Review by D E E G S

Reviewed: 04/01/08 | Updated: 04/02/08

One of the best games I have ever played.

Gears of War is Epic Games’ first foray onto the Xbox 360 and is published by Microsoft Game Studios. The game isn’t a first person shooter like Unreal Tournament or Unreal, however, instead it is a third person over the shoulder shooter that mixes the best of both genres (FPS and 3rd person) into one.

Story Gears’ story isn’t overly deep and doesn’t really focus on character development or emotional appeal. Rather it sticks with the basic formula of “You’re human, they’re not, and they want to kill you.” You play Marcus Phoenix who is in jail for treason and is busted out by your buddy Dominick Santiago so you can help fight the locust horde who are a rather mysterious army of underground dwelling beings. From there you join a squad with Dom and two other squad mates to fight the locust. It doesn’t break any grounds in story telling but it does keep you interested and the characters are rather amusing at times despite this being a gritty, gory world. Although the story’s universe seems like the perfect setting for a deep complex story it pretty much sticks to the basic formula described above with a few teases about Marcus’ past and a few other unresolved plot holes later on in the game that will hopefully be resolved in the sequel (which is due November 2008).

Single Player The single player is a short but sweet experience. You follow the above mentioned story through five acts of play. Unfortunately the singleplayer will only take you about 8hrs or so to complete on your first play through on casual (Insane can take as much as 15hrs) and while you will feel like you have beaten a solid experience when you’re done you can’t help but feel like the game could have been longer in some areas. Bosses are somewhat frequent but are almost all easy with the exception of the final boss which can be murderously difficult. The experience is still worthwhile and easily worth playing through multiple times for both achievements and just the fun of it. There is a online and local Co-Op for the entire single player campaign as well which is even more fun than playing the campaign solo; it is rather difficult to randomly join someone else’s Co-Op game online though and you usually need to make arrangements with a friend ahead of time to play the game in Co-Op online.

Gameplay Gears of War’s gameplay is something unlikely anything before it. While it is a shooter it focuses more on the “Stop and Pop” formula rather than “Run and Gun.” In essence this is a tactical shooter but it is so fast paced that you wouldn’t believe it at first glance. In this game you can’t just sit back and shoot enemies from hundreds of feet away. In this game you are right up close with the enemy moving in and out of cover quickly and intuitively via Gears’ universal action button (A).

While on the subject Gears of War controls are simple yet complex, easier to learn but they take practice to master. The action button combine with the left analog stick controls whether you run verse walk, take cover, roll, etc… Just about every non-offensive action you do is controlled by the action button and it is really easy to pick up and play by knowing that. Outside of that the game controls almost entirely like a first person shooter with the right analog stick used for aiming, the right trigger used for shooting, etc…

Gears of War’s weapon selection feels unique yet familiar. You of course have your perennial shooter weapons such as the shotgun, machine gun (Lancer), sniper right (Longshot), pistol, magnum, rocket launcher(Boomshot), and grenades but you also have entirely unique weapons such as the Torque Bow (Bow with Explosive Arrows) and the Hammer of Dawn (Calls forth an instant kill laser from the sky). There is also a smoke grenade but it only makes an appearance in multiplayer. While this may not seem overly exciting let me just say that there are things about the standard weapons that really set them apart from those like them in other shooters. The Lancer for instance has a melee that is actually a chainsaw which will cut people right through in all of its bloody glory and the shotgun is probably the most satisfying shotgun in all of gaming as it can headshot people and even blow them apart if a close enough shot is landed.

There is a mechanic in Gears called “Down but not Out” which allows for you to be revived by a teammate if you take enough distance damage to be killed but your body is still intact which emphasizes the need to teamwork. Further diving into Gear’s gameplay there is a unique gameplay mechanic called “Active Reload” which allows you to 1) Reload faster and 2) Gain extra pop to your bullets for a limited amount of time. For the most part this is a excellent addition to gameplay but it also leads to my one and only problem with Gears’ gameplay. That being that an active reload with the Longshot (Sniper Rifle) allows for you to instantly down someone in multiplayer and it becomes really easy to become a noob with it online since you can very easily sit in a hard to find location and merely Snipe people for downs and not even have to go for the headshot. Overall though Gears of War has some really unique and satisfying gameplay not found in any other shooter.

