Bloody Excellent 

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"Aw, this is just wrong... I'm coughin' up blood that ain't mine!" Such is the classy dialogue one can expect from the fantastically fun, fantastically ridiculous Gears of War 2. Two years after Gears of War mashed together a take-cover-or-die twist on the tired shooter genre with enough blood to fill a thousand slasher flicks, Gears 2 does all of those things again—and has somehow made them louder, bigger, and with even more splattering viscera.

As tempting as it is to play armchair psychiatrist and try to figure out why Epic Games' developers are so fascinated with avalanches of entrails, it's better to focus on what's definitively true: Gears of War 2 is a damn good game. It's silly and goofy, yes, and Gears 2's plot boasts some amazingly stupid writing, but here, gameplay trumps all. Once you figure out how to most effectively use a machine gun (with a chainsaw on the end of it!) to perforate and/or dismember monsters, you'll be hooked.

Like its predecessor, Gears 2 is jaw-droppingly pretty, with meticulously modeled environments, characters, and weapons meshing with melancholy, post-apocalyptic art design. Moreover, Gears 2's scope is significantly larger, and its unique, cover-based tactics feel more fluid and natural.

There are still a few stubborn flaws from the first game: Levels can get repetitive, controls can prove frustrating (especially when you're inexplicably asked to make your bodybuilder-sized character nimbly dodge some lasers), and if you pay any attention to the dialogue, you'll end up with a bruise on your forehead from repeatedly smacking it with your palm. (Three guesses as to what happens .003 seconds after a naïve rookie character giddily exclaims, "I'm okay, Sarge! I can't believe we made it!")

Unsurprisingly, the most fun comes in co-op and multiplayer—especially the excellent new "horde mode," which plays like an old-school arcade shooter, dumping you and your friends into a single level and having you fend off increasingly difficult waves of enemies. Free from the single-player campaign's distractingly shitty dialogue, horde mode shows off everything exhilarating and addictive about Gears.

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