Gears of War Review (Xbox360)

Shown to the world for the first time back at E3 2005 (the last one with hot babes!), Gears of War instantly stunned people with it's jaw dropping graphics and great character design. Powered by Epic's new Unreal Engine 3, Gears was the first real game that showed off what this new engine was capable of and without a doubt helped sell it to developers all over the world. At that time I wanted to be blown away by next-gen visuals and GOW definitely did not disappoint, but as time went on one question kept coming up again and again: "Will it play as good as it looks". After spending close to an hour with the game's multiplayer mode at E3 2006, I could tell it was on the right track, but it was just not enough to answer the question once and for all. After spending more time with GOW than I feel comfortable talking about, I can now finally answer that nagging question!

Fire Bad! Hero of the Day - Marcus Fenix

Gears of War takes place on a distant earth-like planet called Sera that has been ripped apart by civil wars over the dwindling resources. While the humans battle each other, deep below the surface an unknown species know as the "Locust Horde" have been planning their attack on the humans to regain control over their planet. The Locusts finally show them self's for the first time by breaking through the surface and attacking them on what was dubbed "Emergence Day".

This is where you take over. You play the role of Marcus Fenix, a former "Gear" who end's up in prison after some falling outs. Before those mishaps, Marcus was known as one of the best and built up a very impressive record while in the services and has since become sort of a legend. The "Gears" as they are known are the name of the Marine-like soldiers that are tasked with trying to save Sera from the Locusts. After the war with the Locusts starts, all prisoners receive a pardon and this is when your old squad-mates come to bail you out of jail and reinstate you into the Gears.

GOW takes place from a 3rd person perspective, but plays very much like a first-person shooter in regards to aiming. You have 2 main options as far as firing your weapon goes. The first is what has been dubbed the "spray and pray" move, which consists of you firing randomly without taking time to aim. This spray of bullets is rarely fatal to an enemy but works well as suppressing fire to keep them at bay while you set up a flank. Whats cool about this move is when you are behind cover, you can stick just your gun out from the cover and fire away without putting your self at risk. Your primary mode of fire is the precise fire, this uses the left trigger to aim precisely at a target while hitting the right trigger to fire the rounds. This method really works well with GOWs 3rd-person view and while it does take some getting use it, once mastered it feels like second nature.

While Gears may feel similar to a first-person shooter in how it controls, it definitely does not play anything like your typical shooter. GOW does not follow the standard "run and gun" gameplay of most shooters and instead is based around the "stop and pop" cover related system that only a handful of games have used. Gears uses a very intuitive cover system that is very simplistic in design but allows for a wide range of control. Everything is handled by the A button. If you are by an object that can be used as cover, an icon on the screen will come up showing how that object can be used, all you do is tap the A button and Marcus will go into cover mode and be "attached" to that object. If it's a wall, you can move with your back against it, peak around the edge and roll to another piece of cover just by tapping A. This in principle works the same with all cover in the game. The system is a little tricky at first, and generally takes about 30-45 min to fully master, but once you get it down you will find your self moving from cover to cover like a pro.

What takes the most time with GOW is adjusting your mindset on how you should play the game. When you get in the game the very first thing you want to do is run up and gun everyone down. If you do that you will be killed within 10 to 20 seconds max. Same goes for standing around trying to pick people off. You must use cover at all times during a battle, just like in real life. In this sense, GOW is alot like Counter-Strike. Almost all engagements involve you firing from behind some form of cover. While behind cover, you can hit the Left Trigger button to pop out and fire a few shoots with the Right Trigger. As soon as you are done you simply release the left trigger and you fall back behind your cover. This really creates some intense battles with both you and the enemies battling for cover and flanking positions while laying down fire. This gameplay system really adds alot of depth and tactics to the game that you don't often see in action titles.

