Review by squidney2k1

Reviewed: 11/08/06

Lives up to and far exceeds the hype. Now people will hunt for a "GoW Killer"

Gears of War is one of the most engaging and stunning titles to be created...EVER. Everything from the ultra-realistic graphics, unique art style, and impressive presentation and background story come together to bring gamers an imersive world in both gameplay and atmosphere.

Story/Presentation - 9/10
The story line is pretty straight forward . You play as Marcus Fenix who has been imprisoned after disobeying orders on Emergence Day (the day the Locust unleashed global hell on humanity) in order to attempt to save his father. There's not much to dive into in terms to completely discovering a character's history, and some might find that a slight let-down, but what it does is help drive the incredible world of Sera.

Epic has really outdone themselves in making the world of Sera, a world that teeters on the edge of total annihilation and mankind with it. Through the character reactions (sympathizing with Fenix's actions), dialog, and extremely detailed but desolate environments, you become engrossed in a world that is ending right before your eyes. The sense that mankind is facing extinction and human development has come to a screeching halt in the Locust's wake is everywhere. From the crumbling buildings, to the once beautiful art pieces and architectures, down to the smashed valuables of your average family, and even the hanging corpses of former soldier, citizens, and children, you cannot escape the scope and scale of the world of Sera and the perils it faces. This game does not follow the story of Marcus Fenix, so much as it follows Fenix's role in the story of the troubling end times of Sera. Although there will be times where you wish you could be informed more about Fenix's history and what happened to the world during Emergence Day, you'll never have to guess to hard or wander off of the path as just looking at the surroundings you stand is more than enough to create the engaging storyline.

Graphics - 10/10
NOTHING looks as good as this game as it is not only the best-looking console game ever, but even future next-gen releases cannot compete with Gears of war - Not Call of Duty 3, not MGS4, not Devil May Cry 4. Hell, this game can even give Crysis a good run for its money and is a prime example of how the best-looking games next-gen will be decided by developers, not hardware. Epic has set a new bar using their Unreal 3 Engine, and set it by standing on top of the old one.

Until you have seen it running in full HD splendor, you have only seen a part of the awe. The art style and direction is unique and absolutely stunning. Wonderful presentation. The lighting system of the Unreal 3 engine is so vivid and dynamic that I didn't even notice that a good chunk of Soft Shadows had been removed (probably to increase framerate) for the first couple of hours! The framerate is consistently during gameplay and cruises comfortably above 30fps, however it does take slight dives during in-game cinematics. These drops can be into what would appear to be the 20fps range, but they don't last more than a second or two, and do exist. The ability to stream everything in the game with absolutely zero loading times is a wonder to be hold and greatly shows off not only the ability of the developers at Epic, but the 360 hardware as well.

Character models are extremely realistic, although bulky and of the slight comic book fare, and facial expressions match dialog during cutscenes perfectly. The animations during weapon switching are particularly done exceptionally well, as characters fluidly reach for weapons shown on their backs. Every action, although not necessarily motion captured, appears to be so anyways, and no movement seems like it was exaggerated. Self-shadows are a sight to behold.

The real stars visually are the environments, particularly the textures and lighting. Every surface in gears of war looks war-torn and echos the impending doom the world of Sera is facing, whether it's a cracked wall and/or ceiling, the scorched and broken statues of a fountain, or the bullet-ridden and battle scarred gargoyles perched atop a the last remaining pillar of a once beautiful and great structure. The dynamic lighting system and HDR further drive the feeling of realism, mixed in with the endless amount of tracers, rooms briefly lit by grenades going of, and streams of light creeping in through partially shattered windows highlighting the absolutely stunning soft-particle system. You will often have to remind yourself that everything you are seeing is Real-Time rendering and not a Pixar movie gone hardcore.

Sound - 10/10
Easily one of the game's most surprising strengths, Gears of War comes armed with top-notch sound effects, musical scores, and some very impressive voice acting. Dialog is gritty and foul, and fits in nicely with the games overly Mature rating, and never appears to go too far. Weapons, although strangely futuristic, still echo those familiar tones - Shotguns boom, Pistols tap, and grenades burst and echo. Each weapon has it's own distinct sound and you'll be surprised to realize that you're able to recognize each one in the middle of all of the gunfire.

The musical score is very fitting for the atmosphere and during firefights, it helps to get and keep the adrenaline going (just incase it wasn't already flowing). The war-like themes occasionally transition into the calming scores at times, and some of those moments can seem a little odd, but only for those taking the time to notice.

Where the sound in Gears really shines is with the battle "chatter" and creature sounds. Your comrades will constantly spit out real-time updates that will having you saying "no ****, Sherlock!" in the middle of a firefight, but while playing co-op, you'll often find yourself doing the exact same thing over your Xbox Live headset. Locust soldiers will occasionally let out distinct battle cries and mutterings, but for the most part it's kept down to a realist does of human/creature sound that doesn't go over the top. There are plenty of elements that will have you quickly flinching and stop your heart for a beat or two, such as the sound of a large grunt following you around an open area, but being unable to pinpoint it as it draws nearer and nears. When you've experienced the roars of the giant spider/crab hybrids and Beserkers first hand, you'll find yourself uttering slightly under your breath, "that's awesome."

