Gears of War
Gears of War. After months of carefully planned hype by Microsoft, it’s finally here. We can finally find out whether all the trailers and screenshots that made us drool have honored the game or set false expectations. Game of the year or the largest pile of hot air since the start of humanity? Judge for yourself…
Gears of War will go into history as the game that started a graphical revolution. As the first title to use the fantastic Unreal Engine 3.0, it’s the best looking game up to now. The models are of unseen quality, the textures are razorsharp and incredibly detailed, and the HDR lighting effects feel very natural. If you start looking at the small details, you’ll notice just how beautiful Gears of War is. The metal on your armor shines beautifully, when firing a weapon, smoke will come out of the barrel which shortly blurs your sight, rain slowly comes down from the rooftops, the sunlight sometimes blinds you, and so on… The animations are also perfectly done, both from your team members as from the Locust. The jumps, rolls and strafe movements feel real. I could fill books about just how great this game looks but it all comes down to this: Gears of War is the first REAL next-gen game.
Gears of War is a third-person action title where taking cover is the key element. If you just barge onto the Locust with your guns drawn you’ll be eating dirt before you know it. It comes down to playing tactically and constantly hiding behind car wrecks, walls, debree, washing machines, etc. You do that with the A-button, which is also used for dive and roll movements, jumping over obstacles, swat turns and maybe the most important part: the roadie run, that comes down to running while ducked. Be sure to use it often to get from one hiding place to another. The choice to use only one button for a multitude of actions was a good one as the controls feel swift and intuitive. The only minor downpoint here is that you sometimes do something you didn’t want to do…
In the end, Gears of War isn’t anything more than that. When you encounter hostiles, you take cover and start shooting until the opposition is down on the ground, bleeding like hell. However, Gears of War does this trick so good that it never starts to bore, which is mostly thanks to the varied level design. You’ll have to go through tight alleys, fight on huge open spaces, clear out abandoned warehouses, and walk through huge underground caves. All surroundings have a grim, dark atmosphere but there’s one Act (Act 2, there’s five in total) that heads the pack. Act 2 plays at night (which is already creepy enough) and really tests your nerves. Without telling too much, it comes down to the fact that if you end up in the dark areas, you’ll be eaten alive.
You’ll need to run from one light source to the other and even create some by making gass canisters explode. Beware: these will burn for only a short time and that’s the time you have before you die. This makes for an exciting game of cat and mouse between you and your surroundings. The game proves that graphics can have an effect on gameplay.
One of the strongest points of the game is the co-op possibility. Playing GoW with a friend in splitscreen or through Xbox Live is something you just have to do. The satisfaction you get when finishing a difficult part together is immense.
A living player is also a lot more efficient than your AI companions (that do stand their ground, but don’t really shine) and if one of both dies he/she can be resurrected by the other.
The campaign is nicely challenging (I suggest everyone to start on hardcore) but not extremely difficult and also filled with checkpoints, which limits the level of frustration. The casual difficulty is a bit too simple to play in co-op and in about 8 hours you’ll be able to finish the game (a little less in casual), which isn’t that much sadly enough. For a game of this calibre we would have liked to see a little more, especially when noticing that Resident Evil 4 easily offers twice the amount of playing time.
As said, the Locust offer quite some opposition. They always attack in groups and will always try to surround you when the surroundings lean themselves for that. They also come in all different shapes and sizes. You’ve got normal infantry, but also wretches (unarmed but quick, small and huge in numbers), boomers (armed with bazookas) and the strong Theron guards. To fight them you’ve got a small but powerful arsenal at your disposal with the usual toys like pistols, a burst machinegun and a shotgun, but the true stars of the show are the Lancer (and more specifically, its chainsaw) and the Hammer of Dawn. The latter needs to be used against the biggest enemies and shoots a laser beam from satellites onto the unlucky victim.
The most fun though, is the chainsaw attachment of the Lancer with which you can chop a Locust to pieces when he gets too close. This is a gruesomely cool move that goes along with tons of blood splatterin. Especially the wretches are easy prey for the chainsaw.
A nice finding is the reloading system. A push on the RB button makes a moving arrow and bar appear that’s divided in a small white and a large black part. A second push on RB can stop the arrow. Do this is in the white zone to have an active reload. Put the arrow in the black zone and your weapon will jam, making it take longer to fire again. Do everything correctly and you’ll get a perfect active reload and the extra bullets will cause more damage.
Just like the graphics, the sound is also of a very high level. The voice-acting may be a bit over the top, but the weapon effects, explosions and surround sounds are taken care of to the smallest details. The chainsaw makes a sound that goes through bones (literally) and the soundtrack is good, although not as memorable as Zelda or Metal Gear Solid. The music adjusts itself in a subtle way to the action on the screen.
Biggest disappointment is the multiplayer. I wasn’t expecting a revolution here, but the final result is beneath my expectations. In the three modes (Warzone, Assassination and Execution) you play with only 8 players in small maps. All three modes are variations on ordinary deathmatch and there are no objective-based or CTF modes, which leaves little tactics. Most rounds are done within a minute which makes the fun constantly getting interrupted. It’s cool that you can revive your team mates. If you’re quick enough, that is, since an opponent can also finish off the wounded layer by stepping on him or by chopping him to pieces. All in all, playing over Xbox Live is fun but feels like a missed opportunity.
Gears of War is one of the few games that even after a never-seen-before hype manages to fulfill its promises almost completely. The graphics are the best in videogames, the co-op is genius and the gameplay is challenging and nicely brutal. Even more; the chainsaw in GoW is the most fun weapon since the Pheropods and Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2. But it’s not all positive: the multiplayer isn’t groundbreaking, the game is finished pretty quickly and the storyline as such isn’t worth much. Despite these small cons, for me, Gears of War is, save for Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, the best game on Xbox 360.