Review by Arschrammen
"Is it really as good as everyone says?"
Yes, it definitely is! From its flawless graphics to it's innovative cover-based gameplay, Gears of War is both spectacular and original. It's also a great deal of fun!
The great thing about Gears of War is that all my friends who are Sony fanatics don't have an argument anymore. When they bring up all their meaningless (at least to me!) specs comparing the capacity of PS3 to X360, I can now just say "Gears of War" and the argument is over.
I've never been one for glorified war stories but this one is pretty well done. The planet Sera is under attack from a race of horrible aliens once thought to be mythical creatures. They are called The Locust, and on one fateful day they assembled under every major city on Sera and emerged from under the ground with devastating consequences.
We play as Marcus Fenix, former soldier who, after disobeying orders so he could go back to save his dad from The Locust, was imprisoned for Dereliction of Duty for forty years.
Now Sera faces complete annihilation at the hands of The Locuts, and Colonel Victor Hoffman, Fenix's former commander, has pardoned all prisoners on the basis that they now need all the help they can get. So, under unlikely circumstances, Fenix sees himself out of his cell and straight back in the firing line as the fate of the world lies in his hands.
Overall its a pretty decent story and the way they have executed draws you right in and makes you feel like something big is at stake. There was a lot of room for exploring the politics between the characters such as Fenix and the man who imprisoned him, Hoffman, but when it is essentially a game for meat-heads who like "killin' stuff," I think they can be excused.
Did you ever see that complete CG movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within? This is pretty much what the in-game graphics look like, but instead of being set on mundane space stations, it's set in post-war cities with very European looking architecture. You almost feel disappointed they were destroyed because they seem like they were such beautiful cities!!
The graphics in this game are by far the best graphics of any game in the history of gaming ever. The in game graphics even exceed the quality of the CG graphics of most other games and have really set the standard for future console games.
The graphics really are a technical wonder and do not even suffer from a drop in frame rate, except I noticed in 1080i HDTV settings on my friend's plasma TV that there is a bit of choppiness in the movies, but the gameplay is ultra smooth.
There is also so much attention to detail; from the puddles of water on the ground, to the blood splattered on walls, to the tattoo's on the soldiers' arms, nothing is missed and the artists and technicians are really to be commended for truly lifting the bar for future releases.
Of course, as we've seen in the past, just because a game looks hot doesn't mean it is. Gameplay is of the utmost importance, and, luckily, Gears of War does not disappoint. Quite simply, this game is a whole lot of fun and is very gripping and action packed.
The game introduces an innovative and intuitive cover system and makes you use it. If you don't take cover, you'll die. It's that simple. Luckily the controls are also very intuitive so it's very easy just to take cover behind a half wall or a chair or a car, or pretty much anything at all. If you're under heavy fire, instead of aiming you can just blind-fire over the top of your cover-spot, which is very cool.
While its premise (ie take cover) is simple, the game is still quite tactical. Strafing and shooting as per most shooters will get you killed for the gravedigger straight away. The AI in this game is also very good, and you'll find that enemy units will flank you and your team mates quite well.
The health system is different to most actions games (with obvious exceptions) in that instead of collecting first aid kits around the place that replenishes your health, your health recharges automatically if you get out of the line of fire for a few seconds. This is just one of the many small things that attributes to gameplay that has a perfect natural flow. Another example is the reload function. Instead of just pressing reload to reload and that's it, in Gears of War there is a little kind of sub-game whereby when you press reload, a little indicator appears that tells you when the best time to press reload again is. If you do it right, you get an ultra-quick reload with bullets that do extra damage, but if you get it wrong your gun jams and it takes you up to four times longer to get back in the action.
A lot of thought has gone into every aspect of this game. Something that a lot of games have been neglecting recently is weapon design. This has not been overlooked in Gears of War, with some very pleasing arsenal additions. All weapons can be used as melee weapons as well. So that is why it is so satisfying to have a machine gun with a chainsaw as a bayonet. Brilliant. If you successfully flank an opponent you can sneak right up and chainsaw them in half with this beauty. Also excellent is the ultra-modern bow and arrow combination, where the arm of the bow is also a pretty serious knife, and the arrows themselves have very powerful explosive tips. While not a great melee weapon, the Hammer of Dawn is quite spectacular; essentially it is a small hand gun that when aimed at one spot channels an intense beam of energy from a special Hammer of Dawn satellite. On larger enemies it will burn them and eventually destroy them, but on smaller enemies if it just touches them they will explode, and that's always good.
The gameplay has three difficulties. Casual is fairly straight forward and a great introduction to the game. Hardcore is a very enjoyable and much harder difficulty that is very challenging but still rewarding. Insane is just that; insane. As difficulty increases so does the strength, intelligence, and aggression of your opponents, thus allowing for very intense and challenging gameplay.
The multiplayer modes for this game are just wonderful: Warzone is your typical team battle, where you have to kill all opposing team members; Assassination requires you to take out the opposing team's captain; Execution just involves a small level and a whole lot of close-range killing (and pretty much only involves chainsaws and shotguns); and you can also play through the story mode co-operatively. Whichever mode you choose, its all great fun. The interesting twist on the multiplayer battles is that because you can recover your health in a very short period of time, it's not a game where you can just run and shoot at people until they lose all their health gradually; team play is essential. I tried to get online without a headset, but because I couldn't communicate with my team mates, I just got ripped to pieces every time. Still had a blast though!
The controls are real quite simple and intuitive. They are quite different to anything I've ever used before though, and did take a bit of time to adjust. For example, the A button does all of your covering actions, whether it be rolling out of the line of fire, ducking behind cover, putting your back to a wall, sprinting to get to cover, etc etc. The d-pad selects your weapons, of which you can carry four at a time. Up will select grenades, down will select a pistol/hand gun, and left and right select the other two weapons.
The sound is really good although not the most innovative part of the game. All sound effects are great and well varied and presented very crisply in Dolby. The voice acting varies from very good to quite average (unfortunately the main voice actor is on the average side). The music is very fitting and helps lift the dynamic, although there isn't that much of it.
Really, the main value of this game comes from the beautiful graphics and gameplay. The multiplayer features add a lot of value to this game also. In terms of content though, there's really nothing to unlock at all. There are a lot of Xbox achievements though, ranging from the very simple "finish (x) level in (y) difficulty" through to the more abstract "Zen and The Art of Reloading," killing 100 enemies online with a chainsaw, or just plain killing 10,000 enemies online in a ranked match.
Overall, Gears of War brings faith that the next generation consoles will indeed be worthy of their technical superiority. It has essentially raised the standards of how a game should be and shown the rest of the gaming community exactly what modern gaming should be about. If a console is to be judged by it's games, let it be judged by Gears of War.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 02/05/07
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