Not quite the sequel we were hoping for.
As always you'll take control of the truck-wearing hunk of man-meat, Marcus Fenix, whose name is mysteriously spelled wrong. You'll run around with your metal-wearing cohorts and blast the Locust hordes with ridiculously overpowered weapons that can turn heads into fountains of blood within seconds, just as you did in the original. This time, however, the story seems to believe that it's extremely deep and engaging, which it isn't. The main story itself isn't bad, per se, but the ridiculous Dom/Maria side-story that accompanies it is. Basically, Dom's wife, who for some reason you hardly heard about in the original - considering you heard about her at all – was captured by the Locust and Dom is really pissed about it. There are scenes of emotion that are extremely laughable, which is ironic considering their attempts at being sad.
One of the game's new characters is Tai, some weirdly spiritual Cog soldier who really shouldn't be in the war in the first place. What's really weird about Tai is that Marcus seems to have some sort of attachment to him despite the fact that he wasn't in the first game. There's also Dizzy Wallin, who is perhaps the game's best new character. He's a Stranded who owns a giant truck thing named Betty, and he's also a huge redneck, as you might be able to tell by his cowboy hat. Then there's Dom's wife, Maria, who is perhaps the game's lamest and most forgettable character. There aren't many new enemy types either. There are the Tickers, which explode when shot, and then there are some new types of Boomers that are all pretty much the same.
The game obviously looks good in both a technical and artistic sense. The game has great lighting, textures, and anti-aliasing, as well as a great art style. The Locust aren't an especially imposing enemy, but the amount of them on screen at once is impressive. Of course, it can be inconvenient when you get your allies mixed up with the Locust. You wouldn't think it would be possible for people to be mixed up with monsters, but when everyone looks like a giant slab of meat wearing a truck, it's actually quite easy. There's a lot of texture pop in that really hurts the game's overall looks, and makes a lot of scenes that should be serious pretty laughable, and because so much of the game takes place underground, the art takes a bit of a beating to repetitive and often drab-looking levels.
The voice acting is just as good as the first, though some of the country accents sound a bit fake and Marcus' grizzly voice often feels a little overdone. It's a shame that a game with such good voice acting has such an underwhelming script. The music is epic and fitting, adding to the tension of many of the game's bigger fights, while the Locusts' screams and war cries sound believable, though not especially original. The sound effects are your standard affair, with guns that sound realistic but run-of-the-mill and hardly any other notable sound effects. This is forgivable, as sound is a hard thing to make your own – especially with so many shooters out there already.
The campaign can be beaten in about 10 hours or so, with multiple difficulties to play through and achievements to unlock. You can go back through and try to find intelligence, but all it's good for is achievements, and it doesn't actually unlock anything for use in the game. The real distraction here, however, is the multiplayer. There's standard competitive play, which consists of modes like Deathmatch and is good fun to a certain extent, but matches end far too quickly as your basic goal is simply to kill everyone on the enemy team once, since there's no respawning. Horde is what you'll likely spend most of your time with once you've beaten the campaign, though. You and some other players can get together and destroy wave after wave of Locust. The problem here is that the mode starts out far too slow, and it takes a while for the ball to really get rolling. The main problem overall, though, is the slow matchmaking. You'll likely spend more time trying to find matches than actually playing them.
Multiplayer can often be unfair, as well. If there aren't enough players on one team then you end up with dumb bots that throw grenades next to their feet and run around in circles. They're easy targets for the enemy team, and they make deathmatches feel extremely unbalanced, lonely, and frustrating. Perhaps a better system would be to simply wait for more players to join rather adding some cheap AI bots that are virtually worthless. It makes competitive play a lot less fun and ultimately more frustrating than it should be.
If you own Gears of War then you should obviously own Gears of War 2. It doesn't add anything new to the original's formula, and the storyline could use some tuning up, but it's still fun on its own merits. The campaign is underwhelming, and the competitive play can often be frustrating, but the game's longevity greatly exceeds the campaign, with fun cooperative play, ultimately fun competitive multiplayer, and the infamous Horde mode. It's all good here, though if you don't have XBOX Live then Gears 2 certainly isn't a reason to get it. Combine Gears of War 2's strengths with its weaknesses and you've got a fun action game that simply could've done much more with its roots.