Let it be known that the Rockworm is our friend. Sure, he's large and unfriendly. And he's a family-sized centipede covered in stone cladding, so he's never going to be prime romance material. And he looks like just another thing to shoot at - and Gears of War 2 already has no problems on that front whatsoever. But for his twenty or so minutes of screen time, he's actually there to serve a more interesting purpose. His slow crawl and bulletproof hide mean he's a perfect piece of movable cover, and his hunger for the glowing fruit that hangs from cavern ceilings means you can steer him around by shooting down chunks of bait. Before you know it, you're using him to glide past enemy gun emplacements for easy headshots. So who cares if he's got sticky mandibles where his face should be? Yay for the Rockworm.
As well as all that, as you're beginning to suspect, he's also a handy tell. Because rather than reinventing an experience that was already ticking over fairly nicely, Gears 2 builds on the first game's framework at every opportunity. The game's opening teaser - an exhilaratingly familiar fifteen minutes in a Locust-infested hospital - could have been sliced out of the original title, but from that point on Epic's designers head for ground less beaten, switching pace, scrambling objectives, and mixing up the scenery. There are new vehicles, including the mutant offspring of an Advance Wars tank and a white-trash monster truck, a handful of weighty additions to the arsenal, and a few fresh enemies. There are even new moves - including a range of charmingly brutal finishers, the option to use downed Locusts as shields, and the frantic chainsaw duels.
And yet, while all of these elements are entertaining additions, it's ultimately the careful staging rather than the new toys that defines the experience. Our friend the Rockworm may resemble Iron Maiden cover art, but there's an undeniable touch of mirror-world Miyamoto to him; a willingness to explore the slightly outlandish potential of creatures and environment. It reminds you, once again, that beneath the grunting dialogue, the Tabasco-strength attitude, and the David Icke narrative of mankind hassling nasty lizard types, Gears of War has more going on upstairs than it gets credit for.