Previews

Gears of War 2

Impressions: Hands-on with the first act

One minute in and it's already clear that Epic's production values have been ramped up significantly for Gears of War 2.

The campaign starts with a CGI prologue movie detailing the decades-long Pendulum Wars, and how humanity sacrificed the planet in a desperate attempt to respond to the Locust horde crusading from the ground.

It's moody stuff - but not just dark Gears of War angst; there's "heart" in the story this time around, Epic promises.

The first act is the Tip of the Spear, the frontline in Humanity's struggle to defend the last standing city, Jacinto. We're reintroduced to Marcus Fenix, who's looking more grumpy and tired than ever. "It never ends..."

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Presentation is top notch and the detail on the environment and frontline characters is better than the first game. The little details on Marcus and Dom, including a bowie knife clinging to Dom's armour, and the intricate slots and nozzles on the chainsaw-ing Lancer, are impressive.

We're introduced to Carmine, a rookie who's tripping over his own boots (literally) to get a chance to fight in the war. He looks identical to the late Gear of the first game, but no link is set-up - at least in the first level anyway.

After choosing whether to give the new kid a little training or not, Carmine is put on 'guard duty' in the courtyard while Marcus and Dom dash to defend the local hospital from a Locust assault.

This is untouched human territory; it's obvious that the locust arriving on humanity's front doorstep is bad news, and there's siege atmosphere about the whole area of the Jacinto hospital.

We're also introduced to Tai, a burly, tattooed spiritual warrior who has a history fighting alongside Marcus Fenix. The two make a manly embrace, have a brief exchange about 'fate' and the Locust begin spilling into the building.

Beginners would've been through a tutorial by now, but Gears 2 still kicks off the action with a learning curve. From a high viewing point we spot a group of Locust cutting through a door, conveniently next to a big pile of explosive barrels. Clichéd, yes, but it teaches girls how to shoot in the right direction before the right fight begins and not during.

There's plenty of cover in the hospital corridors; stretchers, overturned beds, wooden desks - all of it destructible and breaking apart and locust fire, just as boasted in Epic's Unreal Engine 3.5 hoo-ha.

The cover system has been visibly refined; Marcus stays lower to the ground, protecting his head from the edge of cover. Moving between scenery fills smoothers as well, and your character pops up his weapon to blind fire without compromising anything other than a limb and hand.

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Some pleasing refinement, but nothing near as satisfying as a new sound effect and a bigger nozzle can make the Gears 2 Lancer. The new gun sounds dangerous and far more beefy than Gears 1's angry sheep noise. It also looks angular and mean. We like it very, very much.

Progressing through the hospital, through surgery rooms and dirty corridors, there's already more cinematic action crammed into these walls than in any single level in the first Gears.

Locust burst through doors, Helicopters smash through the ceiling and we're already encountering new enemies; an airborne Reaver swoops down to the ground and tries to Hungry Hungry Hippo our teammates with its snapping jaw.

We reach one of many set pieces as the power goes down in a small hall, and we're left to defend ourselves as Locust flood in from four different entrances around our central hub.

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