See kids, this is what happens if you don't eat your veggies! Your typical 9-5 job

But what would all of this tactical gameplay be good for if we didn't have some other way to bring the pain to the Locust. Thankfully Gears of War obliges with what will surely go down in history as one of the coolest melee weapons of all time: the chainsaw bayonet! This devastating attack is pulled off by holding the B button down for a few seconds at close range with the standard machine gun. If done correctly, Marcus will start up his chainsaw that's attached to the gun and cut your foe straight down the middle splitting them in half and spraying the screen full of blood. There is no other more fulfilling way to finish off a enemy than this! But be careful, the chainsaw bayonet takes perfect timing to pull off, to early or to late and you will be the one getting split down the middle.

Visually speaking, unless you have been in a cave or under a rock for the last 2 years, then you know by now that Gears of War is an amazing looking title. I am going to go one step further and claim it to be the best looking game currently out on anything, PC or Console. Not only does GOW show off what the Unreal Engine 3 can do, it proves that 360 is without a doubt a power-house and that the next-generation really did start with it. Right from the get-go Gears greets you with incredibly detailed environments filled with extremely detailed textures and great HDR lighting. Everything from muzzle flashes to explosions fill the screen with blinding light and great detail. The character models them self's are outstanding and look almost CG movie quality. What makes this package even sweeter is the fact that Gears of War is able to push all of this detail at a steady 30 frames per second throughout the whole game. Never once did I see any noticeable frame rate drops, even when the screen was filled with bad guys.

Aside from the great single player campaign, Gears offers a strong set of multiplayer options as well. There are two main modes of play in multiplayer: CO-OP and Death match. In Co-op one player plays as Marcus and the other plays as his best friend from the single player game, Dominic Santiago. You can play through the whole game from start to finish over XBL. What makes this really cool is the ability to invite a friend to join you at any time during the game. Instead of having to start a game with two players, you can simply start playing the game and then invite a friend to join you at anytime and they pop right in.

At first glance the Death match mode appears to be extremely basic, only offering two types of matches for a max of 8 players. But the addictive nature of the gameplay will quickly suck you in and keep you playing well into the early hours of the morning. The main death match mode of play is called "Warzone". This mode is a team based death match where each team tries to take out the other team. Like in Counter-Strike, if you die in this mode you are gone till the match is over with. This really forces you to work as a team and not rush in by your self.

"Execution" is pretty much the exact same as Warzone, only this time when you kill someone, you must finish them off with a violent move such as the chainsaw or curb stomp.
"Assassination" is unique mode where you have 2 teams each with their own designated leader. Only the leaders can pick up guns during the match, and the only way to score points and win is for one team to take out the other teams leader.

Multiplayer works quite well and despite it's simplicity, it's one of the most addicting XBL games out there. Epic has done a great job with the lobby system and match making. Servers are easy to find and get into, and once in you can stay in that server as long as they are up. No kicking you back to the main menu after a match ends like alot of XBL games. The biggest difference between the single and multiplayer modes from a gameplay standpoint is the "downed" state. Unlike the single-player where you shoot an enemy until they die, in multiplayer once you take full damage you are bought to your knees in a down but not out state. You are still alive and have a chance to be brought back by one of your teammates. To fully finish off someone in mulitplayer, you have to fire a few more rounds into them, shoot them in the head, chainsaw them or do the too violent for words "curb stomp".

What's he aiming at? Band of Brothers

Overall I was quite impressed with Gears of War. It took a year, but now Xbox 360 owners finally have that "must have" title for their system. And what a great title it is. There are some small problems with the game though. For starters the single-player game only lasts about 10 hours for the average gamer, which is pretty short. But it's one hell of a white-knuckle ride form start to finish. I also felt that the story could have been better fleshed out then it was. The cut-scenes are all in-engine and look great, but some of the dialog and acting is questionable. I also think the ending could have been better, but as it stands I am simply nit-picking at this point. What you end up with is one of the most well-rounded games in years. The "stop and pop" gameplay works great with the cover system to create a very addicting game. You can also thank the highly intelligent AI for that. Not only do they know and use all of the same tactics as you, they also know how to work as a team and can be extremely tough to beat when doing so. What this all means for you, the gamer, is you will be pushed to the limit and fully tested by Gears of War! Only question is, can you handle it?

Top Game Moment:
Without a doubt the first time I correctly pulled off the Chainsaw Bayonet!!!