Review by BDZilla

Reviewed: 11/05/07

Gears of War offers gamers everything a next-generation game should be: beautiful visuals, an engrossing setting, and amazing gameplay.

The XBOX 360 has been around for a while now, and carrying on the legacy of its predecessor, Microsoft’s new box of joy is aiming to once again grab the shooting genre by the neck and steer it into perfection. Here, we’ll introduce Gears of War, Epic’s thrilling new entry into the world of fast-paced, science-fiction shooters.

Adhering to the tried-and-true rule of some of the best fictional works out there, the developers aim to introduce you to a world not that far off from our own before distorting the reality and building an enthralling, new universe. The game takes place on the planet, Sera, which had been enduring of many modernistic dilemmas such as energy/fuel crisis, economic turmoil, and civil wars. However, even through all of that, something greater emerges from the depths of the earth and inspires the last vestiges of humanity to join forces for one last stand.

Fourteen years after Emergence Day, the day when the mysterious and alien-esque faction known as the Locust Horde emerged from underground, you take the role of Marcus Fenix. Having been locked in jail for Dereliction of Duty when trying to save your father, you’re now broken free and re-recruited into the armed forces. The tale follows the path of Delta Squad, being made up of Fenix, his old friend Dom, ex-Thrashball star Cole, and the cynical Baird. Throughout the story, they struggle to discover the source of the Locusts and a way to seal them back under the earth.

The setting is emphasized beautifully, and it’s obvious that a lot of time was put into the presentation of the game. Textures and environments are top-notch, and the character models look amazing. The game has a general dark tone which is mirrored by the rather grey color scheme, but it really just fits the whole experience. Sound is also above average, and while you probably won’t be humming any of the soundtrack’s songs, the sound effects and voice-acting are above and beyond, providing for an immersive and believable experience.

The game performs well throughout the duration, and even with the amazing visuals, the framerate remains steady. Cutscenes, however, which are filmed in real-time, sometimes chop up when the action really picks up in them. Altogether, though, it’s a solid experience with no horrendous slowdowns.

While it is definitely a war-time story, you’ll never get the grand scale feeling of games like Resistance: Fall of Man or the Call of Duty franchise. The game’s story generally follows the main character from start to finish, and the game really plays forward like one mission, while all around you are reminders that this has been happening for a while and you’re only playing a very small part.

As a result of the more personal rather than global approach, it’s usually you, any number of your three teammates, and a small group of enemies battling it out in interactive environments. This doesn’t mean that the game is a cakewalk, however. The enemies are smart and utilize strategic positions and cover in an attempt to keep you pinned down, and using the game’s simple cover system, you’ll find yourself making your way back and forth between park fences, broken cars, dirty pillars, and destroyed corridors.

The gameplay itself follows a more tactical approach in response to the emphasis on cover. You’ll have to move around while remaining hidden, and are given the option of blindly shooting without aiming, which keeps you out of harms way but reduces your accuracy, or leaning out of cover to pick up those much needed head-shots. Don’t expect to get far by simply running about and shooting like you would in the HALO franchise. You’re going to have to think and utilize your environment if you want to survive.

In order to help you in your struggles, Epic has placed an interesting arsenal of weapons into your hands. You’re allowed to carry four weapons at once which are selected via the directional pad: grenades, a pistol, and two other weapons of your choosing.

The grenades offer an aiming line that maps the trajectory and bounce of them within battle, which helps give you a little foreknowledge that you would otherwise lack if you were to just freely toss them, but usually you just don’t have the time to match the path with your enemies’. You can also sticky them in HALO fashion should you melee the enemy when you have the grenades equipped.

The other weapons behave like your standard shooter arsenal. You have a burst-fire rifle, an automatic rifle, a sniper rifle, a rocket launcher, a shotgun, and an explosive bow reminiscent of the bow in the earlier Turok games for the Nintendo 64. While they’re all fine and dandy, you’re usually going to want to stick with the balanced combination throughout the game, likely a long-distance weapon like the sniper rifle and a more balanced weapon like a rifle. There is also a weapon which allows you to signal a satellite-beam strike, but usually is useful in only a certain situation and should be discarded as soon as you get past those particular scenarios.

Reloading these weapons can be as simple as clicking a button, but then there is a sort of mini-game to it as well. There is a bar on the HUD under your weapon, and when you’re reloading, you can click it again to improve the speed of the reload and power of the next shots, depending on how good you are at timing it in correlation with the colored areas on the bar. However, if you miss the shaded areas, you’re going to jam your weapon, which wastes precious time. It’s a good tool for getting back into the action sooner, but it might take a little time getting used to.

Each weapon has a different strength for their melee attacks as well, so when you use a weapon on an enemy, you want to make sure it’s going to leave a lasting impression. One great addition is the chainsaw bayonet on the lancer (the game’s automatic rifle). You get to hold the melee button down and cut the enemy to pieces in perhaps one of the more visceral, yet badass scenes ever seen in a game. Sadly, melee attacks feel clumsy due to the relatively slow motions of your character, and it’s usually safer to stay behind cover and fight from a distance. The game is really designed to urge you to keep the enemies away and not just run-in with guns blazing, adding a sense of realism yet restriction to the gameplay.

The enemies themselves are pretty much humanoid, Locust drones. You’ll fight wave after wave of them, and while there are slight varieties that have different attributes, ranging from different weapons to helmets and armor that weaken your shots, most of the battles feel remarkably similar. They are smart, however, and they’ll work as a team to get towards you, utilizing cover just as you do.

There’s a few instances in the game where things change up a bit, from the large Berserker who runs at you in a blind rage in an attempt to trample you in one hit to the Boomers (essentially larger drones) that attack with rocket launchers. There are also enemies called Wretches which are small and fast, some even blowing up when you take them down, adding a sense of urgency when they get in your face – which they will. There are a few larger creatures that you’ll encounter as well.

While most of the game is one set-up battle after another through streets, caves, and buildings, there is one part of the game where you have to drive a vehicle through a darkened area, battling the light-hating Kryll as you do so. It adds a little diversity, but it really serves as an afterthought, especially when the rest of the game after it is just more battles on foot.

The campaign is going to last you about ten hours, which is a decent length. You really get used to the mechanics of the game and the difficulty never really eases up. There is incentive to replay the game on higher difficulties and with a friend in co-operative mode with the achievements.

When all of your campaign is done, though, there is plenty of multiplayer experience to be had. You can play split-screen co-operative of multiplayer, or bring the game online. Co-operative runs well online, but the other battles are where the replay value truly lies. You can side with the Locust or the Gears and battle online. Games offer up to eight players in a match, and they’re all team-oriented. Team work is really emphasized, and it’s helpful with the strong community of XBOX Live. There are plenty of niche match types, a variety of maps, and downloadable content, all making Gears of War as prominent online as it is in the living room.

The game really is a milestone in gaming today, and it does offer a full package. Gears of War has amazing visuals, solid gameplay, a satisfying campaign, and engrossing multiplayer options. In the end, the game is limited only by the relatively linear gameplay and the relatively low frequency of some of the more varied enemies. All in all, this is what a next-generation game should be, and it really has set the bar for the future.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Gears of War (US, 11/07/06)

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