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I met Cliff Bleszinski last month, and he was keen to point out that the campaign mode of Gears 2 is longer than the first game, and having stayed up until 5am to finish the game I can testify to that. The storyline is arguably even more compelling than the original game though, driving you on from one adrenaline fuelled fire fight to the next. Dom is still looking for his lost wife, Marcus still has father issues and the true nature of the locusts, and their need to conquer the surface of the planet comes to light. Like all great second chapters, Gears 2 sets the scene for the third release perfectly, but unlike the woefully short Halo 2 campaign, you don't feel short changed at the end.
Bleszinski also assured me the Dom wouldn't be quite so useless this time around, and again, he wasn't lying. Not only does Dom not just wander around getting killed, and thus making you fail your mission, he has now become a genuinely useful NPC. There were many points throughout the campaign that Dom came to my rescue and revived me when I was down, thus saving me the frustration of having to reload my last checkpoint and play through a chunk of the level again. Dom's new found intelligence is coupled with a far greater role in the story too, with Marcus agreeing to go off mission, in order to help Dom find Maria.
Of course if you really want Dom to show some intelligence, you can get one of your friends to play his part. In Gears 2, you can play through the entire campaign in co-op mode, either using split screen, over a LAN or via Xbox Live. And because co-op mode allows a drop in/drop out model, you can fire up a game and then have someone join you over Live at any point. Playing co-op makes the already fantastic campaign even better, and Epic has made sure that there's plenty of opportunity to employ some proper team work. There are several points in the game where Marcus and Dom split up, but rather than taking separate, unrelated paths, these instances usually involve one player having to cover/backup/clear the way for the other.
Since I've touched on the multiplayer side of Gears 2 I'll carry on by saying that once again this sequel has bettered its predecessor. And considering how much fun the multiplayer side of Gears was, that's another impressive achievement. Once again, Epic has strived to improve and innovate and now the multiplayer matches can have up to ten players, instead of eight. Of course there's the usual team deathmatch and capture the flag type scenarios, but Wingman is probably the most original - players team up in pairs and strive to wipe out the other pairs, while ensuring that they look after their partner or "wingman".
But for me, the real highlight of the multiplayer line up is Horde. I really can see myself rounding up a few mates online (yes I do mean you, Hugo and Andy) and playing this until the early hours of the morning. In Horde five Human players are pitted against wave after wave of locusts, with each wave getting progressively harder. There are 50 waves to get through, and once you make it into double figures, things start to get pretty tough. Although five total strangers can have a lot of fun playing Horde, you really do need to work like a team to survive the later waves, which means a group of players who know each other will definitely have the edge.