Gears of War 2: five things you'll love about horde mode

Once you've seen Marcus Fenix curb stomp a Boomer, his bump-mapped brains decorating the war-torn surroundings, there's no going back to the original game.

Talk about a no-brainer. At this year's E For All Expo in Los Angele, the obvious show-stealer was a Gears of War 2 booth featuring playable versions of the new co-op Horde mode.

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From across the Convention Center hall, you could hear players screaming, "Revive me!" and "To your left! LEFT!" as they blew away Locusts of all shapes and sizes. The goal is simple: survive and earn as many points as possible. We were treated to some nice hands-on time with the highly anticipated sequel, and walked away our hands bloodied, our minds scarred, and our faces grinning. Here are the highlights.

1. The good, the bad, the Locusts

One of the major complaints from the first Gears was the lack of variety. Sure, it's more than satisfying mowing down wave after wave of Locust Drones, but we wanted to see something new for Gears of War 2. Luckily, Gears 2 delivers. Horde mode treats players to wave after wave of brand new baddies, from the ultra-tough Kantus to the time-bomb Tickers all the way up to the menacing Blood Mount beasts. Variety is truly the spice of life in Gears of War 2. With new enemies hiding around every corner, each with unique strengths and weaknesses, you'll have to think on your feet to stay alive.

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2. Finish him!

The ultimate in ownage comes straight from the new selection of finishers offered up in Gears of War 2. You thought it didn't get any better than ripping a chainsaw through your opponent? Think again. Gears of War 2 provides players with an assortment of new finishing moves, from pistol-whipping to head-stomping to an old fashioned fist-to-face beatdown. These finishers are violent, brutal, and some of the most satisfying moments I've experienced in my twenty-something years as a gamer.

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3. Out with the old...

What's Gears of War without its weapons? The new arsenal on display truly stole the show, from ripping enemies to shreds with the "Mulcher" mini-gun to a portable mortar launcher, which allows you to bombard enemies from above. The fan-favorite at the Expo was undoubtedly the massive new Flamethrower which char-grilled Locusts of all shapes and sizes into unrecognizable piles of ash. The poisonous new ink grenades and Boomshields add new battlefield tactics as well, in addition to old favorites from the shotgun to the infamous chainsaw-equipped Lancer rifle. It's no stretch to say that Gears of War 2 already has one of the most well-rounded arsenals in any shooter ever.

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4. On your last legs

Instead of simply collapsing into a pool of your own blood, Gears of War 2 gives you a second chance after you take that last bullet. Once you've been downed by an enemy, you're given control of your character in his last moments to crawl to safety, or to a more opportune point for one of your allies to revive you. While this new mechanic sounds simple enough, it's amazing how something so small can truly save your life. After I was taken down by a Locust sniper, I made my soldier stealthily crawl out of the field of battle, only to be spotted by a member of my team and a Bolter locust at the same time. Tapping the A button to boost my speed, I limped towards my teammate, who revived me just in time for me to leap to my feet and plant a shotgun blast right between the Bolter's eyes. Can you say "owned"?

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5. I'm not afraid to shoot!

By the fifth wave, plenty of our soldiers were unsure if we would live to see a sixth. As we stocked up on ammo and reloaded our guns, one of my teammates screams "They're coming from under the bridge!" We take point as fast as we can, not realizing that the swarm of Locusts also dispatched a few Grunts behind us. Thankfully, one of our teammates caught on and with a smack of his shotgun disarmed the Grunt, holding the beast in a tight headlock. The tables were suddenly turned, with Locusts hesitant to fire on one of their own, allowing us to charge straight into battle with our new meat shield. This new defense mechanic wasn't only unexpected, but proved itself incredibly useful time and time again, as each soldier would take a hostage as they circled the tentative Locusts, adding a brand new level of strategy to the fast-paced shooter.

With tight and familiar controls, beautiful blood-spattered maps and some familiar faces to boot, there's no question as to why the Gears of War 2 booth was constantly packed at E For All. Once you've seen Marcus Fenix curb stomp a Boomer, his bump-mapped brains decorating the war-torn surroundings, there's no going back to the original game. Trust me on this one.

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