Review by maximumbarmage
All hype and graphics
From the moment the Xbox 360 was announced, Gears of War was touted as the biggest game forthcoming for the console, supposedly even more so than Halo 3. We were led to expect an incredible looking experience that did nothing less than 'revolutionize gaming'. This proved to be a lot of hot air from Epic, as usual.
There's no getting away from it, we were promised a lot from this one, and sadly, it delivered on only one score: it's graphics.
There's no disputing how fantastic this game looks. It has some of the most detailed visuals you'll likely ever lay eyes on, with exceptionally detailed characters and backdrops and satisfyingly gory enemy explosions as well as some impressively sized monsters to battle. It looks awesome. Heck, it's arguably the best looking game made to date, so impressive is it's level of detail. However, these incredible graphics seem to come at a price, in particular with regard to the amount of depth and length the game has on offer.
The levels in Gears of War are actually rather narrow and 'on-rails' for pretty much the entire game, with the occasional large area thrown in there to break up the action with a big shoot out or boss fight, but these are ultimately still herding your characters in one direction for the duration of the game. Even the rare 'choose your path' moments are rather deceptive, as the paths are usually running so close beside each other and are so similar that there's little point in the game actually giving you the option in the first place, other than to make the multiplayer a little more interesting.
There's even a rather pathetic 'driving' level thrown in there for no apparent reason that seems to have been tacked on at the last minute. It involves having to drive around a rather tiny area of the city while being pursued by the killer crows that you face throughout the game, and basically all you do is drive, stop, shoot crows with lights for a few seconds, drive, repeat. Think of the Batmobile levels from Batman Begins with added stopping and you'll have the idea.
The game has great looks, yes, but unfortunately those lush visuals come with the price of being wrapped around a series of sparsely populated, lifeless and cold series of locations that are often far too antiseptic and empty, with scattered objects like furniture adding nothing to proceedings as they break apart in rather poor looking fashion(Starts off looking pristine, shoot it once and it breaks, with random damage unrelated to where you shot it appearing on it) compared with the physics involved in how the characters and enemies come apart throughout the game. See that car near the start you can shoot until it explodes? It's the only one in the game I could see, as the rest of the vehicles in the game are completely indestructible and cannot be interacted with. Rather odd I thought.
In addition to this, there was one moment that stuck with me: The large monster with the cannon on it's back you have to reach your APC to get away from near the end of the game. It looked rather impressively nasty, and I was hoping to see it appear again, but no. It was in there for no real reason than to offer a flashy cutscene, when it would probably have made a far more impressive final boss than the one the game has, I believe.
Now that the graphics are out of the way, lets get down to the gameplay, which is little more than a mishmash of other games that have come before it, more often than not doing what Gears of War does much much better. In particular the mighty Resident Evil 4.
Epic made it clear they were getting many of their ideas for Gears of War from RE4 from the off, and it really shows. With several gameplay touches(like the over the shoulder aiming) and set pieces lifted straight from RE4(most notably the 'Berserker' monsters that react to sound, lifted straight from RE4 and shoved into GoW with few differences in rather shameless fashion). The 'hide' function also, is very hit and miss as you use the same button to press against a wall or other hideworthy location and dash/dodge, which makes it all too easy to hit a wall and stick to it when you're trying to dodge, or to jump over a wall when you're trying to dash off to the saide to other cover. It may not happen to you often, true, but it happened enough to annoy me during my initial run through of the game.
Another gripe is your team mates in the game. This is supposed to be a squad based shoot em up, but you can only give your squad the most basic commands in the game. There's no scope for deep, ingenious strategy here, just 'fire', 'cover' and little else. Play it with a friend if you want a real squad based experience from this game, otherwise, you'll find you won't be spending a whole lot of time trying to get your team members to be of any real use in this game, as they aren't really, unless you're using them as cannon fodder or cover of course. It's a rather weakly implemented part of the game given it's supposed to be a squad based shoot em up, yes, but honestly, itprobably wouldn't have added a whole lot to the game if it was more deep than it is. If you really must play a squad based shooting game, you'll no doubt already be aware of the many superior alternatives that are available in the genre to this. Play one of those instead.
To be fair though, the game IS passable if you're a hardcore shooter fan looking for a fix. Yes, it offers absolutely nothing new or even as good as some past games in the genre you'll have played, but it's arguably not BAD in what it does do if you get down to it, but while I was playing, I had a very real feeling of 'yeah, so what?', as I'd felt like I'd been here so many times before, it was hard to work up the enthusiasm to keep going at times. Make no mistake, this is unoriginality at it's most pure. Far more so than is usual for this type of game in fact. So if do go in, be sure you're expectations aren't overly high, as mine had been raised to be by months of MS and Epic hype.
Onto the story of the game, it's pure b-movie trash involving alien monsters from underground attacking a human populated world for reasons that are barely touched upon, cue poorly voiced identikit tough guy marines who have to grunt and shout their way through a wafer thin plot to make Paul Verhoven blush that even has the audacity to end on a cliffhanger that gives virtually no sense of closure or satisfaction with the climax. It's like Halo 2's ending all over again. Which also brings me to the issue of the game's length: barely six hours at a push, which is less than a third of the time it took me to finish Resident Evil 4. If I was given the choice of a beautiful, but shallow and unpolished title, or a slightly less beautiful but large, engaging and exceptionally polished title, I'd take to the latter every time.
Lastly, I'll touch on the multiplayer aspect of the game. Well, I say aspect, but it's more or less what this game was made for, as much of the gameplay seems to have been designed to accomodate a multiplayer squad shoot-em-up than it has a single player experience.
The campaign mode, admittedly, is a lot more fun when played through with a friend, as it is quite gratifying to take on the enemy with actual squad mates as opposed to AI soldiers who you can only give the most basic of commands to. The 'death matches' and 'vs' games are good for a few more hours of fun as well, but these for me highlighted the shortcomings of the cover system more than the single player did if anything, and really, I felt so shortchanged by the single player mode in this game by the time I got around to the multiplayer, I could only bring myself to spend a relatively minor amount of time on Live with this title compared to some other, better multiplayer games out there like Call of Duty 2 or 3.
Overall, the hype around this game built up expectations to ridiculous levels, and it failed to deliver on just about every front. I was promised a gaming revolution, so I don't think I'm being unreasonable in expecting a game that was at the very least better than a certain other title I was playing two years prior on my Gamecube, but I didn't even get that much.
If you want pretty, you've come to the right place, if you want fun, you can probably wring a fair amount out of this if you like this sort of game, but if you want depth, inventiveness, creative level design, interesting plot, passable voice acting, intuitive controls or a polished gaming world... you probably won't find it here.
Perhaps I'm being harsh, but considering how much I paid for this game for how long it lasted and what I was led to expect of it, I think I have every right to be.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
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