Graphics Graphically Gears of War is still better than just about every game available today despite it being released over a year ago. Attention to detail is second to none and facial animations are amazingly realistic. Lighting and shadows are nicely done as well and is truly a showcase for what the Unreal 3 Engine is capable of. Framerate is set to a solid 30fps and never waivers from that, while some may prefer 60fps the fact that a game this beautiful has such a steady framerate as it stands is an accomplishment of its own. This truly is a game that you can use to show off your Xbox 360.

Sound Gears has a phenomenal soundtrack and effects all feel just as realistic and intense as the rest of the game. Each weapon has a strong firing sound and the sound of a chainsaw revving is enough to send chills up anyone’s spine. Both human and locust characters in the single and multiplayer will also spout off random things during combat which range from comical to pervasive. The soundtrack is almost entirely orchestra and really fits with the rest of the game. Like the graphics the sound quality is excellent.

Multiplayer This is arguably Gear’s strongest attribute and the reason I am still playing the game even to this day despite owning it since launch. There are 4 different game types: Warzone, Execution, Assassination, and Annex. Each game type is defined by rounds in which you only have one life per round (with the exception of Annex which has unlimited respawns). This adds a whole new layer of tactical importance to the game because it requires you to make careful calculated moves and not just run around by yourself with unlimited respawns. If you die you must sit out the rest of that round and wait for the next to resume play.

Warzone and Execution are pretty much deathmatch which follows the aforementioned formula while Assassination has a leader on both teams which the opposing team must kill to win the round. While this may sound fun it rarely becomes such and usually involves the leader sitting back with the other three guarding him and making little effort to go after the opposing team’s leader. Finally Annex is a point based territory match which involves you capturing a territory define by weapon placement and holding it until the points available for the territory have expired and a new territory has come up somewhere else on the map. Personally I recommend Warzone and Annex as both are extremely fun for different reasons.

There are quite a few multiplayer maps available for Gears in, 16 to be exact. Each with its own unique feel and secret to success. You will most likely develop a strong love for 4 or 5 maps and a strong hate for another 4 or 5 maps with the remaining maps being just there. That is not to say that any of them are bad by any means but that each map caters to a different play style and weapon preference (E.g. Escalation favors Snipers while Raven Down favors Shotguns and Lancers).

Online there are two types of games: Ranked Matches and Player Matches. Player matches allow you to invite your friends and continually play multiple games without have to start over from the menus while ranked matches yield points toward rankings and are the only place you can get the multiplayer achievements (with the exception of the Annex achievements which can be unlocked in player matches). This leads me to my first of a few small problems with multiplayer though, you can’t play officially with friends in ranked matches and while you can tell your friends how many rounds and what map to look for you can’t invite them directly into a ranked match. In a team based game such as this it is disappointing that Epic discourages playing with friends.

Other small problems online include the fact that quitters are rampant and there is little repercussion for quitting (a small 50 point penalty for quitting a game) which means expect lamers to frequently quit out the instant they die in the first round. Also the game is host based which means you experience online is solely based on the quality of host’s connection and every once in a while you will get a connection so horrible you want to quit out for that reason alone. Due to the intimate nature of the game’s combat and how frequently it requires a quick trigger finger any amount of bullet lag can be detrimental to your success online. That said this game more than most could have benefited from dedicated servers but it is only a minor annoyance.

Overall though the multiplayer is extremely addicting and my playing of the game for over a year should be proof enough of that. Each and every game is different and exciting and there will always be those “OH **** DID YOU SEE THAT?!?!” moments in each and every game. You would be hard pressed to find a game with a more addicting and fun multiplayer experience.

To conclude Gears of War is an amazing game that no fan of videogames should miss. Everything from the graphics to the gameplay to the sound is amazing. It isn’t perfect, but then again no game is, but its problems are so small that they can’t prevent me from awarding this game a perfect score. If you’re in the market for a new game or need a game to compliment your brand new 360 this is it more than even Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4 and should keep you playing for months to come.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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

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