Gameplay - 10/10
One might find it hard to believe that the Stop-and-Pop shooting they've been witnessing for the past year and a half can truly live up to all the hopes and dreams of gamers everywhere. Until you actually get your hands on Gears and experience, only then will you realize one thing - It certainly does!

This is not the first game to use an extensive cover system, but it is the first to do it well. Exceedingly well. The mechanics are fairly straight forward to follow, and moving from point A to point B flows vividly between shooting bursts as if to simulate the most war-torn urban environment that exists today. Ever firefight is essentially a tactical, albeit frantic, scramble for cover and control of flanking/firing positions. Once you've found yourself a moment to drop a few bodies, you'll often find that time is short as the brilliant enemy A.I. has already attempting to out-flank you and and you'll take a face full of lead in a hurry if you're not quick and careful. This frantic and exciting pace of battle, mixed with the realistic and engaging A.I. of both enemy Locust and your squadmates manages to make every encounter seem entirely different and random. Playing Gears, you'll find yourself consistently on your toes as you scramble to revive fallen squadmates, run from cover to cover, and quickly pop-out to drop enemies before falling from too many shots yourself. Gears of war forces you to keep on the move, and it's by this that the pace is able to remain erratically high the entire game.

Anyone who believes that they can just chill behind a wall and wait for the enemy to stop shooting so they can pop up and say, "My turn!" will more often than not find themselves the victim of a brutal melee attack or blast to the face and dropped by the enemy they never saw circling them.

Control - 9/10
Although the layout and mechanics are pretty simple, there is a slight learning curve to get it right, and a slightly longer period to become "skilled." The game controls list a typical action game while in 3rd person, but while zoomed it for firing, it is essentially a First-Person Shooter with a 3rd person model on the side. It's not only a nice visual touch, but it does not hinder/affect gameplay in any way. Moving from cover to cover is easy, but there are times when you'll find yourself accidentally jumping into/up against cover instead of running freely like you intended. This is due to a simplistic, yet at times problematic, system of holding the A-button to induce all cover/move actions. Until you've conquered the learning curver and have learned to work around it, it will plague your gameplay throughout the first 1-2 acts of the game.

Aiming is FPS dead-on accurate, however you are forced to aim down your sights by zooming in as firing "from the hip" is extremely inaccurate, contains no sight reticule, and is only effective at close range. Movement while aiming is limited but realistically fair, and the "blind fire" feature (firing around corners without looking) can be effective, but is also hard to abuse and is only effective in attempting to make your enemy think twice about rushing you, or creating distractions.

Melee attacks are incredibly accurate, and the Chainsaw will easily become the method of execution preferred by most players. This can be a slight issue as in close range multiplayer battles, it often comes down to who can rev up their bayonet first and get in close enough for the kill.

Multiplayer - 9/10
Co-Op is brilliantly implemented with it's pick-up and play system and ability to switch between Solo and Co-Op progress with ease. It is however strongly emphasized and almost a requirement on the Hardcore difficulty as even the most skilled veterans of shooters will find themselves in for one helluva fight and dying more often than they'd like. Being able to not only span the entire campaign in both offline and online co-op is something that is rarely seen in games, and provides for exciting gameplay as you work together vigorously to survive a constant Locust onslaught.

Multiplayer match modes are pretty slim and all are of the Deathmatch variation, but they are frantic, fast paced, and insanely fun. The maps are designed to perfection to work with 4-on-4 firefights, and many will enjoy the fact that it is nearly impossible to become the victim of cheap gameplay techniques such as Camping, Weapon Guarding, and Spawn Killing. The main match modes are Assassination - where you must assassinate the leader of the other team - and Extinction, where the only way to permanentely kill a downed opponent is to finish them off when they are down is to put a few more bullets in their head, blow them to bits, or execute a vicious melee attack such as the "Curb Stomp." Otherwise, revival occurs in 30 seconds. This is easily one of the most enjoyable and frantic paced match modes. You will die, a lot until you master the curve, but 90% of your deaths you will not only find entertaining, but strangely satisfying as you proclaim to your teammates, "oh snap, I just got owned and my head stomped in!!!"

It would've been nice to see the inclusion of some Capture the Flag elements, and even a King of the Hill match mode as most will notice how the well-designed cover system and gameplay mechanic would have made for some very engaging battles. We can only hope for the inclusion during some of the game's promised DLC due out at a later time.

Replay Value - 8/10
The campaign is short (8-10 for most players), but that can be stretched out a great deal by increasing the difficulty to Hardcore (or Insane if you are well...insane), and that is a time-consuming challenge enough. The inclusion of campaign co-op gives the slight urge to want to run through it all again with more than a few of your friends, and as each firefight can play out differently thanks to the brilliant A.I., it's definitely worth going after those achievements.

Multiplayer will be the real meat and potatoes of this game, and is more than enough to keep Gears of War spinning inside your 360 for months and months to come. The 4-on-4 gameplay leads to very quick matchmaking and fast-paced rounds with addictive gameplay, and after awhile you won't even be wishing for 8-on-8 matches or anything larger because it works flawlessly. With the promise of downloadable content and those cherished achievements to unlock, you will become a COG veteran in no time.

OVERALL SCORE (not an Average) - 9.8-10 Simply because none of the very few and minuscule flaws take away from the core gameplay experience and prevent gamers at any moment from having one hell of an enjoyable experience. Halo move over, because from now on, everyone will be searching for an elusive "Gears of War killer!"

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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