The consumate "AAA" experience of 2008.
I recently finished Gears of War 2 after having my Xbox 360 mothballed for almost a year and I must say: Damn what a reintroduction! Reviewing a game of this nature a significant amount of time after it is released is probably not the most fair thing to do, as much of the graphical wow factor is reduced.
Regardless, the presentation holds up really well towards the end of 2009 and I was still surprised at the quality of some of the visual effects. The artistic component of Gears of War 2's presentation cannot be equally lauded however as the the environments tend to form a non-stop gauntlet of browns and grays. The odd illuminated or coloured object brightens up the environment every now and again but the environment is mostly dark and drab, almost a standard for "AAA" games these days.
The audio in Gears of War 2 is amazing and thorougly succeeds in immersing you in the combat situations. Sometimes I felt like flinching when my cover position was bombarded with fire, which is the ultimate thumbs up to a shooter's sound design. The voice acting is competent for the most part and the actors deliver a script mostly in the form of one-liners that vary in their degree of wit.
Luckily the pace of the action is relentless, and makes one glance over the lack of any real story components. The story that is there, serves to drive the player from one firefight to the next. Personally I find this to be fine for the most part, as the moment to moment action of cover-taking and head-shooting is executed so well that excessive pauses for story-telling would have been annoying. Especially so, considering that the few emotional moments in the game feel forced and are cringe worthy.
The only other gripe I have with Gears of War 2 is some oddity in the controls outside the main controls. Some driving and piloting sections are functional but not as properly fleshed out and smooth as the core game play. There is also a lack of control over squad mates, which really only matters when they do something stupid, which is also rare.
I have tried the multiplayer modes of Gears of War 2, but will decline to comment for the most part as my experience was one of constant humiliation at the hands of some truly hardcore players. The fact that the multiplayer could inspire such a hardcore and long-term following is a complement in itself however. The co-op modes (Horde and Campaign) are excellent and add replayability for those not up to the competitive multiplayer standard.
In all, Gears of War 2 is a perfect action game for casual players that don't expect more from their games than a few fast hours of constant action. For those expecting enhanced story-telling and puzzle components I recommend looking elsewhere. I heard there is a rather excellent example of this on the PS3 :-) It will be interesting to see how Gears of War 3 ups the ante over Uncharted 2, should it surface next year.