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Gears of War (Xbox 360) artwork

Gears of War (Xbox 360) review


" Gears of War is simultaneously excellent and flawed. Itís far from perfect, and yet it feels so close. The game is filled with unrelenting excellence, and perhaps thatís why the very real problems seem to detract so little from the big picture. Maybe by the end of the review, youíll see what I mean. "



Gears of War is simultaneously excellent and flawed. Itís far from perfect, and yet it feels so close. The game is filled with unrelenting excellence, and perhaps thatís why the very real problems seem to detract so little from the big picture. Maybe by the end of the review, youíll see what I mean.

Gears of War is a third-person shooter, a genre that traditionally plays second string to the more common first-person shooter. There are some important advantages to the third-person perspective, however. With an over-the-shoulder view, a third-person game can more easily take advantage of a detailed cover and movement system, giving you more options in your fights, an advantage that is used to its fullest in Gears of War. Donít expect a standard run-and-gun game; Gears of War will make you use caution and tactics.

The gameís story is not particularly inspired, but itís certainly not bad. Unfortunately, the game leaves out some details only found in other official sources, meaning you wonít get the whole picture just from the game itself. To sum it up, Gears of War takes place on an Earth-like planet called Sera, where, besides some wars over the valuable imulsion resource (a sort of fuel), humans were doing okay. That all changed on Emergence Day, or E-Day, when a mysterious army of monstrous humanoids called Locust burst from the ground. These vicious monsters tore through human defenses. In the end, mankind retreated to a small area of Sera where the Locust could not tunnel. Then, they used satellite weaponry to burn every other part of Sera. If the humans couldnít have the planet, they reasoned, neither would the Locust.

As the game begins, the gameís protagonist, Marcus Fenix, is released from jail by his friend Dominic Santiago. Dom explains that the war is not going well, and they need every soldier they can get, even ones that were tossed in jail like Marcus. These two are the main characters of the game; if youíre playing co-op, the second player will play as Dom. Youíll meet several more soldiers, two of which will accompany you for most of the game: Cole Train, a rambunctious, headstrong soldier who loves to fight the Locust, and Baird, a sarcastic, often sour companion that is more than willing to share his opinion. The story is compelling and entertaining, but itís not the gameís strongest area. Chances are youíll be playing for the gameplay, not the story. That said, thereís great dialogue and voice acting, and the cutscenes are excellent.

The gameís mechanics are unique. The screen is remarkably uncluttered, with only the barest hint of a HUD. You have four weapon slots, one of which must be a pistol, and one which must be grenades. This means that youíll have to make careful weapon selection decisions; is the long-range lancer going to be more useful than the slow but powerful boomshot? None of the weapons are bad, thankfully, since there isnít that big of a selection. Weapons can be reloaded as youíd expect, but Gears of War makes the process more interesting. When reloading, a sort of progress bar will appear. An area is marked on the bar where, if you hit reload again at that point, you can perform an active reload. This lets you reload faster or even get some extra power in your new clip. Slip-up, however, and your reload time will become significantly longer.

In combat, you can choose to fire from the hip, so to speak, or you can line up your shots more carefully, although doing so will lower your mobility. Much, if not most, of your fighting will be done from behind cover, be it a wall, pillar, pile of rubble, or any other object that happens to give you some protection. From there, you can pop out, take a few shots, and hide again. Some cover can even be damaged and destroyed; donít expect a sofa to last very long in a hail of gunfire, for instance. To top it all off, context sensitive cues will appear when you can jump from one area of cover to another or leap over a low wall, meaning you can quickly enter and exit different areas of cover. Gears of War also features melee attacks, one of which is almost the gameís signature: the lancerís chainsaw, which slices through enemies likeÖ a chainsaw. Even grenades can be stuck to enemies within arms reach, although you have to be ready to run or roll away from the resulting explosion.

So the gameís got great gameplay, but thatís not all. The graphics are perhaps the best yet achieved on the Xbox 360, and anyone who doesnít mind the gameís copious use of brown and gray should be satisfied by the gameís detailed characters and environments. The animations are smooth, the textures are great, and the little touches are fantastic. Itís one thing to chainsaw an enemy apart; itís another thing entirely to watch blood splatter against the camera as you do so. Speaking of which, the satisfying sound of the chainsaw isnít the only good sound effect. The game sounds great, too, and the music by composer Kevin Reipl is some of the best Iíve ever heard in a game. That means fully orchestrated, epic music that surpasses even big budget movie soundtracks. Gears of War is the complete package.

But once the campaign is over, itís time to test yourself online against human foes. And thatís where things get flawed fast. Rather than featuring a matchmaking system, the game forces you to search for games, picking the one you want from a list. This might not be so bad, except you canít do so as a party, meaning you must find or host a game and then have your friends find it or invite them to it. Ranked games donít even display the hostís name when you join them, and donít allow invites, meaning you canít even play ranked games as a team with your friends. As such, youíll probably spend most of your time in custom games with friends.

Once in a game, things get hairy. Most games on Xbox 360 give the host of the game some small advantage, thanks to the fact they have less lag. This is usually minimal. In Gears of War, itís huge. The weapons the host wields are like a completely different set. Even if youíre not fighting the host, youíll often see strange lag effects, such as shots hitting when they appear to miss, shots going right through character models, and getting stuck on walls. This, along with a decent helping of glitches, turns what could be an amazing online experience into a great, but often frustrating, experience.

