On Sunday I finished "Gears of War 2." Later this week, every Xbox 360 owner will be able to play it too.
But if you never played the first "Gears" -- or if you can't remember it -- should you go back? How should you prep for the sequel?
Here are three things I think you need to be aware of in order to be ready for "Gears' 2:
Don't worry about the first game's story: You don't need to go back to the first game to study up. There isn't much you need to be aware of. The first "Gears" had a thin story about Seran super-soldier Marcus Fenix and his crew needing to track down map data in order to enable a major assault on enemy Locust forces. The few plot points that first game covers are minimally relevant to the story of the second game. All you need to know is that the map data Fenix was searching for in the first game turned out to be in the laboratory in the home of Marcus' dad, so something is up with the old man, who we don't meet in that first game. Oh, and one of Fenix's fellow soldiers is killed, which is relevant (and is recapped) in the very first section of "Gears of War 2."
Consider nabbing three "Gears" 1 Achievements: "Gears" 2 does not pull a "Ratchet & Clank" and improve your campaign experience if it detects a "Gears" 1 save file. But the sequel will look at your Achievements for the first game and unlock three multiplayer characters if you earned the following Achievements from the first game: Completed Act 1," "A Dish Best Served Cold," and "Time To Remember."
Find a friend for co-op campaigning: I played through the "Gears of War 2" campaign in about 12 hours on the second of the game's four difficulty levels. I shared all of that with Newsweek's N'Gai Croal. It wasn't that hard to plan. He knew I wanted to get through it over the weekend, so we played four hours on Friday, one and a half on Saturday and a somewhat unhealthy five and a half on Sunday. All of it was online. He hosted, playing as Marcus Fenix. I controlled Dom. As with the first game, the sequel presents several forked paths in the campaign. At these moments, each player takes his own path, sometimes providing cover fire for the other or, as is the case with one sequence in "Gears" 2, controlling security sensors while the other moves down a booby-trapped hallway. The co-op sequences are rewarding and well worth having a second player along for the full ride. The progress counts on both players' save files as do Achievements and all that. Fair warning: whoever controls Dom will have a slightly inferior experience during the game's fifth and final act.
Be mindful of those three points above and I think you'll be sufficiently prepped if and when you decide to play "Gears of War 2."