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Gears of War (Xbox 360) artwork

Gears of War (Xbox 360) review





With every new generation of gaming hardware there comes a new generation of games for them. Sure sequels are fun, being able to see old favorites come back styled with the latest graphics, physics and other flashy effects, but it’s the new name games that count the most. Upcoming generations of gamers can’t be expected to simply go back and play the classics. This is the time where new killer brand names are born, beginning legacies that millions of fans will follow. One such game has just arrived--Gears of War, which is not only one of the best looking games ever seen, is also one of the most thrilling, satisfyingly gruesome, intense 3rd person shooters ever made.

MOMMY, THERE’S A MONSTER UNDER MY BED…

The game takes place on planet Sera, a world being overrun by hideous looking creatures called Locust, who have emerged from their underground tunnels to slaughter the innocent masses above. The day this massacre started is known as Emergence Day, and the world of Sera hasn’t been the same since.

You play as Marcus Fenix, an intimidating, deep voiced COG (Coalition of Governments) soldier who doesn’t have much to say, but has plenty of things to kill. Turns out that during the war against the Locust, Marcus defied command in order to attempt to rescue his father, but failed. Branded as a deserter, Marcus was thrown into a maximum-security prison where he will remain until you begin your game.

The story mode starts off with you being broken out of jail by a fellow COG soldier, dressed similar to you from neck-to-toe in a bulky, futuristic metal plated suit of armor, but of course, too badass to wear a helmet. Stepping out of your cell, you are immediately immersed into a world that’s seen one A-Bomb too many, and under constant attack by a twisted race of creatures that you’ll be fighting throughout the rest of the game.

The story leaves a lot to be desired and many questions unanswered. However, the lack of information the player receives strengthens the creepy, apocalyptic atmosphere of planet Sera, and makes Gears of War a unique experience worth playing through.


Ever seen a bad movie with some sweet action? If so, you'll feel right at home in Gears of War.


TAKE COVER!

The phrase “worth playing through,” sounds like a bit of an understatement, considering this game is about as good as third person shooting gets.

The theme of the game is making the player utilize his surroundings in the form of cover. Therefore, by pressing ‘A’ near anything that looks remotely like cover (i.e. a car or slab of concrete), Marcus will attach himself to the desired object like a magnet. The player then has the freedom to move Marcus around while still hugging the obstacle, as well as being able to stand up to squeeze off a few rounds, fire blindly over Marcus’ head, or seamlessly leap behind a new form of cover.

Players will quickly learn to love such inanimate objects in Gears of War, as not using them and returning to old habits from other shooters, such as running and gunning, will result in an almost immediate death. Though when you do find yourself in the open, you can use the ‘A’ button and the analog stick to barrel roll in the desired direction. This is useful for dodging bullets and proves as an effective maneuver to get away from enemies that are too close for comfort. You can also sprint by holding down the ‘A’ button, which serves as a good way of putting distance between you and your opponents.

With so many commands mapped to the ‘A’ button, difficulties arise. For example, when holding down ‘A’ to sprint away from a dangerous situation, the game may just decide to attach Marcus to whatever obstacle he comes close to. This can become extremely frustrating, especially during the game’s heated multiplayer matches.


Right now this block of concrete is more important than any teammate


The crucial emphasis on cover is partly thanks to the game’s damage toleration system. Dying in Gears of War does not take place after the depletion of a health bar or any type of shield. Dying simply occurs after taking too much damage in too little time. When being hit, a picture of a red gear and skull will gradually make its appearance in the center of the screen. When it is fully visible, Marcus dies. How fast the picture appears depends on how frequent you are being shot, what you are being shot with, and where you are being hit. You can recover and make the gear picture disappear before it’s too late simply by laying low and not taking hits for a few seconds.

Throughout most of the campaign you will find yourself fighting alongside a small squad of fellow COG soldiers. Each soldier has a unique personality and does their job well enough in firefights to be noticeable, although you’ll need to step in if you plan on winning any battles. If a squad member takes too much damage (which they often do, as they are adept at running into direct fire) he will kneel down, gasping for breath, and wait for you to go near him and press ‘X’ to revive him, yet this is practically never worth trying to do during a firefight being as your squad member will recover once the area has been cleared of all enemies.

You will face a variety of foes from the Locust horde that come in all different types of ugliness, the most common being the Locust drones, humanoid creatures that not only carry human-made weapons, but also look like COG soldiers save for their reptile like skin. Locust enemies range from fast moving goblin like creatures, to the fierce, blind but raging “berserkers”, who hunt you by sound. In one segment of the game, you must move only through areas that are illuminated, because stepping into a dark area will call down hundreds of bat like creatures that devour you on the spot.

The enemy A.I. is challenging. Locust grunts will utilize cover just as you do and advance on your position as well as flank it. Playing on casual mode is a synch and allows you to play more carelessly than on the harder difficulties. “Hardcore” difficulty provides some stiffer resistance from the Locust, who won’t hesitate to beat you to a pulp with the butt of their rifles if you get too close, and when playing on “Insane” you’re better off hiding, for sticking your head up longer then half a second will get it shot off. Although the A.I. is impressive, it is not without its faults. Often times for example, Locust grunts will duck behind cover and leave their backsides somewhat exposed for you to shoot at. This will provide for many easy kills being as the Locust don’t respond to your bullets when in such a position.

