- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2008

Superhero and cartoon characters have become integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at some comics plugged in.

Marcus Fenix and Delta Company continue to rid planet Sera of a monstrous invader in Gears of War 2: Limited Edition (for Xbox 360, Rated: Mature, $79.99). Microsoft delivers a fantastic sequel to last year’s popular third-person shooter that immerses players in a sci-fi horror film of epic proportions.

What’s the story: Paraphrased from the game manual and message from the character COG Chairman Prescott - We had hoped the Lightmass bombing on Timgad would decimate the Locust Horde, but they survived and returned stronger than ever. They have brought with them a force that can sink entire cities. If we are to survive, we must go where they live and where they breed, and we will destroy them. Soldiers of the COG, my fellow Gears, go forth and bring back the hope of humanity.

Play your role: The lucky player controls the tough-as-nails, profanity-spitting warrior Marcus Fenix, who can carry up to four weapons at a time as he clears environments of Locust scum. His squad ably backs him up and even can assist in restoring his health if he can crawl close enough to them.

The enemy is a nasty bunch. In addition to frenzied wretches, flying reavers and aggressive maulers, there are the especially hated Kantus. These priests wield a staff with a chain saw on its end, can bring their dead soldiers back to life and, with a scream, call forth Tickers, large insectoids with bombs on their backs.

Get to the action: An all-out assault on the Locust Horde is accomplished through major firepower and tactical strategy.

Fenix can find more than 15 types of weapons, including his trusty Lancer (with standard chain-saw attachment), a torque bow and multiple types of grenades.

He still can hide behind almost any obstacle during firefights but now can use an injured enemy as a shield and find inanimate objects to carry (and even plant into the terrain) to deflect bullets.

Star power: The cinematic story allows for a welcome level of character depth and dialogue from Delta Squad. It’s required to balance out the incredible levels of violence. Be it watching the pompous Augustus “Cole Train” Cole in action, learning about the horrifying secrets contained in a research lab or discovering the tragedy of Dominic Santiago, the plot is as compelling as the action.

Memorable moments: The entire game is a memorable moment. Some of my favorites include going into the digestive system of a Rift Worm and killing it from the inside out, battling a gargantuan lake monster and using a moving rock worm as cover.

Pixel-popping scale: 9 out of 10. The intricate environmental setup by developer Epic Games and beautifully designed combat make it a potent, interactive, high-definition movie.

Details such as shooting concrete and watching pieces flick off, trying to navigate through a storm of ice shards raining down from the heavens, controlling the incredible Centaur tank as it climbs a frozen mountainand riding Brumarks (think extra-large razor-toothed Tauntauns) are just mesmerizing.

Multiplayer possibilities: Either a cooperative campaign (split screen with both players in the same room, full screen online) or up to 10 warriors online in eight types of matches.

Violent encounters: Marcus Fenix is the human version of a Predator and Terminator combined, and with his team, he delivers a sweeping level of graphic death upon the Locust Horde. Blowing foes into pieces, using a sniper rifle for routine decapitations, cracking the necks of drones and liberally using a chain saw to mince close-range grunts are just some of the activities that label this game strictly for intelligent adults.

It’s so bloody and gooey, with pieces of enemies flying at the screen, I felt the need to wipe off my television to get rid of the virtual stains.

Extras and unlockables: The limited edition includes a steel bookcase, bonus DVD filled with audio slide shows and a documentary on the game, and a 48-page hardcover art book offering biographies and plot points.

Read all about it: Wildstorm, a DC Comics imprint, offers a monthly sequential-art series aptly tilted Gears of War ($3.99 each), chronicled by Gears of War 2 writer Joshua Ortega and drawn by Liam Sharp.

What’s it worth: Gears of War 2 is one of the best games ever made for a high-definition entertainment console. I wish a larger segment of the population could enjoy it, but that “mature” rating is in place for a very good reason.

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