Review by German Dragon
"A Raw and Visceral Masterpiece"
When an army of disgusting, repulsive, and blood-thirsty beasts decide to tunnel up through the surface of the earth and slaughter billions of people, it can really put a damper on an otherwise happy and sunny day. That's what happened fourteen years ago on Emergence Day; a day where every major city on the planet was simultaneously attacked by the Locust Horde. This is the chaotic world that Gears of War is set in; and though we'd all hate to actually live in such a world, it makes for one hell of an environment for a shooter.
As a player, you'll take control of Marcus Phoenix. Immediately after beginning the game you'll meet up with one of your squad members, Dom Santiago. Not long after that, you'll recruit two more members to your team: Augustus Cole -- The Cole Train -- and Damon Baird. There are really two words that spring to mind for all of these characters: Badass, and huge. These guys have size seventeen boots, body statures that would make Shaq look anorexic, and veins coming out of their muscles. Overall, they're probably not the type of guys that you'd want to be on the bad side of. And let's be honest, it's more fun to blow the organs out of someone when you're a 300 pound roided up S.O.B. with attitude.
As tough as these guys are though, they're humans -- Real humans. They aren't Master Chief, or Samus, or Riddick. If you stand in the open, expect to get shot at a lot and expect to die a lot. This idea is the entire concept that Gears of War was built on. If you want to survive more than a few minutes, you'll quickly learn that you'll have to make use of cover. And virtually everything in Gears can be used as cover.
A typical fire fight may have you start by strafing against the outside of an open doorway, peering around the frame to head-shot an enemy, then running into the room immediately taking cover behind the side of the couch, all in one fluid animation. You may then lift your head to aim over the couch at another enemy firing at you from behind a chair in the corner. Then, seeing you are outnumbered, you may choose to duck back down, and blind fire over the top of the couch without showing your face, as you crawl along the ground, making your way to the opposite side of the couch for a better shot of the closest enemy. You may then notice the couch starting to deteriorate due to all the bullets it is taking from your enemy. This would be your cue to do a diving roll out from out of the couch to get behind a nearby pillar. You might then proceed to slide from pillar-to-pillar in quick, fluent motions to cross the room safely. Even reading that sounds like it would be fun. When you first play, and you actually do it, however, it's absolutely amazing. And that's a feeling that won't leave you throughout the entire game.
The levels you go through in this manner are superbly designed, and the features never get old. As if the gameplay were not enough, however, these levels all look as good as they play. Without seeing it for yourself, there is no way to do justice by describing how Gears of War looks. Everything about it is well-modelled, and extremely detailed. From the subtlety of the rough skin that the COG soldiers have, to the remarkably beautiful reflections on the wet surfaces you'll see during a later chapter when it rains, to the chunks of blood and meat that spew from the game's enemies when you curb stomp them-- everything is just perfect. This is not a good looking game. This is not a great looking game. This is an amazing looking game, and definitely one of the finest looking ones you can hope to find anywhere in the near future.
As you proceed through these beautiful post-apocalyptic areas which include several rundown cities, a mansion, a factory, and a series of underground tunnels, you'll have time to appreciate other qualities that the game possesses. For one, you'll become acquainted with the various creatures to be found in Gears: Grubs, Boomers, Beserkers, Kryll, Nemecyst... The names for some of these creatures may not be the most creative, but they are all unique and disgusting in their own way. Those familiar with Todd McFarlane's work will instantly see a relationship, both in the fact that the creatures look like hideous monsters that your worst nightmares could not possibly live up, as well as the fact that the amount of detail displayed in their designs is phenomenal.
You'll also become familiar with the game's numerous weapons. Gears of War includes all of the basics, like the pistol, the machine gun, and the frag grenade in addition to a few new ones. Some of these basic weapons have been given a twist that only a game like Gears could. For example, the Lancer, one of the game's machine guns, carries a chainsaw attached to it. This makes it effectively the coolest bayonet you'll ever see. Another update has been given to the grenade, which you can swing on a chain before tossing. This gives two added benefits: One is that you can aim the grenade properly and easily; You'll see a blue laser-like line showing not only where the grenade will land, but where it will bounce. The other, more humorous advantage, is the ability to "tag" an enemy with it. Sneak up behind one and melee them with a grenade and it will stick. This is a guaranteed death, and it is extremely rewarding way to kill someone. It may only be second to killing someone with the Hammer of Dawn -- one of Gear's custom-designed tools of killing. You can use this to target an enemy and have a satellite smite them down with a huge laser beam: Effective, swift, and amazingly brutal. Unfortunately, the number of times when you'll get to use the Hammer is limited.
The single player in this game is a marvelous experience on its own. However, when you toss multiplayer into the mix the amount of fun you can have with this game is obscene. One option is having squad-based matches over Xbox Live, which are extremely fun due to the fact that it makes use of the same need for cover that can be found in the single player version of the game. That's part of what makes this so enjoyable; it brings a completely unique experience to the table. There's no jumping. There's no teams of super soldiers that takes hundreds of bullets and keep charging you. Aside from the extreme over-the-top gore (causing it to rain organs and blood by means of chainsaw bayonet will never get old) the action is a fair bit more realistic then that. And it's exciting. The only disappointment is a distinct lack of capture the flag mode. With such a large focus on cover and teamwork, it seems almost as if multiplayer was built for that mode.
Another option is that you can go through the game's campaign mode on co-op. This is something you have to experience. And due to it being possible both split-screen (with a buddy on the other side of the couch) and Xbox Live (with a buddy on the other side of the world) this option is readily accessible to most players. Playing like this is fulfilling because your partner will no doubt be of more use than the AI controlled squad members that would be giving you backup in single player mode. Playing co-op will provide a lot of enjoyment as you convey tactics to your partner in an attempt to take down the Locust Hordes together -- and on the hardest of the game's three difficulty settings, you'll be extremely glad to have that much-needed cover.
There's really very little wrong with Gears of War. You'll occasionally run into rude or cheap players when playing on Live -- they particularly enjoy spamming grenade tags, which is worsened by the fact that Gears awards an achievement and gamer points for doing this enough time -- but that can be said about nearly all games that can be played online. That's about it though. The gameplay is top notch, the graphics are in a league of their own, and the story is interesting and full of likable characters. Gears of War has been cited many times to be a system seller for the Xbox 360. I'm not sure if I'd go quite as far as to say that, but I will say that it is by and far the best Xbox 360 game available, and that all current owners of the system simply have to get out there and purchase it. Were it not for Twilight Princess coming out as well, this would easily clench the title of Game of the Year.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/02/07
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