At its Xbox 360 Spring Showcase 2008 special event today, Microsoft and its game maker partners unveiled a number of Xbox 360 game titles that will ship this year, including Fable 2, Ninja Garden III, Too Human, Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise, Banjo-Kazoole: Nuts & Bolts, and Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode One. None of that matters. Because developer Epic also unveiled details about the campaign version of Gears of War 2, due in November. GOW2 is, of course, the follow-up to the best-selling original game from 2006 (see my review and multiplayer review). From what little we've seen so far of the sequel, it looks at least as good as the original.

As a quick reminder, the single player campaign from GOW is still among the best single player experiences ever made for any game system (take that, Bioshock). However, GOW's multiplayer experience is still among the absolute worst of any shooter I've ever played. Hopefully, they'll fix that for GOW2, and the developers at Epic seem to at least be aware of the problem, promising this week that GOW2 multiplayer will be "bigger and better" and "incredibly robust," and will include "lots of multiplayer maps, lots of modes." But the best comment I've seen so far has come from GOW creator Cliff Bleszinski, who said, "We'll have the multiplayer functionality that gamers have come to expect this day and age." I take that to mean it will be nothing like the original GOW and that someone at Epic is at least aware of the criticisms I and others have levied against GOW's incredibly poor multiplayer.

But back to this week's announcement. What we've gotten is a glimpse at a single player level called "Assault," in both screenshot and video form. (See the shots below.) The graphics look incredible, and even better than those featured in the original GOW, though clearly of the same type. It's nice to see some blue sky for a change, too: One of the few graphical complaints I've made about the original GOW is that the game's palette was largely made up of different types of gray. Here, finally, we see a few colors peeking through, including some appropriately dark red blood spattered on the virtual camera lens. There's also a lot more going on in this demo than we see anywhere in the original GOW: In one scene, a decent-sized army of baddies is marching up a hill below a huge moving truck during a battle between humans and airborne Reavers and monstrous Brumacks.

There are a few new capabilities shown too. Later in the same scene, our hero, Marcus Feenix, picks up a fallen bad guy and uses him as a shield, later snapping his neck and toppling him off the top of the huge truck they're riding. The mini-chainsaw sees some new bits as well, including an attack from the rear and a nice duel.

OK, it's not much. But GOW was a big enough deal--it did sell about 5 million copies, after all, and was easily the best game of 2006--that it's hard not to look forward with some excitement at the sequel. I just hope they get multiplayer right this time.

From the publisher
Here's some GOW2 information direct from Microsoft and Epic:

"Gears of War 2" is the highly anticipated sequel to the 4.7-million-selling blockbuster third-person tactical action game, one of the most popular Xbox 360 games in history. "Gears of War 2" picks up six months after the events of "Gears of War," and thrusts players back into a deep and harrowing story of humankind’s epic battle for survival against a nightmarish force of underground creatures known as the Locust Horde.

"Gears of War 2" is developed by Epic Games exclusively for the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system. Players continue the story of Marcus Fenix, a reluctant war hero, as he leads Delta Squad on a series of perilous and adrenaline-pumping missions. "Gears of War 2" blends a best-in-class third-person shooter with unsurpassed high-definition visuals, all layered on top of an engaging story of survival, loss and retribution.

Features:

Bigger, better and more badass gameplay. "Gears of War 2" builds upon the gameplay of the first title in every way. First, the scope of the action is bigger. New characters, more weapons, nastier enemies, bigger vehicles and grander locales offer players more action, more emotion and more thrills. Next, every major aspect of the game has been refined to create heightened, more immersive experiences. Finally, the overall tone of "Gears of War 2" is more badass — replete with new weapon-specific executions, chain saw duels and shocking boss fights.

Jaw-dropping visuals. "Gears of War 2" raises the graphics bar for next-generation games through its breathtaking visual effects, which are made possible through advances in Unreal Engine 3. New visual effects in "Gears of War 2" include ambient occlusion, dynamic shadows, improved character lighting, the ability to render hundreds of on-screen characters simultaneously, improved water physics, additional blood and bullet decals, advanced destructible environments, new weather effects, and the introduction of fluid objects. When combined with the sweeping vistas and evocative locales in the world of Sera where the "Gears of War 2" story unfolds, these additions help make "Gears of War 2" the most gorgeous game available this generation.

Gripping story that pulls you in and won’t let go. "Gears of War 2" continues to push deep, immersive storytelling in video games to greater heights. Humanity’s epic battle for survival is felt on both personal and epic levels as players explore multiple story arcs that introduce new characters and flesh out the histories of familiar ones.

Unparalleled Xbox LIVE competitive and co-op action. "Gears of War 2" takes full advantage of the industry-leading Xbox LIVE service. Xbox LIVE, which is home to millions of gamers, is a robust online entertainment network, and allows gamers to enjoy "Gears of War 2" either competitively or cooperatively. Enhanced competitive multiplayer gameplay over Xbox LIVE will introduce new modes and weapons, and a multitude of new maps.2 Also new to "Gears of War 2" is the ability for gamers to drop in and drop out of the co-op campaign at any time, while playing at their own difficulty setting. Enjoying the visceral thrills of "Gears of War" has never been easier.

Box shots
 

Screenshots
  

Video
You can view the entire "Assault" demo video on the Microsoft Web site.