Gears of War 2 is best when played with friends, and the entire campaign now features drop-in support and independent difficulty levels for two players. The competitive multiplayer has also been substantially improved and now offers more players, maps, and game modes to select. Warzone, Execution, Assassination, and Annex modes all make a return, along with King of the Hill, which was introduced in the PC version of the game. There are also three new standard multiplayer modes called Submission, Guardian, and Wingman. Submission is a variation on Capture the Flag, but here the flag is a civilian who you carry to the checkpoint using the meat-shield technique. The hostage also carries a gun and is hostile to anyone who comes close, making for a really great twist on the traditional CTF game mode. Guardian is a team-based game with a designated leader; keep the leader alive and everyone else can respawn, but if the leader dies then that privilege is over. Finally, Wingman splits players into teams of two, with the emphasis on working together to kill and revive. You've probably seen these game modes before in other games, but they fit perfectly into Gears of War 2 and add even more variety and longevity to online play. Thankfully, the benefits of being the host online have also been lessened, making the online experience much fairer across the board.
The final multiplayer mode is called Horde, and it's the most addictive and challenging take on Gears yet. It could be described as a cross between single- and multiplayer, in which a team of five COGs take on wave after wave of Locust enemies. As long as one player stays alive at the end of each round, the entire team respawns and the game keeps going, with progressively bigger and more difficult enemies. It's an incredibly tense and exciting game mode, and despite the steep difficulty curve, it's highly rewarding to play with friends. Gears 2 is also accommodating to new players and those without Internet connections, with five training missions and bot support for every multiplayer mode except Horde. The bots are surprisingly good at replicating human players, and they make great practice for people who have never played the game online.
Gears of War 2 includes a total of 10 new multiplayer maps, plus a code to download five remastered maps from the original game. The new maps take inspiration from the locations in the campaign, whereas new environmental effects change some of the maps as you're playing. For example, Hail features razor-sharp rain that gradually kills anyone out in the open. Furthermore, Day One has a huge emergence hole in which a beast can take swipes at any surrounding players. Finally, Avalanche is completely transformed when a snowstorm hits, turning it from a multitiered level into one flat plane. These environmental effects don't feature in every map and game mode, but they definitely liven up standard deathmatch-style multiplayer game types such as Warzone.
The sequel introduces training missions and bots that you can play in nearly all of the multiplayer game modes.
The original Gears of War was a spectacular-looking game, and the sequel maintains this high technical and artistic quality. Instead of pushing for increased visual fidelity, the graphics engine adds a couple of other dimensions to the presentation, with walls that crumble under gunfire and dozens of enemies onscreen at once. These new features don't necessarily affect the gameplay, but they look good and help add to the dramatic scale that the designers have chosen. The new organic capabilities of the Unreal Engine make for one particularly memorable level in which you literally have to kill a giant enemy from the inside. Gears of War 2 also has impeccable sound design, with terrific voice acting, meatier weapon effects, and another beautiful cinematic score.
Gears of War 2 has a lot in common with its predecessor, but the new environments, darker storyline, and epic scale certainly have a lot to offer fans. The new weapons, melee attacks, and co-op options make for a campaign that you'll want to complete a number of times, and the new multiplayer modes give the game variety and longevity. Simply put, Gears of War 2 is a superior shooter that no action fan will want to miss out on.