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With just one month to go before Gears of War 2 deploys on 360, we were recently challenged to play "as far as we could get" into the now-finished game's campaign mode by Microsoft, Epic Games, and the game's director, Cliff Bleszinski. Like the good Gears we are, we couldn't – nor would we want to – refuse the order.

All told, we got really far in our roughly six hours of play ... but still nowhere near the end. It was far enough that, if we told you all about it, there wouldn't be as many surprises come November 7 (and trust us, there are quite a few). With that in mind, we've decided to recount the high points of the first act, "Tip of the Spear." We've done our very best to steer clear of any major spoilers, but be forewarned: those who haven't completed the first game should tread lightly after the break.

The game begins with gravely voiced COG hero Marcus Fenix and his war pal Dom Santiago teaching a green addition to their squad the basics of combat – in other words, it's a tutorial. Even though we've played plenty of the first game, we wanted to check it out. It's a basic run through an urban environment where you're taught the basics of the game's cover system and other fundamentals. Even though it's more in-your-face than the first game's training / jump right into the action "fork," it still has its own small side-plot that will make it worth playing for seasoned vets.

"Once we started slinging lead at the Locust, we witnessed the much higher degree of destructibility this sequel's environments offer."

After powering through the tutorial, we kicked off the campaign inside a hospital housing soldiers recovering after the events of the first game. Of course, they couldn't do so peacefully – the Locust had to drop in for a visit ... and they didn't even think to bring flowers.

This earliest scenario gave us a good taste of things to come. For one, the environment felt more like an actual lived in (or, in this case, worked in) place. Once we started slinging lead at the Locust, we witnessed the much higher degree of destructibility this sequel's environments offer. Tables could be tipped over for cover, cover could subsequently be blown away bit by bit, and loads of objects shattered and exploded around us when struck by gunfire.


One highlight moment saw a group of Locust swarm a courtyard filled with what turned out to be compressed gas cylinders. Despite the warning stickers, we shot one. It exploded, causing a chain-reaction that blew the rest – and the Locust – to bits.

Throughout this first area, we were noticing message pop-ups in the bottom right-hand corner or the screen. It turned out that these were indications that we'd done something that counted toward eventually unlocking an Achievement. For instance, we were pinged every time we pulled off a perfect active reload, until we finally unlocked "Once More, With Feeling." It was a subtle but fairly ingenious way of saying, "Hey! Keep doing that! Something cool will happen!," that we'd love to see more of.


"We were treated to a truly epic, totally bombastic cinematic showing the deployment of the COG army."

Having cleared the hospital and surrounding streets of Locust, we were treated to a truly epic, totally bombastic cinematic showing the deployment of the COG army to fight the Locust on their home turf. This cinema, along with many more in the game, pretty much cement Gears of War 2 as having a better written, more interesting story than the first. Not to mention some truly outrageous scenarios that we're not going to spoil.

Next up was the the very first segment of the game ever shown. In it, we climbed aboard massive Grindlift Rigs and set off for a city called Landown, which just so happened to be the perfect spot from which to launch into the subterranean Hollow – home of the Locust.

As seen in earlier gameplay footage, we had to defend the Rigs from incoming mortar fire, Locust attempting to board them, and massive Brumacks charging us. It wasn't easy, but it was big action.


We got another chance to choose our path upon arriving in Landown; did we clear the buildings or take the rooftops? (Rooftops it was.) We commandeered a mobile Locust mortar at one point and used it to blow a hole in a building so the rest of our squad could forge on. Later, we crept slowly through a blacked-out tunnel, blasting explosive, scampering Tickers with only the Grindlift Rig's headlights behind illuminating the scene.

Cue some more cinematics and ... we were in the Inner Hollow. The network of underground tunnels and chambers provided provided not only a change of scenery, but also of pace.

"The network of underground tunnels and chambers provided provided not only a change of scenery, but also of pace."

While trudging through the underground, squishing bugs beneath our feet, we came across copious bits of back story. It appeared in the form of COG Tags (which are now accompanied by journal entries) and documents that helped flesh out the mission we were on and the Gears universe as a whole. We were able to view everything we'd collected later in a War Journal from the game's menu.

Like we said earlier, from the time we spent with it, Gears of War 2 one-ups the original in terms of its story and variety. It's also a more balanced gameplay experience from a difficulty standpoint. The new elements such as human – er, Locust shields, new weapons, and oodles of one-off mechanics (riding a Reaver, anyone?) are just icing on a big COG Tag shaped cake ... one that we want another slice of ASAP.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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