Review by ShinyWrapper

"Gears of War is by its own merits an absolutely stunning game that's enhanced by its Live component"

Gears of War is a game of such magnitude that it can (and must) be examined from two different angles, and each angle may offer a completely different end result. You can look at Gears of War objectively or you can look at it through rose colored glasses and compare it to the game you thought it would be. Take a robot shark, for example. If one day a robot shark flew into your life, you would be thrilled. However, if you were expecting a robot shark with laser eyes, you would be disappointed. Two completely different reactions from the same person towards the same thing. Hype is a dangerous thing that can affect one's disposition, either negatively or positively. For that reason, I will disregard hype to the best of my ability in this review. I will not compare Gears of War to sliced bread, but rather I will let it stand on its own merits and showcase what it is: A phenomenal yet somewhat lacking THIRD person shooter.

Game play

You may have noticed in the original paragraph that I called Gears of War (henceforth called GoW) a third person shooter. That's because, well, it is. Contrary to many, this game is not a first person shooter. The only thing first person about this game is that Marcus Fenix was probably the first person to curb stomp a sentient being from under a planets crust. Because of its third person perspective, this game plays radically different than most first person shooters.

The emphasis in this game is placed on cover and in positioning yourself strategically so that you can get the best possible shot at the enemy while revealing as little of your body as possible. The basic game play is not run and gun but rather stop and plop. For that reason, you are not depicted as Rambo- storming into an enemy stronghold guns a blazing and taking three thousand bullets to the chin. Rather, you are a man faced with overwhelming odds who has to use the environment to survive. Alone, you die. With furniture, concrete, and steel, you will conquer.

The cover system is very intuitive, and after you get over the learning curve it becomes almost second nature. You will quickly learn which gaps you can cross and when you must roll from cover to cover. Before long your characters movement will be very smooth. This is partly because of the simplicity of the cover system which ties all of its features into the A button. From cover, you can either send blind potshots at the enemy, or you can pull the L trigger to zoom a bit and aim more carefully.

The aiming system is tight and you won't find that the cursor jumps all over the place. Different guns handle differently, which is good. The guns themselves, while lacking in variety, certainly deliver in awesomeness and use. The Hammer of Doom summons a laser from the sky that you can drag across the map, leaving total carnage in its wake. GoW also implements a nifty reload system. You can reload normally, or you can try to time a button press. Get it right and you get a faster reload and a little damage burst. Don't and your gun will jam, taking a bit longer to reload.

The enemies in GoW are nicely varied. The AI won't absolutely blow you away, but it will never detract from the experience. The game can be very difficult, especially on its harder settings, but at times it feels that that difficulty levels could have been optimized a bit better. The boss fights range from absolutely amazing to down right annoying. More of the first than the latter by a long shot, though.

Your squad mates aren't the best shots in the world, but you don't need to rely on them and they never really get in the way. When they go down you can revive them, but you never have to as once you clear an area of enemies they revive on their own.

Story

You're in jail. You don't know why. You never find out, unless you read the manual. You meet some guys. You engage in chit chat. Locusts are coming from the ground to destroy mankind who was weakened by world war. That about sums up the story. Part of me thinks that they could have done so much more, they could have told backstories and they could have made each character playable with unique abilities and they could have done much more with the locust thing. But the other part of me thinks that if they messed that up the game would seriously pay for it. When applied to shooters, the KISS theory rings truest. (Keep It Simple Stupid) The story is the weakest part of GoW, but perhaps that can be blamed on its genre.

Sound

GoW boasts a very epic and cinematic soundtrack which compliments the game play and atmosphere very nicely. The voice acting isn't perfect, but it does its job and actually fit's the tough guy action movie role. The sound effects from the various weapons and grenades are nice. At one point in particular through the campaign, you will come across a room with a piano. Gun fire breaks out. Amidst the screaming of your partners, the grunts of the locusts and the whizzing of the bullets, piano keys struck by bullets will sound. A nice extra feature that once again adds to the emersion.

Graphics

Absolutely positively amazing. Without question the best 360 game to date and quite possibly the best looking game currently out. The textures are crisp, clear and detailed. The sky is wonderful, and the lighting system amazing. The character models, while a little big and a little lacking in detail in the face, are great as well. The locusts in particular are extremely detailed. The game runs amazingly smooth, although the cinematics in the game on run on the engine and tend to bog down a bit at times.

To alleviate fears, the game is not all dark and dreary and the game looks great not only from a technical standpoint, but from an artistic one as well.

Multiplayer

The best 360 live game without any question. While criticized for its lack of modes, what's there is executed just about flawlessly. No one complains about Counter Strike's lack of modes, and this game is executed even better. There is no lag at all on 90 percent of matches.

The four V four concept has faced heated opposition by fans of more frantic shooters, but this game couldn't be done any other way. For the first time, a brilliant cover system is brought to multiplayer. The four v four concept by its very nature promotes team work which leads to absolutely amazing multiplayer experiences. Flanking becomes key when cover is used. As does cover fire. The games weapons are balanced perfectly. The chainsaw dominates up close (in addition to being very satisfying once death is delivered), but needs to be revved and can be offset by being shot. Attempting to chainsaw an expecting player who has a shotgun out often ends up with a body exploding via shotgun. The maps are symmetrical which may seem boring but it offers fairness and allows for key choke points.

The three types of matches: assassination, War zone, and execution are all variants of the standard death match. In one type, a team must take out a designated target and vice versa. In another, only explosions, headshots, curb stomps, or chainsaws finish people off. Otherwise they can tap A to come back to life, where in other modes tapping A only prolongs the period which you can be revived by a partner. The final is just basic death match.

The match making system leaves a little to be desired, but its nowhere near as bad as many online setups at the launch of games.

GoW also offers online co-op which is the best way to play, IMO. A friend can drop into your session whenever you want and play by your side. This makes the game considerably easier, as you can revive each other.

Final consensus
Pros:
- Absolutely stunning graphics, whether playing on standard or HDTV
- Genuinely fun game play mechanics
- Unique reload system
- Addicting and incredible multiplayer
- Co-op, worth buying the game for alone
- Stable, very few glitches

Cons:

- The story line is disappointing. The fact that all shooters have disappointing stories doesn't make this one any easier to swallow.
- Length. This game is short and as such does not hold much longevity for those without live.
- Game play gets a little bit awkward in close up or tight situations
- Matchmaking system isn't the greatest

Overall:

Gears of War is, in the simplest terms, the Xbox 360's “killer app,” but the true essence of the game lies in multiplayer, whether it be Co-op or VS.

Final Score: 9.7/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/09/06


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