Gears of War 2 Impressions - First Look, Delta Squad, and Dueling Chainsaws

Epic Games' Cliff "Cliffy B" Bleszinski takes us through the second level of Epic's upcoming squad-based action game.

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Bigger, better, more badass. That's the three "B's" for this fall's Gears of War 2, according to another "B," Cliff Bleszinski, lead game designer behind Epic's follow-up to one of the great games on the Xbox 360. Those three B's might sound like marketing hype, but based on what we saw of Gears 2 during today's Microsoft press event in San Francisco, it's tough to argue with Bleszinski's assessment.

The guided demonstration we saw--a walkthrough of the second level of the game--was set up with a minimum of background explanation. Gears 2 will be set roughly six months after the events of the first game. Marcus Fenix and his Delta squadmates will still be fighting the forces of the Locust Horde that have invaded the planet of Sera. In this particular mission, the Delta squad is accompanying a new character--Dizzy, a redneck derrick driver conscripted into the Army--on a mission to take the fight directly to the bad guys in the form of "grind-lifts."

As Bleszinski put it, grind-lifts are essentially "express elevators to hell," dug into the ground and installed via massive rigs that crash through mountainside forests as if they were matchsticks. The problem, of course, is getting the rigs--and the grind-lifts--to the correct spots. That's where Delta Squad comes in to help, riding on the back of the massive derricks to defend against the inevitable attacks from Locust troops.

The level opens as the huge rigs make their way through a narrow pass, being escorted by attack helicopters. Fenix and Dom are on one derrick while Baird and Cole are on the other. And, the familiar back-and-forth between the characters looks to be continuing in Gears 2. Eventually, the convoy rounds a corner and comes into a huge open valley, whereupon it's immediately attacked by artillery fire. The mortar fire blasts helicopters out of the sky and will do the same to the derricks unless Delta Squad does something about it. As Fenix, your first job will be to blast any mortar fire that gets too close out of the sky.

As you might expect, things only get worse from here for the boys in Delta Squad. After dealing with the mortar fire, Fenix and crew are attacked by reavers, which you'll have to shoot down out of the sky. Then, the derrick is damaged, so Fenix and Dom have to buy Dizzy enough time to repair the damage. They make their way down to the ground level and fight a swarm of Locust troops emerging from the familiar emergence holes. After battling through two emergence hole instances, it's back on the derrick, where another wave of Locust troops attacks a nearby rig--this time wielding grappling hooks and climbing up the side of the derricks.

Eventually it's a side-by-side shootout between rival derricks, as Fenix and Dom battle across an overrun rig swarming with Locust troops while occasionally blasting off a Locust that manages to get close enough to their derrick to climb up the side. Bleszinki made sure to show off the new "meat shield" feature in the game, where you can grab an enemy and use it as a human (or alien, for that matter) bullet catcher, then snap its neck and toss it out like scrap. During one particularly cool moment, Fenix, looking to chop down an enemy with his chainsaw rifle, got his chainsaw blade locked with the blade of his enemy, resulting in a brief struggle for domination.

A single-lane bridge ahead of the two derricks only has room for one rig and, after a fierce firefight, you can probably guess that Fenix's derrick is the one that makes it over the bridge, with the enemy derrick falling over the cliff into oblivion. From there, it's a series of battles against some of the bigger monsters in the Gears of War rogues gallery, including massive bipedal beasts with guns on their heads and hands, as well as at least one corpser. It begs the question: If the action on the second level of the game is this intense, where on Sera will this game go from here?

While he wasn't ready to give up all the details, Bleszinski did say that the game will feature peaks and valleys of action in order to keep the pace of the game varied. In addition, he said the game will feature a larger sense of "distance" to the game's environments, including roughly 30 percent spent underground. The game will take place in winter, so you can expect some snowy levels as well. Other snippets from the demo included a peek at the story (with expanded characterization of Dizzy and the search for Dom's wife being key points); expanded multiplayer options; new weapons, including a semiautomatic pistol (and an IED on the Locust side); and the prospect of downloadable content after the game is released. Of course, we'll be following all the action on Gears of War 2 in the coming months, so stay tuned to GameSpot.

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