With all of the hype and expectations heaped upon it’s large shoulders, you’d expect two things from Epic Games’ Gears of War 2. Disappointment or high praise. After all is said and done, the completion of the campaign and countless hours in multi-player it’s safe to say that Gears of War 2 deserves all of the accolades it’s been receiving. To put it simply, the game is in fact bigger, badder and more bad ass!

Gears 2 is a sequel that remains true to its origins while offering a plethora of new weapons, better story, more characters, better multiplayer and just an overall better experience. The game picks up the story six months after the detonation of the Lightmass Bomb which occurred at the end of the first game. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the effect they were hoping for and now the Locusts have started to sink entire cities from below. With fears that the last refuge for humanity, the city of Jacinto, might also be sunk the COG has decide to launch an all out attack on the Locusts in their home, deep below the surface. Humanities survival is at the center of Gears 2, but you’ll also find personal drama, with themes such as family, death, and love far more prevalent than previously. You get a better sense of who the characters are, while uncovering more questions than answers, the game has a much grander premise than its predecessor.

You’ll travel through forests, abandoned research facilities, mountain tops and the far depths of the planet Sera. All the while you get a real sense of how dire things are for the survivors and how much depends on Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago. The story is far deeper and goes from violent to heartwarming in an instant. The campaign can be played in two-player co-op, both online and off, with the option for each player to choose their own difficulty level allowing those who need a challenge to play on a harder difficulty while those new to the game can play on an easier difficulty.

Perhaps the most well known feature of the Gears of War franchise is its multiplayer. Gears 2 takes it up a couple notches, making the multiplayer rich and rewarding. The new Horde mode has up to five players teaming up against ever-increasing waves of Locust. It’s the ultimate test of your skills as you and your team must work together to battle your way through 50 waves of Locust. As each level increases so do the amount of Locusts and the difficulty in killing them. Teamwork is absolutely essential. Completing all 50 levels will take time, but getting there is half the fun.

Another new multiplayer gametype is Submission. Think of it as Capture the Flag, but the flag is alive and fights back. Your teams objective is to capture one of the Stranded, known as the “meatflag”, but beware because he’s armed with a shotgun and you’ll have to take him down before you can grab him by the neck and drag him back to the scoring zone. Once you’ve captured the objective you’ll need to make sure your teammates protect you otherwise the “meatflag” can get loose and take out members of your team with a few well-placed shots.

Guardian is a modified version of Assassination from the original Gears of War. A team leader is chosen and the members must protect the team leader while attempting to eliminate the opposing teams leader. While the leader is alive the others are able to respawn, but once the leader has been killed, the ability to respawn. You’ll also be treated to Wingman, where five teams of two roam the various maps and eliminate the other teams. The first team to 18 points wins the game. Even if you don’t have a partner fret not because bots are now available for all multiplayer gametypes except Horde.

Another new feature in multiplayer are the new cameras that are viewable when you’ve been eliminated from a match. Instead of static views from different points on a map, the new Battle Cam allows players to pan around a map as the camera focuses on areas of intense fighting, and the Ghost Cam allows a player to roam freely around a map. A photo mode is also featured, allowing players to take a photo of the action going on. You’ll also be able to upload the photo o Epic’s servers to share with the gaming community.

Gameplay wise, there is very little in the way of surprises allowing gamers with previous Gears experience the ability to slide right in and feel like they’re picking up where they left off. What makes the games combat such a success is its vicious intensity. Firefights are so close up and raw that you’ll almost smell the acrid odor in the air after a big battle. The chainsaw action places you right in the thick of the action, giving you an up close and personal view to the Locust’s innards.

Visually the game is an absolute beauty. The first Gears showcased the potential for the new generation and the sequel takes it even further. Locations are far more varied and colorful, gone are the constant greys and browns. Now we’re treated to lush locals with a lot more blues and greens and a bit more life. You’ll battle in caves, mountain tops, forests, war ravaged cities and more, giving you a visual treat every step of the way. To see the progression from the first Gears to the sequel, one can only imagine how the third will look like.

If you’re a fan of the first Gears of War then this is a must have, if you’ve never played Gears of War in your life this is still a must have. When you have a visually stunning game with a great campaign and one of the best multi-player modes out there you can’t go wrong. Epic has hit it out of the ballpark with Gears of War 2. If you own an XBox 360 there’s no reason you shouldn’t have this game.