Gears of War
Review by neonreaper
"This game's main weapon has a chainsaw bayonet."
Gears of War is a third-person shooter, with a whole bunch first-person aiming thrown in. It is one of the most detailed and amazing looking games of it's time, and it has a fairly unique feel to it, with a 2-4 person team concept and cover system.
The game takes place on a planet named Serra, where humans have warred with each other and mined very deep for resources. At some point they encounter the Locust, an evil ugly race of humanoids with machine guns, who raid the surface and cause the humans to lay down a whole scorched Earth tactic, and then go into hiding/refuge from the enemy invasion. You play as Marcus Fenix, a sergeant who starts off locked up in some jail, but rescued by his squad mate Dom.
Right away this sets the stage for some supposed history Marcus has, and while it's briefly brought up again in the game, there's very little time spent on it. We just accept Marcus to be a gruff and effective military warrior. Dom just acts as an obedient straight man sidekick - he doesn't really provide much beyond his role. Other characters bring much more personality to the table, and help keep things fun and amusing when the campaign calls for it, but mostly this is a gritty hellhole of a world they are fighting through, and the overall demeanor reflects that.
Much of the campaign takes place as a series of shootouts against Locust groups, taking advantage of the nifty cover system. The player uses a button the take cover, and then another to enter more of a first person aiming mode. Many of the battles are different from one another and offer different ways you can take down the enemy - you can shoot it out straight up, but many times a side route is presented. This happens a bit more early on than later, in my experience.
Over 10 hours of the campaign mode, you'll fight some cool bosses, tough battle sequences, harrowing encounters with berserkers, and see some cool cut-scenes. The overall story isn't anything spectacular, but the grim nature and rubbled atmosphere are done very well. The end has a decent payoff, but there's a lot of surfaces that are only scratched and it's a bit obvious this isn't a stand-alone story.
The controls work pretty well. Because the cover button is also the run button, you will sometimes go into cover when you run up against something. There's another button assigned to Tac/Com which tells you your current objective and shows where team members are - I would have rather seen this assigned to cover to keep the actions separate, as I never found Tac/Com to have any use. But most of the time you won't have a problem with accidental cover in the campaign. The aiming, cool active reload system, and melee combat all works and feels pretty good. There's a solid variety of weapons, including a machine gun with a chainsaw bayonet, a mechanical bow that shoots grenades, shotguns, a satellite laser weapon, grenades, sniper rifles, and so on.
So, Gears as a single player/co-op campaign type of game is pretty good - the campaign can feel a bit dull and unmemorable for some stretches, but is usually intense and awesome. You don't really connect with the characters, though Cole is awesome (voiced by the same guy that does the Office Linebacker commercials, WOOO!), but a human struggle against an enemy race is pretty easy to get into. They get into some subjects like bogus war trials, mining and usage of resources, and surviving dire situations, but just not deep enough to make the game really resonate. Because it is so fun and well crafted, I'd easily drop an 8 on the game if that was all we had.
But, we have multiplayer, and it is very good. The co-op is pretty much addressed in the campaign section and handled very well. The PvP puts teams of 4 against each other (you can have smaller teams, but ideally it's 4v4) in a bunch of maps that give teams a few options to approach each other. Good communication is a must for success, so the teamwork is really emphasized - calling out locations and sticking to/adjusting plans can keep a team ahead of a more skilled opponent. The maps are made in such a way that you can approach them differently and use different attacks - you can be flanked and your sniper might not be able to do anything when someone sneaks up on him and chainsaws him in half. You can also setup different weapon layouts if you like, which can alter the way people play the map. There are various gameplay modes, so it's not just straight up 'team deathmatch'.
The achievements are nice in theory, but they do lead to some annoying whining in ranked matches, where people are playing just to get X amount of kills with a weapon, so good teamwork might mean nothing to them. It's not a fault of the achievements, but it's certainly part of the experience. Player matches were a bit more friendly in terms of people just trying win matches, but kill "stealing" inevitably leads to adult males and pre-teens alike getting entirely too worked up about a video game.
Overall Gears of War is an awesome game, with plenty of detail in the graphics (look at the attention to detail for far away structures, most people ignore that stuff, but you can tell the people at Epic care and are motivated to make the game look top notch), awesome combat and terrific multiplayer. It's a bit lacking in some areas (story, main character development), and the controls (even after a patch) still could use some refining, but the first installment of the Gears of War series is one of the better games for the Xbox 360.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/01/08
Game Release: Gears of War (US, 11/07/06)
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