GUNS, GRENADES, AND POWERTOOLS

Unfortunately, Gears of War doesn’t offer the widest selection of weaponry (11 weapons total, including side arms and grenades). The game boasts the standard selection of guns seen in most shooters: shotgun, assault rifle, pistol, sniper rifle, and rocket launcher. However, you’ll discover some original weapons that are ridiculously fun to use such as a crossbow that shoots explosive bolts that latch to your target, a device that calls down a laser beam from satellites, as well as the one of the most enjoyable highlights of the game--the chainsaw bayonet on the assault rifle. Simply hold down the melee button to rev up the chainsaw and run into your extremely unfortunate victim. Your first chainsaw kill in Gears of War will be one of your most memorable, gruesome kills you will have ever made in a videogame, and you will find it hard not to smile.


Whoever thought of this deserves one huge cookie


Another innovative aspect of the weapons is how you reload them. Action reload is a device used to reload your weapons in a tricky new fashion. As soon as you tap the reload button you will see a little cursor line sweep across the reload bar in the top-right part of the screen. The object of this is to tap the reload button again as soon as the cursor line reaches the narrow white shaded part of the reload bar. Doing so will reward the player with a speedy reload as well as a temporary damage boost to all of the loaded bullets.
However, if the player stops the line too early or to late, Marcus’ weapon will jam resulting in a slow reload that could cost you your life during an intense firefight. You can also play it safe by simply letting the cursor run across the entire bar for a normal reload, or go for the easier gray shaded area for a faster reload.

Throughout the game you will be fighting in a variety of environments. City streets, sewers, creepy buildings, courtyards and a high-speed train are a few of the locations you’ll be finding yourself in. You will be ducking and shooting for the majority of the short 8-10 hour single player campaign. The repetitive gameplay can start to become tedious late in the game, especially with the low amount of weapons, but the new enemies and environments you encounter manage to keep the game feeling fresh and you will be craving more when the game comes to its abrupt end.

If there is anything that will keep you playing Gears of War, it would most likely be its visuals. Gears of War is simply one of the best looking games ever made. With gorgeous environments rich with textures and lighting, over-the-top blood effects, a shaky camera that makes you feel like you are really sprinting through a battlefield, and all while running at a smooth frame rate, you might just have more fun watching somebody else play. Of course this out of the question, because blowing someone’s head off has never been more satisfying than in Gears of War, as you watch your opponents head burst like a watermelon and their corpse drop to the concrete.

The audio also helps make such moments more enjoyable. You can hear skulls crack and splatter in gruesomely detailed acoustics, and the sound of a chainsaw mixed with the screams of your victim are enough to make your skin crawl. The game has a cinematic soundtrack that strengthens the war-torn atmosphere, and the sound effects of the weapons properly compliment their power.

LET THE TRASH TALKING BEGIN

With such a brief single-player mode, taking your chainsaw online becomes a mandatory part of the game. The multiplayer mode consists of only three game types: Warzone, Assassination, and Execution. Warzone is the most basic with two teams (Locust vs COG) of four battling to the death. The objective of Assassination is to kill the opposing team’s leader, and in Execution, the only way to kill the enemy is to finish them off with a close range attack such as the curb stomp (pressing X to slam your opponent’s head into the ground).

For a maximum capacity of 8 players a game, the multiplayer action is surprisingly intense as the maps are laid out with all sorts of flanking paths, sniper positions, and open areas to rush through so that meeting your opponent is common 10 seconds into the match. You will quickly learn that the same pot shot shooting tactics used in single player are practically useless in the multiplayer. Most player verse player action is up close and personal, and such combat becomes incredibly confusing, as the game is obviously not designed for it. For instance, point blank shotgun combat (the most common seen on multiplayer) becomes frustrating when your bullets don’t do what you want them to do. To blow your opponents body to smithereens, your gun has to be practically touching the enemy’s body, any further away and it may take up to three shotgun blasts to bring him down. In such cases many players have already proven that pistol whipping is the most effective close quarters combat technique, as one hit stuns you, and the following hit brings you to your knees.

Long-range combat is equally messy as some of the gameplay elements that worked so well in the single player portion of the game, become flaws when playing on Xbox Live. The game’s damage toleration system renders the assault rifle practically worthless. Using cover and squeezing rounds off at your opponent like your supposed to is futile as your enemy can simply hide and recover from the damage. Bullet lag makes sniping difficult, and getting headshots is a real chore.

Despite these negative aspects, Gears of War’s multiplayer proves to be an enjoyable, addicting, and very competitive experience. Being able to revive teammates when they are “down” (knelt down and bleeding out) is a superb medium for teamwork and makes for some intense comebacks and close calls. There is also a co-op mode where you can play through the campaign with a friend or with someone over Xbox Live, which proves to be very entertaining. If you fancy raising your gamer score, there is plenty of achievements to be earned both online and off.

CLOSING COMMMENTS

Although the game suffers from a lack of weapons, a short-single player campaign, and a less than perfect multiplayer mode, Gears of War still lives up to the hype. Great games don’t grow on trees, and the Xbox 360 has been waiting for its first killer title for a quite a while. Fortunately, Gears of War comes fully equipped with gorgeous visuals, gruesomely intense firefights, and a chainsaw that will make this game feel right at home in your Xbox 360 library. Gears of War is a role-model for how next-gen gaming should be done on consoles.

Rating: 9/10

zbrictson's avatar
Community review by zbrictson (July 04, 2007)

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