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Gears of War (Xbox 360) artwork

Gears of War (Xbox 360) review

"“Boomers!” Dom yells from across the courtyard. I press A and slam Marcus into cover. The massive Locust creature fires a rocket that thankfully flies over my head from behind the cover. While he reloads I stick my noggin out and unleash a flurry of Bullets into the beastly creature. No luck, he continues to stand and prepares another shot that slams into the hard concrete slab in front of me. I slide my face out unleash another full clip of ammo, and watch as vile Locust falls over on his back ..."

“Boomers!” Dom yells from across the courtyard. I press A and slam Marcus into cover. The massive Locust creature fires a rocket that thankfully flies over my head from behind the cover. While he reloads I stick my noggin out and unleash a flurry of Bullets into the beastly creature. No luck, he continues to stand and prepares another shot that slams into the hard concrete slab in front of me. I slide my face out unleash another full clip of ammo, and watch as vile Locust falls over on his back lifeless. A guitar flares in the background signifying the area is clear. I come out of cover feeling safe and ready for more.

This is only one of the memorable moments I experienced while playing Gears of War. This intense is made more so by the games visuals. Let’s get this out of way, the game looks absolutely stunning. The character models, the weapons, the blood splatter, and everything else deliver on the graphical front. The game’s environments aren’t filled with repetitiveness and drab scenery but, color and excitement. Swarming around a mansion, creeping through a destroyed mine, and racing along on a train are only some of the intense and action-packed environments the game occurs in. From beginning to end the game never shows a lack of polish everywhere, and it’s easily the best looking console game of all time.

It’s unfortunate that the story doesn’t capitalize on these jaw-dropping graphics to tell a more interesting tale. The plot revolves around thirty-six hours in the life of Marcus Fenix. The story takes place in 5 acts like a William Shakespeare play, and similar to Hamlet and Macbeth we join the story in media res. The game starts with a bang when your buddy Domenic Santiago busts you out of prison. Unfortunately, you never are filled in as to why you’re in jail or anything else during your past. That is unless you read the game manual. After I escaped prison you’re sent to find Alpha Squad, who is in possession of something to turn the tide of the vicious Locust-Human war. The remainder of the plot is cliché ridden and becomes sort of diluted after about 3 acts. Thankfully, it wraps in a somewhat solid conclusion, leaving plenty of room for a sequel.

Throughout the entirety of the story I was joined by at least one other member, but unfortunately the squad AI is often retarded. This varies with the difficulty but even towards the end of Casual, the easiest difficulty, they become liabilities that I learned to ignore until I fended off all of the enemies in that area. When the enemies are far away, or the area is cleared, my teammates instantly recovered and were back on their feet rearing for the next battle. Thankfully, this incompetence doesn’t carry over to the Locust, which are as vicious and fierce as they look. When I would stand up for only a few seconds I was riddled with bullets and either dead or close to it. They attacked aggressively when they outnumbered me, tossed grenades and were really accurate at hitting my head if it was left sticking out for too long.

It is these same AI that made me absolutely love each and every moment of Gears of War. The term “stop and pop” is not one that inspired a lot of interest when I first heard it. But after playing lots of multiplayer matches, and the single-player campaign a couple times, I want to stop and pop some more. The satisfying moment of watching that last Locust solider fall to the ground lifeless, is riveting. After each battle I was still carefully and slowly moving forward, waiting for the next action-packed moment. In Gears, I never worried about a dull moment, as around every corner I found another bunch of Locusts all to willing to tear me apart. The enemies are tough and the action comes constant and fast.

Another thing that makes Gear a satisfying and intense game is the selection of weaponry. The game includes the basic shotgun, sniper rifle, and pistol. But then there is a selection of unique and really cool weaponry, like the Torque bow. On the outside it’s a common bow and arrow, but instead it fires explosive arrows. Of course, there is the chainsaw bayonet, which is a chainsaw attached to a rifle. The chainsaw is balanced because it takes time to rev up and if damaged, it becomes useless for a few seconds. That said, there is nothing more satisfying then taking a chainsaw, cutting up a locust, and watching blood splatter all over the screen. At every battle I looked for the chance to chainsaw because it never gets old. In addition, every weapon feels fully fleshed out in its mechanics, looks, and sound.

Yet, the guns are only part of the picture, which mostly filled in by Gears of War’s excellent level design. The levels all look different, whether it’s prowling through the mines, searching through abandoned factories, or moving in and out of buildings in eerie darkness. Every Locust encounter feels like a life or death chess match. Each move is strategical to get around the cover and destroy enemies, without them destroying you. The games simplifies this with the A button performing all of the cover moves based on location and how it’s pressed. A light press may slam you into cover, whereas a hold will make you’re a character to a “roadie” run. You’ll be running, slamming, dodging, and peering over concrete slabs, statues, and anything else throughout the ruins of Sera.

It’s unfortunate that some off the excellent battle layouts are made way to challenging by the game’s unbalanced difficulties. The casual difficulty is quite easy and allows you to get a good handle on the controls. Yet, the hardcore setting ramps up the difficulty immensely and is immensely harder then casual. There is one final difficulty and it is appropriately titled, insane. There will be struggles to beat the tutorial level on this difficulty. The foes have near perfect aim, and most of the time is spent blind-firing trying to stay alive. Anyone with these achievements is definitely an excellent player.

Of course, there is help in the latter difficulties with the fully featured online and offline co-op. The co-op mode is the single-player campaign with one player playing as Marcus Fenix and the other as Domenic Santiago. This works on a couple levels, the main one is that one poor AI partner is eliminated in return for a skilled player. With a second good player teamwork becomes simpler and the game becomes much easier, especially on the latter difficulties. And tearing my chainsaw through a locust as he was trying to kill my buddy is way too much fun. The co-op for pure action is more exciting then the single-player and emphasizes team play during the campaign.

The final mode in Gears of War is the extremely tense multiplayer mode. Gears of war includes ten multiplayer maps and three gametypes in both ranked and unranked play. Unfortunately, the online experience has a few hitches where booting and lagging out occurs. It also doesn’t allow for any team to enter ranked play, but any team is free to enter unranked matches. However once a game begins it’s strategical and intense. The layouts and specific choke points for each map are placed well and force teamwork to have success. The only other downfall of the multiplayer component is that there is only four versus four. Some two versus two or even head to head variants would have been an excellent relief and ramped up the strategy. Yet, despite these flaws the strategy and action filled gameplay leave you wanting more.

One year after launch Gears of War begins to show off the potential of the Xbox 360. The stunning visuals, addictive gameplay, and seamless online co-op are the foundations of one of the best games of the year. Despite the online hitches and a few problems, Gears of War delivers an experience that is memorable and going to be talked about for years to come. Quite Simply, most games just aren’t this good.

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Community review by ghostyghost (November 17, 2006)

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