Review by earvcunanan

"If you've been looking for a definitive Xbox 360 game, this is it."

A true blockbuster is universal—no matter your preference in genre, for a game to achieve legendary status it must transcend genres and appeal to everybody. Few games have achieved this: Zelda, Metroid, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, and Halo spring to mind. There is no longer a universally beloved platformer (my genre of choice) save for perhaps Mario (although the near perfect Sunshine was flogged by many) and until now, in my estimation, there wasn't a third-person shooter—let alone a tactical one—that even came close. You can scream Tom Clancy all you want, but that's people killing people and thereby limited to players who find that entertaining to the tune of “legendary”. You can now add Gears of War to that illustrious and short list; Microsoft's second brand worthy of its own day.

Blending unmatched twitch-action with an incomparably oppressive
atmosphere and multiplayer that will monopolize your broadband for months, Gears of War is the game the 360 was designed to play.

Talked up for months in a marketing campaign whose cost undoubtedly dwarfs the gross national product of most third-world nations, we can safely announce that Gears of War delivers on the promises developer Epic has made. Here's how it suckered us...

Gears of War zigs when you expect it to zag - where you'd imagine a guitar-heavy, thrash metal-laced soundtrack, Gears of War belts out a hard-hitting symphony packed with fanfares and themes that get your blood pumping far more than any generic electric guitar could.

This theme of surprise is carried over into the gameplay as well. Gears of War doesn't just focus on your standard running and gunning, but rather delves into some fantastic twists on the tired shooter genre.

The first time you run up against a blind Berserker (who can only be killed outside using the lasers of orbiting satellites - which you can call down using a pointer called the Hammer of Dawn), you'll understand the drastic departure Gears of War has taken - a swerve which fulfills the promise of next-gen like no other title yet. When you try to guide hero Marcus Fenix over a rotted-out wooden floor without dropping him into a nest of bloodthirsty Locusts, you'll know the definition of innovation.

That is, if you can get past the graphics. Huge, muscular combatants move like giant men wearing heavy gear, fine details are everywhere, and splattering blood never looked so beautiful - and we mean that in an uncreepy, non-Hannibal Lecter kind of way. It just looks incredible.

Set in a bleak future on a planet named Sera, a dark figure sits in a jail cell. The figure is disgraced COG soldier Marcus Fenix -- who just happens to be harder than a coffin nail soaked in titanium. Things are not going too well on the planet's surface. After the human colonies were assaulted by a force of subterranean beasts known as the Locust, a raging war broke out and the humans pretty much had to destroy their entire civilization to stop the rampaging Locust. Fast forward some four years, and we find Fenix's COG partner, Dom, knocking on the jail cell door.

Gears of War accomplishes this by providing a rich suite of contextual actions that are fairly easy to grasp, but incredibly challenging to master. Shucking and jiving around the map, making sure you're always under protective cover is easy enough, but getting the hang of the highly-touted chainsaw bayonet takes some serious dedication. Add to that the expansive arsenal of weapons at your command and the deeply nuanced tactical options, and you've got a game that may never get old.

Gears of War blends tactical action with survival horror and thrusts gamers into a deep and harrowing story of humankind's epic battle for survival against the Locust Horde, a nightmarish race of creatures that surface from the bowels of the planet. Lead war hero Marcus Fenix and his fire team as they face the onslaught of merciless warrior fiends. A revolutionary tactical combat system and breathtaking, high-definition visuals from the Unreal Engine 3 immerse you in a horrifying story of war and survival. A.I. teammates are indiscernable from human players. Voice recognition and real-time lip synching heighten the experience. The battlefield is a lethal place. To survive, suppress your enemy with blindfire, take cover in interactive environments, or use weapons and teammates to outwit your foes. [Microsoft]

Before I get into the gameplay it must be said that whether you agree with my views or not there is no denying that this is one of, if not the most well constructed games ever. There was a limited edition book a while back called “Destroyed Beauty” which, although filled with gorgeous concept art, I didn't grasp until now. That name says it all. The world in Gears of War is demolished, but at the same time utterly beautiful because it doesn't look fabricated. It looks like our world would if it fell under such an attack. The detail is absolutely absurd. It's painfully evident that EPIC poured their hearts into every staircase, floor, ravaged ceiling, obliterated structure, clogged artery, vehicle, puddle, and cavern in the game. Every inch has detail. But this is only the facade on which the game resides. No matter how beautiful, so many other elements need to click; and here, they bellow. The cinematography, pacing, script, and AI, all do their parts respectively. The single-player campaign certainly begins as superb duck ‘n cover, but duck ‘n cover alone a great game does not make. EPIC elevate theirs by allowing the player a diverse move set from cover, but soon evolve beyond the norm via weapons technology (I'm trying to do this without spoiling the game) and level interaction that elevates the action from a tactical shooter to so much more. In one area in particular they use a rickety wood floor to great effect. Things go from manic, to eerily quiet, to horrific, to pant-wetting…and the dialogue supports it all in stride, as does the in-game cinematography, and the cut-scenes. You live this game; you care about your squad and when you're offered a choice of routes you think long and hard about what awaits you depending on the lay of the land. Tight corridors and open streets both pose formidable yet different challenges. You will die in Gears and have to use head to overcome certain situations. If you find yourself plugging away but dying repeatedly, look around. EPIC has built a non-linear world into a linear adventure. They utilize not only day and night cycles but the world in a way I've never experienced. I've seen multiple paths and evolving gameplay before, just never at this level.

Gears of War is truly a breakthrough: The absolute finest game of its kind. The bar has definitely been raised. What Halo did for first-person shooters, Gears does for third person—it's that good. If this is where this genre is heading my repertoire will be growing, but I'm not holding my breath. There's stuff in here that will stay with you long after the shooting stops.

In terms of length; again, not to spoil anything, this greatly relies on your skill level, but I will say that like Symphony of the Night, when you think it's over—just as you're about to say “my god, that was intense but I want more damnit!”—that's exactly what you get, and I'll leave it at that. There's also going back through on the two ladder settings, and of course the extensive Live features; somewhere I don't go. I live for the single-player experience and I'd gladly pay 60 dollars for the campaign alone. I can't believe the level of entertainment 60 dollars can still buy. Video games truly are in a class by themselves when it comes to the entertainment dollar, especially when they are of this exalted nature. I know that sounds arrogant from someone who gets comp games but I'll buy Gears for many a holiday gift (well, maybe not mom) and likely give my comp copy to a deserving staffer and buy my own, as I often do. I still love buying games, ecpecially when I know I'm supporting a developer that has gone to such extraordinary lengths to entertain on every level: Speaking of which the soundtrack and sound effects are on par with everything else.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Gears of War is the best-looking game I have ever played. It's a truly stunning achievement in terms of visuals, presentation and sound. Never before have I been given so much to look and marvel at while actually playing an adrenalized shooter. It's a fantastic achievement, and it's also easily the best reason to own an Xbox 360 to date. Now that that's out of the way, I also need to hammer home that while the single-player game is a good amount of fun, Gears' real hook is the superb multiplayer game. You'll be all done with the main story after eight or so hours, and even though there are three difficulty levels to play through, the legs of Gears is certainly in abusing foes online.

Pros:
Deep and frantic multiplayer
Innovative gameplay and surprises
Three words: sawing through people

Cons
Shortness of the single-player campaign
Steep learning curve of multiplayer
Two words: Eating saw


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 04/11/07


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