Review by LinkRemembered

"Gears of War for the Xbox 360 is an excellent action game that redefines shooters for the next generation."

Are you ready to forget about Halo 3? If not, don't plan on picking up Gears of War, the highly anticipated third-person shooter for the Xbox 360, because it is a fresh, incredibly intense action game, one that soars above the already high expectations. It may just be the best game ever made.

The campaign's story is pretty simple. On a distant planet, far too similar to our own, the most despicable enemy emerges from the most unpredictable place: underground. The humans call them the Locust, due to their ability to destroy the human population much like a plague. You play Marcus Fenix, an ex-COG soldier, basically a brute military weapon. The game begins with your old friend, Dominic Santiago, busting you out of jail, 14 years after Emergence Day (the coming of the Locust horde). The helpful training mission incorporates your prison breakout. Eventually you meet up with several more rough soldiers who join your squad, but don't let their seemingly dim appearance fool you, as these guys have such incredible diverse personalities that much of the enjoyment you'll get out of the story is based on their conversations with each other, the sometimes perfectly dramatic, sometimes surprisingly hilarious dialogue you would've never expected from a game that plays out like a big-budget action movie (the good kind). After your prison break, you learn that the military has found a means of defeating the Locust for good. That means you have to find the information necessary to use it first. That's the setup; it's simple, but it develops fairly nicely.

By the way, you're going to want to pay attention during that training mission, because you have a difficult journey ahead of you. Yes, even on the easiest difficulty, Casual, the game offers a nice amount of challenge, to the point that you'll die fairly often, no matter what skill level or difficulty setting. But you won't mind. This game is too much fun. Gears is of course an over-the-shoulder experience, but do not under any circumstances let that turn you off. It is innovative, in many ways. For example, you cannot just run and gun through the entire campaign. You must employ the abundant supply of cover to avoid getting slaughtered by enemy fire. You simply press the A button, and there you are, hiding behind a wall or column. You can then either hold L to duck out from cover and shoot, or simply pull R to shoot without poking your head into the sight of the Locust. Shooting while out of cover may take some getting used to, as the lack of crosshairs and an unusual camera (in the sense of shooting with FPS controls) make for a time that almost falls under the category of "good luck trying to hit that". Your other option is to hold L to zoom, bringing up crosshairs and slowing you down monumentally. But that's basically the only thing even remotely not good about Gear of War. Another excellent innovation is the reload system. Pressing the right bumper brings up a multicolored line under your ammo supply. You'll notice that the bar itself is black, but there's a streak of white covering it. It RB again as close as you can to the beginning of the white streak. Do this in the black, and your gun will jam, causing you to take twice as long to reload, and in addition to that your rounds deliver less damage. Hitting it on the white or even perfectly at the beginning offers the exact opposite effect. It's simple to master, but one that will cause you to choke in the heat of battle if you're not paying attention. There are plenty of weapons in the world you traverse. You'll see your usual array of machine guns, shot guns, and sniper rifles, but three unique guns populate the realm. The least exciting is the Torque Bow, which fires exploding arrows at menacing foes. Then there's the Hammer of Dawn, which is actually so powerful it requires a satellite to fire, a satellite that rarely appears in your vicinity. To use it, you simply aim at a Locust, preferably a big one such as a Berserker, and hold the right trigger for a couple of seconds, at which time the sky unleashes an insane beam of energy toasting your opposition and sensing them straight to oblivion. Finally, there's the most useful, violent, and fun of the three: the chainsaw bayonet. This unique concept attaches to your COG-approved machine gun, allowing you to obliterate foes in close quarter combat. Blood splatters onto the screen at you cut unsuspecting Locust minions in half. This is purely awesome, and the remains of the poor soul fall to the ground as severed limbs and twitching organs.

The single player campaign is, I'm sad to say, rather short. You can play through the first time on Casual in less than eight hours. There are incentives to go back, including the two harder difficulties, Hardcore, and the impossible Insane, plus a plethora of Achievements to unlock.

The major reason you may want to replay it is for the co-op, both online and splitscreen. You and a friend will have an amazing amount of fun, no matter how many times you've played through that mission or another. There is no lag whatsoever, the game suffers from no glitches. It's just an intense afternoon spent with a friend, unlocking Achievements here and there, but mostly just owning Locust.

But after you've experienced everything you can do in the campaign, or you're just in need of a break, then the online arena is your best bet. Simply connect to Xbox Live and pick a game type. There's your standard deathmatch, but there's also Assassination, in which two teams of four compete, with one member of each being a leader that the others have to protect while tailing the other team's. But by far the best online mode in quite a while from any game is Execution, wherein you simply participate in simple team deathmatch. The selling point is the fact that you cannot simply deplete your opponents' health. You must execute them, as in destroy their very body beyond the point of revival. There are several ways to do this: either just shoot them to bits from a distance, come in and chainsaw them, or walk right up to them and "execute", or curb stomp, their head in. The latter two options are more dangerous, as they open you up to attacks, but the mind-bending sensation you feel is well worth the risk. There are eight beautiful maps to select from, with elaborate hiding spots and strategically placed items to take cover behind. There's a level consisting of an intricate, wide set of stairs with plenty of obstacles, pillar, and disturbed gardens to take cover behind, in which the teams alternate between starting at the bottom and the top. Obviously, one team has the high ground, but the shifting advantage proves to help you develop strategies depending on where you spawn. Another level is a train system. At first glance it seems fairly by-the-books, the hook is the train that rages through the tracks ever 15 seconds, blocking the two sides from reaching each other until it passes. But be careful, it proves an easy way to die. And here there are no respawns.

This package proves to be the most fun you'll have on Live with your 360, despite the limitation of only eight players in any given match. This is the next generation, I want 16 to 32 players for my killing spree! But if you get past that, which is easy considering that it's so much fun and the maps are designed for smaller teams, you'll be distracted from sessions of Call of Duty 3 and Halo 2 for a long time to come. Maybe even until the inevitable Gears of War 2.

In terms of looks, next gen begins here. This is the first game for the 360 that shows off the true power of the hardware, featuring amazing detail. The beautiful, war-ravaged landscape show that the developers spent a lot of time in the graphics department, fine-tuning their already excellent game. The rough, hard, faces scream both sadness and anger, a level of detail unheard of in the virtual medium until now. Absolutely no slowdown with either the single player or multiplayer is a dream come true, and the excellence carries over to the online realm. A sleek presentation rounds out the phenomenal category. Let's not forget the support for up to 1080p.

The sound department is no different. The incredible futuristic gunfire, the non-stop explosions, the burning flesh, all sound wonderful here. The superb, authentic voice acting and dialogue mimic real disturbed soldiers ready to face their enemy. And the music is sometimes subtle, sometimes overwhelmingly powerful as it ramps ups into an intense orchestrated soundtrack to remember. Except for the credits. We'll forget that part. Overall, however, sound is next to perfect, and we could only dream before now for such shear excellence.

There's a $59.99 price tag for the standard edition, and a steep $69.99 for the Limited Collector's Edition. It's worth the extra $10, as you get an awesome case, an exclusive, surprisingly interesting art book, a bonus DVD, and a 48-hour Xbox Live Gold subscription, just in case. But if you can't afford it or just plain don't care, the regular version works just fine.

Gears of War may just be the best game ever, and it certainly tops the list of Xbox 360 titles. If you have Microsoft's console, why don't you already have this must-own title? Go, now, wherever you can get a copy! This is the game that will keep you warm through the holiday season, and simply offer you an unprecedented amount of fun well after the snow has melted.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/11/07


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