Gears of War 2 Review

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The 360's greatest shooter returns for round two

★★★★★

A wisecracking squad of musclebound meatheads with necks thicker than Jade Goody. Battle-scarred generals roaring rabble-rousing speeches in voices gruffer than the Grim Reaper gargling with grit. Buzzing chainsaws, rattling machineguns, exploding grenades. Stubble, snipers, mortars, monsters, blood, bollocks… and an alien worm that looks like a giant veiny penis as it slithers through the earth. Have you got the balls for the testosterone-fuelled Gears Of War 2? A game so macho you can almost smell the sweat as you tear the cellophane off the packaging, and so aggressively virile it’ll send fey Wii fans scurrying for the hills.

The sequel to 2006’s five-million selling Xbox 360 hit, GOW2 builds on the basics to create the biggest and most brutal blaster this side of Christmas. And while console curmudgeons may argue that the changes are largely cosmetic and add little to the ruthless action, a greater focus on storytelling, tweaked combat and revamped multiplayer make this one of the most exhilarating blasters of the last 12 months and a wet dream for adolescent gun nuts.

Set shortly after the original adventure, GOW2 finds the butch heroes still battling the Locust Horde and trying to save their verdant planet. However, while the first game was high on action but lacking in plot, the developers have gone to great lengths to make the sequel more engaging; now the action is punctuated by tightly scripted story scenes – from one hero’s search for his missing wife to the baptism of fire for new recruits as they join the fight – this fresh approach injecting the bravado with tragedy and drama, in turn encouraging you to stick with the cocky single player game until the end credits roll.

More importantly, much work has been done to bring variety to the bloodshed. Unlike the first game’s relentless assault, flashpoints of action are now mixed with quieter moments where you can catch your breath and recover your nerve, making for a less stressful campaign that doesn’t feel repetitive after an expended session. Like before, the beautifully intuitive controls also allow players to duck in and out of cover during firefights – the key to survival in any GOW skirmish – and the ability to grab enemies and use them as a ‘meat shield’ adds a new layer of strategy when faced with insurmountable odds. And when added to the fact you can now duel up close with chainsaws – and the incredible artificial intelligence that sees enemies leaping over barriers and using flanking techniques to get the drop on your squad – the combat is more raw and refined than ever, meaning you’ll feel like a foul-mouthed grunt long after you’ve switched off your console.

Like the original GOW, though, the game’s greatest thrills are to be found online. New competitive and co-operative multiplayer challenges, and a variety of fresh battlegrounds, are only the beginning of GOW2’s communal treats, the most frantic being the new Horde option where you’re attacked by an ever-growing extraterrestrial army, ramping up the challenge until your head is spinning and trigger finger stiff as enemies swarm in from all corners of the screen.

Outrageous gore and crisp visuals also help make GOW2 a bewitching blaster; and while series aficionados may feel as if they’ve seen it all before, the chance to cave-in enemy skulls with your bare knuckles and multiplayer challenges you’ll play for months make this the perfect Christmas companion, and an experience that won’t grow old as you yomp into 2009.

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