Review by Wolfvie
"Awesome multiplayer, less-than-awesome single-player"
When Gears of War was first announced sporting Epic's new iteration of the Unreal engine it was clear that the engine would become one of the defining powerhouses for this generation of gaming consoles and thus became one of the most hyped games on the Xbox 360's line-up. So how does a game of this high potential stack up? Read more to find out
Gears of War promised to have one of the most engaging plots of 2006. In some ways it accomplishes this, but in most other ways, it fails to meet it's expectations. The game starts at a fast pace as the games main protagonist Marcus Fenix is let out of a jail cell by his old friend Dom. Marcus & Dom are part of COG a Coalition of united governments joined together waging war against the evil Locust, an evil race living in tunnels beneath the planet Sera's surface. Most of the storyline involves Marcus and his team mates as they traverse the planet Sera in search of the Resonator a device the COGs plan to use to fire missiles into the Locust's main stronghold.
Sure it actually sounds quite decent, but unfortunately the game lacks one crucial thing. Back story.
With out a decent back story the game does a poor job explaining most of the games key plot points. Why was Marcus locked up in prison at the beginning of the game, and more importantly, why are the Locust waging war against the COGs in the first place? Sure the Limited edition version of the game included a brief back story in the manual but it's still no excuse and as a result of this, the games plot feels largely unfinished.
All in all though, story-wise Gears of War is quite a bit of a disappointment.
At the time of release Gears of War boasted some of the most impressive visuals for it's time. The environments and textures while a little dark and drab are still quite amazing, and the superb atmosphere is really quite daunting. Epic have really outdone themselves with the stunning nuked-out battlefields, lonely and desolate towns and the dry wastelands. The highly detailed backgrounds and character models are simply put incredible, and games lighting effects have been executed flawlessly, making for one staggeringly pretty game.
From the moment you step outside of the rundown Locus occupied prison into the beautifully detailed courtyard at the beginning of the game, you'll be greeted with a sudden gust of awe and amazement, it's something that no other game on the 360 at the time had really accomplished. Even now, the game is still quite the graphical marvel.
The games soundtrack is amazing with epic musical scores kicking in at just the right moment in battle. The voice work is actually surprisingly, really quite good and John DiMaggio who you might know as Bender from the popular (though short-lived) animated comedy series Futurama', provides the voice for the games lead character Marcus Fenix. The sound effects are, as expected are just as good, the sound of the bullets punctuating in the Locust as you fire behind cover and the screeches coming from the Locust as they approach you are particularly good.
To make things very clear; Gears of War is not a run & gun shooter, so running out into the open with assault rifle in hands would probably not be the best approach to the games style of gameplay (and will most likely just get you killed. Instead Gears of War has been designed tactical approach to gameplay in mind with a large emphasis on taking cover and moving through the environments as such. You can't shoot accurately while on the move and you have to pull the left trigger (to aim down the guns sights which limits you to a slow paced jog) in order to shoot effectively.
Cover plays a huge role in Gears of War's gameplay. Literally almost every object implemented in Gears of War's world can be used as cover and simply put, it's easily the best cover system Ive seen in a game to date. It's easy to pop out of cover and line up shots and blind fire is also implemented very nicely allowing you to slowly pick off targets without exposing yourself to enemy fire. Close-quarters combat is also one of the more interesting mechanics Gears of War employs. Using the game's trademark Lancer' assault rifle, players can easily take out their opponents mowing them down the Lancer's chainsaw add-on. This makes for some pretty exciting and entertaining moments in the game's multiplayer component when sneaking up on unsuspecting opponents.
Reloading is a very important element part in gameplay, especially in multiplayer. When reloading tapping the right bumper to early or too late will result in your gun jamming leaving you open to enemy fire. The game only allows you to have three weapons (two primaries, one secondary pistol) and one grenade type so choosing the best weapon type for each situation is key. The games level design is for the most part very good but game's single player levels definitely would have benefited from more variation in objective types. Because of this repetition was not uncommon by the game's half way point and by the end of the game, it was starting to get quite tedious.
GoW's enemy AI is mostly good and there were only a few moments during my time playing the game when I thought that it could be considered bad. The games single player campaign is comprised of 5 linear acts (except for on the rare occasion you are given a choice between a left and right path with your AI controlled squad mates) and on the standard difficulty it should take you around 6-8 (possibly more on the harder difficulty settings) hours to complete which honestly is quite disappointing, especially by today's standards. Granted the games fantastic multiplayer more than makes up for this.
The games multiplayer mode is designed with team-based play (up to four on four) in mind so don't expect to see a lot of free-for-all death matches. One of the most interesting game mechanics is the ability to revive your team mates after being downed' by enemy fire, and I can guarantee you'll be doing this a lot during multiplayer. The multiplayer arenas are mainly small-medium in size and are designed with the games cover mechanics in mind so for those interested in big maps with huge teams and vehicular combat, look elsewhere.
There are four different multiplayer modes, Warzone, Assassination, Execution and Annex. Warzone is the games basic death match mode and Annex is a game mode in the style of King of the Hill. Execution is a variant of Warzone and Assassination, probably the most unique of the games multiplayer modes has two teams of players playing off against each other while defending their leader.
Overall the gameplay in Gears is hardly a huge step forward in terms of innovative TPS gameplay but it's still most importantly a lot of fun.
While a little awkward at first, Gears once you get the hang of it, controls like a dream. Moving is handled with the left stick and aiming with the right, while the right trigger allows for shooting and the R button reloads. Unlike most other shooters though, Gears doesn't automatically display a crosshair on the screen. Instead players can move around more quickly with the left stick firing inaccurately, while holding the left trigger brings up a crosshair for more accurate shots but with a significant loss in speed. Another one of the games more interesting gameplay mechanics feature is how running in implemented. Holding A zooms the camera in as you character sprints forward resulting in a cool roadie like camera angle.
B allows for Melee attacks while Y allows to observe a team member or look at an important object. The context for X changes depending on the situation but it's generally used to pick up weapons, revive team mates or trigger actions or events. Holding the L button allows for the option of team based commands during the single-player campaign, which can be useful when trying to regroup your team. Although it's rather pointless to issue your team mates to hold and return fire' considering they attack automatically, and holding fire is rather pointless in a game like Gears.
Now for a quick revision
+ Killer multiplayer mode
+ Amazing visuals
+ Solid gameplay mechanics; Great cover system
+ Nice music; great voice acting
+ Excellent control system
- More than Disappointing Story
- Campaign, fun, but leaves much to desire
While hardly a huge step forward in terms of innovative third-person shooter gameplay, Gears of War was still a highly enjoyable shooter and used Epic's new Unreal 3 engine to truly showcase some of the best graphics at the time. While yes, the games did suffer some heavy flaws in terms of it's general storyline and campaign, but Epic still provided Gamer's the first real incentive to buy a 360 if they had not already.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/06/09, Updated 09/20/10
Game Release: Gears of War (US, 11/07/06)
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