Review by Thorpe

"Gears of War certainly shows you what the Xbox 360 is capable of."

Gears of War certainly shows how well a game can graphically be on an Xbox 360. It holds up well on the gameplay and sound too. Not to say its perfect but some elements of it seem impressive. Of course, you'll come across the odd hiccup here and there but Gears of War is worth trying out to any Xbox 360 owner.

The main part of Gears of War is the "Campaign" mode. It offers you with five different levels (called "Acts"). Although five levels may seem short, each one of these can take some time to get through. The first act for instance allows you to learn the basics along the way if you want to. It'll take some time to complete on your first go but it never ends up getting boring. As you progress, you begin to pick up details on your enemies (called "Locust"), find new weapons, learn more about the relationships between your characters (called "Cog") and see some greatly produced cutscenes. Staying alive is all about how tactical you are in some situations. Sometimes you may just get away with running through with all guns blasting but you'll see many objects that let you duck behind them. These are all here for a reason - for you to take cover. Simply tapping the A button whilst near these makes your character take cover. Taking cover is essential at times to avoid your character, Marcus from dieing. Marcus is your main playable character but you can play as Dom on the co-op mode too. It holds up on the character personalities too.

Unlike some other games, Gears of War has a regenerating health system. When you take damage, you'll see a red gear/skull that appears on screen. The more it becomes red, then the closure you are to your death. Getting away from enemies and taking cover will make it disappear after a short time. So, when it's not there - it means you have full health. This works fine and doesn't make the game too easy either. It eliminates the need to constantly pick up health packs throughout. However, your ammunition is limited for your weapons. There are plenty of ammo packs around the locations to find though. Some are hidden well and some are clearly visible to you. If you kill an enemy with a weapon, you can usually pick up their weapon's ammo or swap your weapon for it. At times you can also find grenades. These are useful for blocking up emergence holes where the enemies pop out from.

Enemies seem to be smart at times. Simply just running away from them and hiding doesn't mean they'll stay put. Sometimes they'll even come over and try to get you up close - especially when you jam your gun because you have not reloaded at the right time. There are some times where they do not notice you though. Like, they will be ducking behind some fallen down pillar and you can easily take them out with your shotgun or have an easy opportunity to use your chainsaw. As you progress, you will come across many enemies who may not go down without a powerful fight. Some require you to be careful around them and some can kill you in an instant. You get these annoying little creatures, called "Wretches". The name doesn't sound nice at all. They crawl around and start chasing you in an attempt to kill you. Some can blow up near you in later levels. On the "Casual" difficulty, this will cause some health loss but on "Insane" you can get blown up instantly if you are not careful. There's also these things called "Kryll". When present, these are seen flying up in the sky. They will attack you (this is on Act 2 mainly) if you go into dark places. Staying in the light is essential since you cannot kill these yourself. If you happen to get attacked, you character's body is shredded into multiple pieces almost instantly. Act 2 feels different since you have to find out ways of getting to the light. You'll also come across a short driving part to where you'll have to fend off the Kryll. Throughout, this proves to be a creepy level and thrilling too.

Another enemy, Boomer carries the Boomshot, a powerful weapon that shoots a missile-like bullet at you. If this hits you directly, you can die or if it hears nearby it can take a health deduction. The enemies that carry these weapons take a while to kill. So, taking cover is certainly essential for these and avoiding their fire too. Later on, you'll begin to notice enemies also get more advanced. They'll start chainsawing more often, shooting you with the shotgun and such. I found one enemy that was really fun to take down was on the first act (and present later on too). Basically, you'll have to use the Hammer of Dawn weapon to take them down. They run and charge at you quick. If you don't dive out of the way, you'll be squashed to your death. This proves fun and thrilling too as you try to get out of their way.

There's a good variety of weapons available but for the most part you'll find yourself using the Lancer (this also has a chainsawing ability) or shotgun. Four different weapons can be equipped to your character at any given time. Each weapon can be accessed by pressing the directional pad in any of the four directions. Pressing up will reveal a pistol, down will reveal grenades. These two slots are usually limited to weapons of the same type. The left and right spaces allow you to put all sorts of weapons in when you find them. Weapons you'll come across includes the torque bow, the Boomshot (an explosive weapon), Hammer of Dawn (this only works when the satellites are operating up ahead) and Longshot (a sniper). Using the right weapons at the right time can ensure to make it a little easier at times too. These can also be brought online too.

When you're shooting it really does feel like you are. It doesn't feel weak and reloading works well. If you reload at the right time (called an "Active reload"), your bullets take more damage on the enemies too. The control of the character and weapons work well indeed. Getting through each level is pretty much linear. However, at times you may be offered to split up and choose which way you want to go. Things can get a much more challenging when you put the difficulty up. Going from "Casual" to "Hardcore" seems to be a big difference. A co-op mode (locally, system-link or on Xbox Live) allows you an one other player to engage in the combat. You may find this mode can relieve the situation. When one of your teammates dies, it is indicated on-screen for you. The AI opponents get up usually when you press X near them or when you've taken out all enemies. However, if your partner on co-op dies, you will need to get round to reviving them. During the times when you do split up though, you do need to be careful not to die since the other player cannot revive you. Good thing is, you can still earn achievements when in co-op mode.

As well as a co-op mode, there is also some other multiplayer modes present. You can go head-to-head with others locally, on system-link or on Xbox Live. There are many online achievements to get in addition to the single-player achievements. So, if you fancy trying these out you'll be restricted to playing ranked matches. There are a whole bundle of maps available to you - each containing a good variety of weapons and good hiding spots. There are some modes present such as "Execution", where you try to take down all members of the opposition, "Warzone" and "Assassination", where it is important to protect the leader. The online modes can be pretty fun and you can also play with friends on player matches. Here you have the ability to kick people and be more freeform on what weapons are available on the maps.

Unfortunately, at times it may seem laggy due to the connections. Sometimes you may think you are right there in front shooting someone when in fact a few seconds later, you just teleported to somewhere else. Also, when you host a match, it seems you have smoother experience and accurate control over weapons. There are leaderboards available where you can filter by weekly, monthly and all-time. You can also restrict and compare your scores to your friends. Here you can find out how many kills you have, how many matches you have played and lots of other useful statistics. Your placement in the leaderboards is counted by the amount of points you earn in a successful match. You can simply built up points by getting more kills but you can also lose them if you somehow commit suicide.

On a graphical standpoint, Gears of War certainly does show how great the Xbox 360 can be. The environments, characters and animations are the best on Xbox 360. When playing in high-definition, you can certainly notice how crisp and beautiful it looks. When you chainsaw an enemy, you can see all the blood splatter everywhere. This is animated very well and certainly does feel great. Chainsawing just never seems to get old. Navigating the menus works fine too. You can navigate using the directional pad, the left or right thumbsticks too. This has been set out nice and simple, making it easy to get through and jump into a game. Loading times aren't too intense. You get some during progress of a level and at times it seems textures take a short time to load up. Other than that, it holds up well.

Gears of War is worth picking up not just because of the single player but because of the online modes. You can have some great times with your friends on there. It feels powerful, you've got great control, the soundtrack matches the powerfulness of the gameplay and it looks beautiful. With the added achievements, you'll be sure to keep playing. The achievements are fairly simple but you'll find that some just take some time to get through. Many of the weapons achievements may take a lot of time and getting 10,000 kills will take a while to build up. It does great on many parts - as a single player game, as a good looking, great sounding and as a good multiplayer game. If you skip past this title then you've clearly missed out on one of the Xbox 360's greatest games so far.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/06/07

Game Release: Gears of War (EU, 11/17/06)

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