You have no idea how much a chainsaw matters until you've played Gears of War 2. It's always there and always reliable, whether you're slicing through giant pulsating hearts or doing lobotomies on Locust grubs.
In fact, there don't seem to be many occasions where the screen isn't completely dripping with blood. This game doesn't know the meaning of restraint. If it did, it would probably chainsaw that too.
Before revving up campaign mode, make sure you have 12 clear hours ahead. You see, attempting to play it through in one sitting becomes an almost irresistible urge. We're not going to hit you with spoilers here, not least because shock value is king for GOW2. All you need to know is that Marcus and Dom continue to battle the subterranean Locust, trying to prevent them from sinking entire cities into giant emergence holes.
There's been a lot of hype about the storyline, but that isn't what will keep you gripped in Gears 2. Instead, the strategic cover fire system, the kick-ass weapons, giant bosses and genuinely ridiculously epic eye-candy are really what count.
Here's some perspective. We just killed three Brumaks (the original game's biggest monster) within the space of a minute. That was while driving a tank with monster truck wheels across a rapidly disintegrating frozen lake. This is just one of the many dramatic set-pieces that are designed to make you feel amazingly powerful.
And it works a treat, although the scales are rarely tipped so strongly in your favour. Later on, there's a boss creature who looks like he could kill a Brumak merely by breathing on it.
Situations like these call for big guns, and lots of them. The most popular new weapons will undoubtedly be the Mulcher (a portable mini-gun) and the Mortar. Both are stupidly powerful, but they're also the most risky to use. When equipped with one of these bad boys, you can't run or perform melee attacks. In addition, they have to be placed down or mounted on a piece of cover before you can even think about firing them.
The Mulcher does as its name suggests. The whining noise it makes is comparable to the noise you'll make when it runs out of ammo, and a little quieter than the screaming noise the Locust make as they're being massacred. Firing off the mortar is even more fun.
Aside from the sniper rifle, it has the longest range and turns everything in a circular radius into a dish of meaty chunks. Its downsides include a long reload time and an aiming system that's seemingly based entirely on keen judgement.
Few other games can boast a weapon system that's quite this balanced, or one where the strengths and weaknesses are so clearly defined. And because you can only carry three guns at once, it's often a fun guessing game as to what you'll need for the next big set piece.
All war, no bore
Let us make this clear, there are no boring bits in Gears of War 2. Every series of skirmishes is punctuated by a set piece that just blows you away. While other titles save their most impressive encounters for the endgame, this is relentless shock and awe. There are lightning-fast on-rails sections, a driving bit that's actually fun, and a stack of great plot twists.
The only place where Epic gets too carried away is trying to flesh out the various storylines. Every time a new angle crops up, there's the feeling it won't be resolved until at least Gears of War 5.
It's also a particularly mean-spirited tale, with very few moments of hope. Thankfully, linebacker Cole Train injects some genuine laughs; for our money, he's rapidly becoming the best character in the game.