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Gears of War 2

Review: Gears of War grows up

Fans have always been disappointed when they didn't get to take on the gigantic T-Rex-like Brumack at the end of the first Gears of War. But one hour in to Gears of War 2 and we've already killed six. As much as we hate to say it, Cliffy B wasn't lying. The sequel really is bigger, better and more badass.

Since turning the Unreal Engine into a current-gen buzzword two years ago, Epic's gritty franchise has been copied and imitated by almost every shooter series going, but never topped.

Still, it's unquestionably not as fresh a concept these days. just look at all the Ghost Recons and Army of Two's littering the shelves. Epic always had its work cut out coming up with a sequel that was going to raise our eyebrows above the millimetre mark.

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While certainly not as groundbreaking or fresh as the original was in its day, Epic has managed to deliver a thrilling ten-plus hour package of explosive entertainment and god knows how many hours of multiplayer carnage.

Gears of War 2 is a stunning technical marvel, sporting stand-out art design and some of the most impressive visual playgrounds we've seen in a console game.

The excellent gun battles and knock out set-pieces of the original are back. The cover system is tweaked and unrivalled. The scale of the bosses and sheer spectacle of the firefights put every over shooter from 2008 in its place. But Epic's sequel is still far from perfect.

Incredibly for this generation's most famous balls-to-the-wall action series, the most prominent mark made by Gears of War 2's campaign is its story, which has been thought out, expanded and taken far more seriously.

There are at least three major plot twists in game that take Gears from its straight out good-versus-baddie Michael Bay movie roots to something a little more interesting. At its core the second game is an 'Empire Strikes Back' episode tackling darker story threads of humanity's losing battle against subterranean invaders, plus co-op wingman Dom's increasingly desperate attempts to find his missing wife Maria.

It's all very well done without a stench of cheese or even risk of the soppy stuff overshadowing the core action. Gears 2 knows when to chuck in the 'F' word or have Cole go off on one of his Bernie Mac rants, cushioned between more sombre moments, one of which - and we don't want to delve near to the 'Oscar moment' review cliché here - is definitely among the most powerful put into a game narrative.

It should be applauded, because it's very cleverly and respectfully dealt with and something no one ever expected to be saying about this series.

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Before you worry that Gears has gone all soppy though; don't. It hasn't and your girlfriend still won't want to play it after seeing you chainsaw enemies through the gut. There's so much action packed inside Gears 2's chapters it's almost sickening. each chapter is like putting a whole pack of Mentos into can of Diet Coke at once.

The core game systems - the guns and cover - have seen some tweaking and for the most part just work. Marcus and co use cover items more intelligently than before, and move between objects as smooth as butter. Previous issues where you attempt to dash past cover and end up locking onto it almost never happen, which is a good sign that the kinks have been ironing out.

Just when you think Epic has pulled out all the stops - and can't fit any more Corpsers on the screen at once - it'll throw two more at you. Maybe three. And a hundred Locust foot soldiers. And blow up the floor.

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