Thereís so much to praise in Gears of War, so much polish and quality that even what problems it does have seem minor. This was the flagship title of the Xbox 360 for almost a year, a position that is more than earned. Even now, itís one of the 360ís best games and a fantastic entry in the action and shooter genres. If Gears of War 2 can fix the few problems Gears of War has, it could very well be one of the best games this console generation. But that doesnít mean any action or shooter fan should miss this amazing game.

Rating: 9/10

Muk1000's avatar
Community review by Muk1000 (June 15, 2008)

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honestgamer posted June 17, 2008:

You asked for critiques of your other work in your shameless forum topic, so I thought I'd step in and provide one. I'm pointing to pretty much every flaw I find all at once, which I hope won't be overwhelming since overall this was a good review and leads me to believe that you will go on to someday write some fantastic pieces if you keep at it. I hope that you will. Now on with my nitpicks...

Though you do a good job of avoiding it in some places, there are others where repetition mars your review. For example, the second paragraph contains the game's title three times, which seems a bit much given its length.

The start of the third paragraph includes 'game' thrice in short order, as well. Try using relevant synonyms to cut back on that a bit, or even just 'it' when appropriate.

That same paragraph also has problems with frequent changes of past/present perspective. Stick to one or the other.

In paragraph four:

The story is compelling and entertaining, but itís not the gameís strongest area. Chances are youíll be playing for the gameplay, not the story.

This was already established in the previous paragraph. There's not really any reason to go over it again here. The reference to great dialogue and voice acting and cutscenes that follows is perhaps relevant, but you don't really give any details that would make it feel like more than a throw-away comment here.

Your third paragraph from the end again repeats 'games' way too often for comfort. Word repetition isn't necessarily lethal to a review, but here--as it often does--the regular use of that same term takes some of the life out of the material. Such things readers notice in the back of their mind, even if they couldn't tell you afterward what made your piece seem drier than you had planned.

As a matter of fact, one of the things your writing most needs is attention to how to avoid repeating 'game' too often. As you write future reviews, pay attention to each use. When you find yourself using the word more than once in a given paragraph, ask yourself if there was another word you could have used instead, or a pronoun, or just a different way of phrasing things that could bring more life to the piece.

With all of that said, the positive point I would emphasize again is that this is a good review. There were some places where you definitely injected personality, and I liked some of the points where you went into depth (such as the reload mechanics, which I found interesting and relevant). Don't be discouraged by the things you aren't doing quite right just yet. Instead, consider the many hurdles your writing has already overcome. Remember also to stick around for Review of the Week topics. They're great for motivation and the tips provided in such topics can help all of us to improve!
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dagoss posted June 17, 2008:

I wrote feedback before I saw that Honestgamer gave feedback. Now I feel redundant. You can have my feedback anyway though!

1st paragraph: There really isn't anything here that grabs my attention and makes me want to read on. The 3rd sentence is a little awkward. Iím not really sure that describing the game as ďexcellent and flawedĒ in your first sentence is the best way to go, largely because the rest of the review doesnít really touch on any game breaking flaws but also because itís such a put off.

2nd paragraph: I think it's safe to assume that the reader knows that GoW is a 3rd person shooter and that they know what a 3rd person shooter is. I think you would benefit greatly by discussing what separates GoW from other 3rd person shooters, mainly is blending of methodical duck-n-cover with intense shooting. As far as gameplay is concerned, thatís really where the game shines, so I think you need to focus more on that.

3rd and 4th paragraphs: These paragraphs could probably be combined and perhaps condensed a bit. If the story isnít inspired or important, then you should probably stick to what is covered by the single-player campaign (which, by the way, is how long again?). The quality of the voice acting should be mentioned when you discuss visuals and sound rather than here.

5th and 6th paragraphs: Itís good that you focus on some of the unique aspects about GoW, like the reloading. Perhaps more on the weapons? Iíve heard that some of the weapons are very unique. (Iíve also heard that the size of the arsenal is disappointing.) You probably want to explain why the combat is actually fun, rather than just describe it. From what Iíve seen of the game, the melee attacks (esp the chainsaw) are pretty traumatic, with the camera tilting, limbs flying every which way, and blood smearing the screen. Does that have an effect on how the game feels when you play it? Is it satisfying? etc.

7th paragraph: You could probably go into more depth here. ďGreatĒ and ďsome of the bestĒ doesnít really tell the reader whatís so good. For example, Iím not sure what you mean by ďfully orchestrated, epic music.Ē So is all the music classical? Is it subdued and melodramatic? Is it heart pounding with electric guitars? Likewise you donít really cover the gameís aesthetic style, except its ďcopious use of brown and gray.Ē The character design is just brimming with testosterone. Style looks like itís a really big part of this game.

8th and 9th paragraphs: The inability to play as a ďpartyĒ sounds like a legitimate complaint, as is the lack of a quick match feature (it does lack that, right?). Lag however is a fault with the XBL service and/or your ISP. Iím not sure what you mean why saying that the ďweapons the host wields are like a completely different setĒ (my emphasis). So the host starts with different weapons? What? Do you mean that lag makes it seem like their weapons are better than yours? It doesnít really seem fair to claim that the lag is this significant; lag is part of online games and generally (but not always) not specifically the fault of the game.

Overall, this is a good review. It gave the reader an idea of what the game is like and what you thought of it. The prose could use some work, but it gets the job done.
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Muk1000 posted June 18, 2008:

Yay! This is the kind of stuff I was hoping for.

I really appreciate the comments. I'd be lying if I said I'd never noticed my tendency to repeat words over and over, something that I tend not to notice as I write. I really should be better with my proofreading, I'd probably catch a lot of that...

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