In November 2006, Sony and Microsoft went head-to-head with violent war games that, at the time, defined their respective consoles.

Sony's PlayStation 3 got "Resistance: Fall of Man," easily the strongest of the launch titles for the brand-new system.

Microsoft's Xbox 360 got "Gears of War," which quickly became the year-old machine's best-selling title.

The two games had essentially the same plot: Humanity fights off extinction by a ruthless alien species.

Both reveled in providing clever new ways to dismember your enemies. And both sold enough copies so that their developers were immediately put to work on sequels.

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The battles are under way again, just in time for the holidays. To quote "Gears" lead designer Cliff Bleszinski, everything's "bigger, better."

"Gears 2" is almost certain to be this year's best-selling video game, but "Resistance 2" will make plenty of money, too.

— "Gears of War 2" (Microsoft, for the Xbox 360, $59.99): The last time we saw Marcus Fenix, he had saved the planet Sera by destroying the underground tunnels of the vicious Locust Horde.

But apparently he only made the beasts meaner, and they can dig holes big enough to sink entire cities.

With the last Sera city about to fall, Marcus and his comrades are dispatched to the Locusts' stronghold.

The original "Gears" often felt cramped, but Bleszinski's Epic Games studio has done a terrific job in the sequel of opening up the action and really making you feel like you're in the middle of a planet-wide war.

The story actually has some effective emotional moments, mostly concerning Marcus' buddy Dom, although it ends a bit abruptly. And while there are some swell new weapons, splatter junkies will really enjoy the ability to use fallen enemies as "meat shields."

The single-player campaign, though, is really just an appetizer for the new multiplayer modes that will take up most of your time.

Wingman divides competitors into two-man teams; Submission is a clever twist on capture-the-flag in which the "flag" is alive and ornery.

But the most addictive challenge is Horde, in which you and your pals have to fight off 50 waves of increasingly aggressive Locusts.

It's the one part of "Gears 2" that fans will still be playing when "Gears 3" comes out.

Three-and-a-half stars out of four.

— "Resistance 2" (Sony, for the PlayStation 3, $59.99): In "Resistance," U.S. Army Ranger Nathan Hale helped England fight off the Chimera, whose most effective weapon is a virus that can turn humans into monsters.

As "Resistance 2" begins, the Chimera have crossed the pond, so Hale returns home to resume the battle — even though he shows symptoms of a Chimera infection himself.

Insomniac, the studio behind this series, has also greatly expanded its size and scale, leaping from the urban crush of London to more wide-open American spaces. (The devastated Chicago here is almost as jaw-dropping as the ruined Washington, D.C., in "Fallout 3.")

The enemies are bigger and smarter; fortunately, your computer-controlled squadmates are more helpful as well. And a major twist — Hale has just 19 hours to live — adds breakneck momentum to the plot.

Naturally, you get some powerful new weapons, most of which have two uses; for example, the Magnum can fire normal bullets or remote-controlled explosives.

A healthy multiplayer menu includes the manic Skirmish mode, in which as many as 60 players can battle to complete ever-changing objectives.

Add in its satisfying cooperative play and you have one of the most full-bodied adventures on the PS3.

Three-and-a-half stars out of four.

— "Far Cry 2" (Ubisoft, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99): "Far Cry 2" is one of the stranger "sequels" this year: It has a different setting, a different protagonist and a completely different plot, ignoring the sci-fi elements of the original.

You are a mercenary sent to Africa to take down a notorious arms dealer, and you have to get to know his clients in order to get close.

That slim plot is the foundation of a unique open-world adventure that lets you choose from a variety of missions assigned by each faction.

Fans of more linear stories like "Gears of War" may find all that freedom daunting, and it's easy to get lost in this game's gorgeous African landscapes.

But "Far Cry 2" offers a lot of action for the money, and adds an absorbing feeling of exploration and discovery that's rarely seen in this genre.

Three stars.