Review by Arkrex
Big guns wielding even bigger guns
Cliff Bleszinski, the lead designer of Gears of War, offers a thought-provoking question in the game's instruction manual: "what makes a next-generation game?" Better graphics, physics and AI? It's true that Gears of War has all of this - thanks to the power of the Unreal 3 Engine - and when it was first released as the Xbox 360's killer-app, many thought it was "****ing awesome". It has been a good year for gaming and we've seen plenty of other games boasting even better graphics, physics and AI. So how does Gears of War hold up now? In all honesty, very well, but I wouldn't say that it was a next-gen game.
The duck and cover system featured in Gears of War is like no other. Inspired by old-fashioned paintball tactics, Marcus Fenix is a muscle-bound tough guy wielding several big guns (both the firearm and biceps variety), enough to wipe out dozens of the Locust horde, no sweat, but he's still but a man and a few well-placed shots will send his superbly textured mug to the grimy floors. Hence the need to duck to avoid incoming fire and taking cover behind the many broken pillars and crumbled monuments that litter the post-apocalyptic world.
Marcus is a very mobile brute. He can perform SWAT turns, leap over barricades and do a commando roll, at all times keeping his vulnerable bulk away from enemy sights. He also has a squad of fellow manly men with him at all times that can provide covering fire or perform aggressive charges as dictated by Marcus. There is a sense of teamwork at all times, and it all comes together to make the ducking and covering (of which your team-mates do plenty) feel like an integral component of the game. It is important because a gung-ho approach will see you riddled in bullets in a matter of seconds, but at the same time it is repetitive since the entire game revolves around this concept.
Over five lengthy chapters, you'll have to duck, shoot and take cover within every room-like area you encroach upon. Different enemies are introduced as you go along which require a slightly different tactical mindset to gun down, but generally, apart from the few bosses, it's the same thing over and over again. The stages are also painfully linear despite appearances, with many corridors conveniently blocked out by fallen rubble. At times you can choose separate paths to take, but you'll soon meet up in the same places for the more important events; it's not like the different paths play very differently too (duck and cover...)
You'll want to finish Gears of War because it's interesting to see how things develop (a sequel is already in the works) and firing up a storm with shrapnel, stone rubble and body parts flung all over the place looks frighteningly life-like. The cover mechanics work well, but the AI isn't as hot as they make it out to be: the Locust will duck and take cover skilfully, but often fail to take you on when you're most vulnerable. Multiplayer and Co-op, on the other hand, are excellent team-based affairs that offer less predictable gameplay with a wealth of guns and arenas to go ablaze in.
If you enjoy real-life paintball and have always wished it were translated into a badass video game, Gears of War is definitely a must-have. Cliff Bleszinski talked about controls being the final important element of what makes a game next-gen and in this respect, Gears of War delivers. Taking cover, popping out only as needed, and gunning down all manner of alien creatures with unparalleled ease is something seen in very few games; Gears of War is the first, and hopefully nowhere near the last to do so. It isn't quite "next-gen", but needless to say, it's still a hell of a good time - especially if you don't mind ducking and taking cover countless times to earn your gory kills.
VERDICT - 8.0/10 Reminds me Contra, but with cover taking precedence over manly exposures.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Gears of War (AU, 11/23/06)
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