10 things we already love about Gears of War 2

5) Out of the gloom

As much as we love grimy grey hallways, grimy brown streets and grimy green arboretums, the environments in Gears of War could get a little repetitive... and a little depressing. The setting we experienced in Gears of War 2 was the complete opposite - wide, open and relatively colorful. Grass. Mountains. Sunshine. Unending swaths of nature. We were almost reminded of Halo.

6) Out of the mine cart

Speaking of Halo, the vehicles in Gears appear diverse and versatile. Our favorite is the derrick, a sort of moving castle tower which traverses hundreds of feet in a single step. We don't know if you can drive it, but you can man its turret, walk around its roof or protect its walls from climbing enemies. As we mentioned, tanks and helicopters also made cameos, often in the same moment.

7) Destructibility

The fragility and malleability of your environment is not just a tech spec promise. During our demo, a Brumak knocked a tree onto the ground. Immediately, Marcus was able to use that tree as cover. He could also shoot at the trunks the Locust were cowering behind, chipping away chunk after chunk until he could get a better shot at them.

8) Blood

More enemies on screen = more blood on screen. Larger enemies = larger buckets of blood. Seriously, we saw a LOT of blood, even for Gears.

9) Gore

The ways in which the blood is produced, however, are what's important. Chainsawing a Locust along his spine seems to do the trick nicely. Wielding a dead Locust as a "meat shield" - blocking damage from incoming bullets - creates a delightful bouquet of blood and bits. Snapping a Locust's neck, while disappointingly bloodless, is satisfyingly badass. We can't wait to see what's now possible with the bladed Torque Bow...

10) The new and improved co-op

Ah, but just how "new and improved" is it? That's the mystery that has us so excited. Two separate developers hinted strongly that a surprise was coming in the co-op department... a surprise involving the number of players, no less. While nothing was confirmed, we're feeling more and more confident that Gears of War 2 will support four player co-op.

What we DO know is that the co-op has been tweaked to enable gamers of different skill sets to play together. You could potentially play on Insane difficulty while your grandmother plays on Casual. A neat addition, but hardly a revolution.

And now for the potentially bad...

1) Chainsaw duels

We were totally pumped about this new feature, but all you really have to do when two blades clash is mash on the "B" button. That sounds boring... and tiresome. Maybe we were silly to expect some sort of fancy sword fighting moves, but still... just mashing on the "B" button?

2) Grappling hooks

Okay, this one's totally minor, but bothered us nonetheless. When Marcus was battling Locust atop the derrick, he would wait for them to grapple the edge, climb up and jump over onto his turf. Why couldn't he just shoot off the grappling hooks and laugh as they tumbled helplessly to their deaths? If the environment is destructible, how could this obvious detail go unnoticed?

3) Linearity

Remember when we described how cinematic the action appeared? Well, a lot of those moments were almost suspiciously spectacular... In other words, they could have all been completely scripted.

4) "Dizzy"

Dizzy is a brand new character, a former Stranded who has been conscripted into the military. He has no choice if he wants his wife and children to receive sanctuary in Jacinto.

Sounds intriguing, no? Too bad Dizzy wears a ridiculous ten gallon cowboy hat and talks like Larry the Cable Guy, only less intelligible. Maybe we'll grow to love him when we experience more of the story. Maybe not.

May 13, 2008