Review by arkainjalex12

"Technical masterpiece meets super-intense action"

Where do I begin? This is the most hyped game of the year on any system, and it has a lot of expectations to live up to. This review will help you decide if it's the game for you, as I will try to be as objective as possible.

GRAPHICS: The most advertised aspect of this game. You've seen the trailers and the pictures, and you know it looks amazing. The Unreal 3 engine did us all proud on this one. For the most part I haven't seen any real graphical issues, this game is pretty solid.

The character models are highly detailed, the environments look great, and all of the special effects are top notch. You will be blown away by the visuals, especially as you get further in (wait until you see the rain effects). Surprisingly enough, the multiplayer looks just as good, if not better, than the single player campaign. They didn't skimp on the visual touches and trimmings with Gears of War, they pushed the Xbox 360 to new heights.

Are there flaws? Sure. You will definitely notice drops in framerate during some cutscenes. The gameplay itself never slows down or anything, but cutscenes are a different story. The drop isn't extreme, but it is noticeable. Another issue myself and some others have encountered is during online co-op games. The second player will sometimes load into the game and not be able to see textures clearly, they will either be black or very muddy. This is easily fixed by reloading the last check point, and only occurs after loading, never randomly during the game. It's a very minor issue to say the least. Overall, the graphics in this game are superb, unlike anything else you've ever seen most likely.

SOUND: The music is excellent and fitting. It conforms to the compelling themes that most high budget action flicks would. I can't say it's the most memorable soundtrack I have ever heard, but it is still very high quality and enjoyable. The character voice overs are also well done. The dialogue is pretty natural and you will get to hear alot of crude remarks and banter between the relatively likeable characters. Beware though, this game is full of profanity, including some uses of the F-bomb.

Sound plays a large part in this game, more than many others. During single or multiplayer matches you will hear audio cues based on what is going on around you. Many enemies in the campaign will indicate they are nearby or attacking by the sounds they make or things they say, you would do well to pay attention to everything you hear.

In multiplayer it goes a step further. You not only are informed when grenades (whether frag or smoke) are thrown your way, but you can also hear an opponent revving up a chainsaw, or a nearby foe panting as they make a quick dash near your position. An attentive player will hear these things and prepare themselves, or possibly get an idea of where their enemy is hiding, a "noob" might ignore such noises and proceed to be killed. You can even hear when a teammate or enemy screws up on an active reload, which lets you know it might be time to attack/hold off because their weapon is jammed. Just goes to show how important and interactive sound can be to the gameplay.

GAMEPLAY: This is the meat of the game. The visceral and brutal action in this game is unlike any other. I make no claims whether this game is better than Halo or any other franchise, it plays differently from them all. You can feel alot of sci-fi elements here obviously, but the gameplay is closer to an arcadey ghost recon instead of a pure run and gun shooter.

The best thing about this game is having many options available to you. You have to consider where your enemies are in relation to you, what cover stands between you and them, if you can possibly flank them or if there is another way around to get to them, what weapons are best for the situation - be it long range or close quarters, etc. Indeed these things tend to be common concerns in most games, but the "bleed out" system makes things alot more interesting.

How so? Well your teammates in both single and multiplayer can be downed by excessive damage. They then enter a "bleed out" or "downed" state where they are still alive, but barely, and you can run up to them and get them back up and into the fight. But if they are shot while down, they will die for good, leading to a checkpoint reload in single player, or them sitting out of the round in multi. Only some weapons can instantly kill an opponent without putting them in the downed state: the shotgun occasionally blows them into chunks, the sniper rifle takes them out with one headshot, a direct boomshot hit will blast them apart, and a well place grenade or torque arrow does the trick too.

On top of all that, you have a system known as "active reloading". When you reload, a little slider goes across a bar near your ammo hud. By pressing the reload button again you may stop the slider at any time, stopping it at the right point will give you a "perfect reload" and make your next few shots do extra damage, not to mention you reload almost instantly. There is also a little safe zone where you may reload the weapon but don't get a damage bonus. Beware, If you mess up you can expect your weapon to jam and not be useable for a couple of seconds. If you wish you can simply let the slider go down the bar fully and reload itself if you can't be bothered to match it up, though it takes longer to reload that way.

