It's a mad, mad world.
That song (Mad World) from the Donnie Darko soundtrack produced a hit commercial for the first Gears of War, and somehow it fits even better with the second installment of this phenomenal series.
Because for the past week, Xbox Live has been a mad, mad world as gamers play non-stop rounds of multiplayer Gears of War 2. Among the most popular game modes are the cooperative campaign, online Warzone and the amazing new "Horde" mode.
From the beginning, one thing has been very clear about this game: It's meant to be played with others. This hasn't changed from the first game; developer Epic has just added more emphasis for Gears 2.
As a person who has played about 500 hours of Gears 1 online, I can't help but compare almost all aspects of Gears 2 to its predecessor. Of course, there are quite a few new modes of gameplay, which bring totally new elements to the table, but the core gameplay is much the same, just extremely polished.
As far as the campaign goes, if you love fast-paced action, teamwork and impossible odds as you traverse through a great story, then you'll love Gears of War 2. The campaign is very much a linear progression from the first game.
Let's go over the main changes to multiplayer. First, there no longer is the oversimplified server browser. Instead, you have a party system very similar to the excellent Halo 3 multiplayer setup.
You start in a public or private multiplayer lobby, and from there you can invite friends, host matches, join matches or even practice against bots (yes, bots!).
Another phenomenal change to multiplayer is the way the game treats the host. Gone is the host's advantage with any weapon, and along with it, all the bullet lag that ruined so many online matches in Gears 1.
In Gears 2, once everyone has chosen sides and the game is getting ready to start, the game tests all the connections and picks the best host in the room. This way, every match online is hosted by the strongest connection. I won't go so far as to say that it eliminates online lag — there have been a few matches in which I experienced it — but it no longer threatens half the matches.
As far as the different modes go, there's the basic Warzone (death match); Execution (death match with a twist); Guardian (new version of Assassination); some new varieties, such as King of the Hill and Submission; and my personal favorite: Horde. In that, you and as many as four friends take on wave after increasingly difficult wave of the Locust. You must simply play Horde mode to understand how truly amazing it is with five people. Trust me, getting to level 50 will be one of the most memorable gaming experiences you've had in years.
However, I saved the best for last: The "What's Up?" button. At any time during the entire game in any menu, if you press the left shoulder bumper, it will instantly bring up a clean and simple menu that lists all your friends who are online (with their current status), and highlighting at the top those friends who are in Gears 2. So if you want to quickly join some friends for a couple of random online matches, you could bring up the "What's Up?" menu and easily join in other people's games or even send invites from there.
If anyone would like to comment on these thoughts or play some multi, message me on XBL, gamertag: Jarmer.
(I'll be the guy in the cowboy hat with the golden guns.)