It’s official, the Xbox 360 has it’s first killer app. It wasn’t Perfect Dark Zero, it wasn’t Project Gotham Racing 3, nor was it Kameo. It was, as predicted, Epic Studios’ Gears of War. Finally, Microsoft (and gamers) got what they were looking for, a game that is a defining point for the Xbox 360, a game that not only lives up to its hype, but exceeds all expectations. Gears of War is a must-have.
Gears of War takes place on the planet Sera, a planet with many similarities to Earth. The inhabitants of Sera were unaware of the creatures that dwelled beneath the crust, until Emergence Day. On E-Day, the Locust emerged.
The Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG), attempted to fight off the persistent horde of underground monsters. Marcus Fenix, the character which you play as, defies his orders and tries to save his father, but he his caught and imprisoned by his government. Fourteen years later, Marcus’ old squadmate, Dom, breaks him out of prison and asks him to rejoin the fight for humanity.
Gears of War isn’t your everyday shooting game. It’s a fresh take on the genre. Instead of the usual “run ‘n’ gun” style of play, Gears focuses more on a “stop ‘n’ pop” mechanic. How does it do this? With it’s well-executed cover system. To take cover behind something, you simply run up to it and press ‘A.’ From there, you can shoot blindly over the cover or around it, take aim by pulling the left trigger (but risk exposing yourself), or perform a number of other moves such as a SWAT roll, dive, or hurdle. You can slam yourself against virtually any object to take cover, however, bear in mind that some objects are more protective than others. For example, we can all agree that you’d rather be behind a cement wall than a sofa when trying to avoid a rain of bullets.
The game’s AI uses the same cover system. This enables you to perform flanking maneuvers to take them out. Smoke grenades play a key role in this. Grenades can be thrown blindly or can be aimed with a trajectory reticule, and they can be bounced off walls to flush that entrenched opponent out of his hole.
The first thing that will drop your jaw in Gears of War is the game’s stunning graphics. The game is powered by the Unreal Engine 3 which supports many advanced techniques including HDR, per-pixel lighting, dynamic shadows, and builds upon the tools available in previous versions of the engine. The environments are nicely varied throughout the campaign, and the game is filled to the top with amazing standout visual moments, both in-game and in the cutscenes. The best part about it is that it runs at a very steady frame rate, even in the heat of battle.
Gears features a stellar soundtrack and audio effects as well as great voiceovers. You feel like you’re watching an action movie until you hit the B button and rip someone in half with the chainsaw; at that point, you realize you’re in an action movie. The music in Gears of War is appropriately cinematic, as is the dialogue, meaning they really support the action movie feel.
Gears of War presents a top-notch control scheme. It really flows together well. The cover system, despite the sizable learning curve, combined with the shooting controls creates a playing environment that most people can adapt to quite easily after a few games.
Unfortunately, the single player campaign is pretty short when played on the default “Casual” difficulty. We recommend that if you’re a “true” gamer, that you start off playing on the “Hardcore” difficulty. Once you beat the game, you will unlock the near-impossible “Insane” difficulty level.
Gears of War contains a very satisfying arsenal of weapons. There are your usual mainstays like the sniper rifle, shotgun, and machine gun (both a human machine gun and a Locust variant), but there are also some very unique weapons such as the Torque Bow which fires explosive-tipped arrows and the Hammer of Dawn which is, to put it simply, a laser that is shot from a satellite. Every projectile weapon features an “active reload” system which allows you to reload quickly and, in some cases, get a damage boost by hitting the right bumper at the right time. If you miss your mark, your gun will jam and you’ll be vulnerable to attack, so beware. Every weapon features a melee. Of course, you’re probably wondering about the much talked about chainsaw mounted on the front of the human machine gun. Well, we can assure you that it is AWESOME sawing your foes literally in half. To use it, you just hold the B button (melee button) and run at your enemies, but it isn’t as easy as slashing someone with the energy sword in Halo 2.
Gears features one of the most memorable multiplayer experiences of any game. In addition to cooperative play, there are three team-based, eight player game modes. The modes are War Zone, Resurrection, and Execution. War Zone is 4 on 4 team deathmatch with no respawns. Resurrection is, in essence, the same as War Zone, except downed players will revive after 30 seconds, unless finished off by opponents. Execution is basically “kill the leader.” (highest-ranked player on the team who can pick up weapons that supporting players can’t use). There are 10 maps, all are small and most of them are symmetrical. You can also play two-player splitscreen online (or co-op).
how we score
To put it simply, Gears of War is the first must-have game for Xbox 360 owners. The sweet blend of tactical maneuvering and fast-paced gunning is truly a perfect formula, and Gears capitalizes on it. Despite its brief campaign, the game’s lasting appeal is drawn out by the incredibly fun multiplayer experience. A game this good should be put at the top of every chainsaw freak’s list.