The AI is decent in single player. Not intelligent, mind you, but it does the job. Enemies fluctuate between stupid and surprisingly smart. I have seen them move around cover and take me out, but this isn't a common occurrence, it is usually the other way around. Your teammates aren't much better either, but they aren't worthless like in some games. In some cases they will do just as well as you, they don't become obsolete on the hardest difficulty either.

Lastly, the game just feels good. While it may take some time to get used to aiming and rolling around and hopping over and between cover, it is a fun and rewarding experience throughout. Most gamers will agree that using the chainsaw to cut someone into bite-sized pieces never gets old, or that curb stomping someone's head shouldn't be missed. I've personally come to love this game, even if the learning curve is a bit more steep than some people will admit.

I should also mention that I have seen a small number of bugs in this game, one such bug was battling a "mini-boss" in Act 4 during a co-op game and not being able to progress because the boss kept getting stuck or wouldn't break through a certain wall. After 30 minutes of trying, I found the solution when I played through it by myself, and this time the boss broke through without a problem, and I reinvited my friend once more to continue on. I haven't encountered any other significant bugs so far, but keep in mind your experience may vary.

SINGLE/MULTIPLAYER: The single player is a very cinematic experience. It's full of action, intense moments, and even some suspense (especially during boss fights). I fully recommend this game for its single player, even though I found the story to be underhwelming. There is alot that isn't explained and alot that could be fleshed out better. That doesn't detract from the fun though, you WILL be impressed by many portions of the campaign, especially if you're playing co-op with a buddy and you can both remark "that was awesome!".

The length of the game is also rather average. It can be beaten under 10 hours if you are playing alone on the hardcore difficulty, and much less on Casual. In a co-op session, the game becomes somewhat easier and 6-8 hours is very doable without trouble. The Insane difficulty becomes available after beating the game once, and is truly a test of your skills and all you have learned. That's one thing that must be said about this game: it's not for the "sucky" gamers. It's quite difficult and very unforgiving at a few portions of the game. Overall, you will enjoy yourself even if you're getting blasted to pieces. It's challenging but not ridiculously hard. You won't become stressed out like with some games, you will probably just start thinking of new ways to handle encounters, and try out different weapons or cover spots.

The multiplayer is a whole new ballgame. Your skills from the campaign will definitely help you out here, but the online play is very reliant on teamwork and cooperation on a new level. Most of what I wrote earlier in the review applies here, so there isn't much to add. I will say that there are some decent options available to game hosts though.

You may freely pick your character model, depending on which side you choose (the Cogs or Locusts) and there is usually at least one that everyone will find to their liking. The maps are also excellent. I wouldn't say I totally enjoy them all, but the majority are great. They are well designed and mostly symmetrically, with strategically placed weapons for teams to fight over.

Unfortunately there are some obvious downsides to the multiplayer. No, not gameplay-wise, the game is quite solid and entertaining there. But there are issues with the design itself. First, once you create a game you may not change the map or game mode you are playing. You either pick a single map or set it to "custom map cycle" where the maps will play out in sequence and once they are all played you will begin again from the top of the list. Game modes don't even give you that option, it's rather inconvenient really.

Furthermore, you can host public games with your friends and have them join freely. But you can't enter ranked games with your pals, nor can you form a party of any sort to enter other peoples' unranked games. It is not a very big deal, but it's rather annoying if you wish to play with friends often. I have heard rumors they may patch in some support for playing ranked games with friends, but nothing is certain yet.

Lastly, there is a bug with the online play or lobby system where you cannot hear certain players that join the game. It's not clear why this happens, and it can often be fixed by closing and recreating the hosted room. It is quite annoying most of the time and you will see many complaints about it posted on the forums. I'm sure they will soon patch this or fix this, the game has only been out for 2 days after all.

FINAL WORD: I have enjoyed this game immensely since I got it. I easily score this a 9/10. I recommend this game completely to any Xbox 360 owner, especially anyone who fits into one of the following camps: shooter fanatic, hardcore gamer, graphics whore, online junkie.

Honestly this game delivers on all fronts. If there is any disappointing element it's the storyline and some aspects of the online lobbies. Otherwise you have the greatest 360 game to date, and one of the best shooters of all time.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/09/06

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