TITLE: Gears of War
PUBLISHER: Microsoft Game Studios
DEVELOPER: Epic Games
DATE RELEASED: 11/07/2006
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 1-2
ONLINE MULTIPLAYER: 1-8
XBOX SYSTEM LINK: Yes
XBOX LIVE COMPATIBLE: Yes
[b]HDTV Support: 720p / 1080i
5.1 Surround Sound: Yes
GENRE: Action (Shooter)
PLATFORM: Xbox 360
ESRB: M (Mature)
Retail Price: $59.99 USD
Not often does a game come around that can reinvent a genre or live up to the hype that surrounds it. Gears of War is a title that accomplishes both tasks quite well. Gears of War is a title that I really didn’t follow all that closely during production. I knew a little bit about it, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it was due to the fact that life was hectic and chaotic at the time. Once the dust of life finally settled down a bit I was finally freed up to explore the onslaught of games coming down the pipeline. When I dove into the world of Gears it was quite frenzied: forums of people bickering back and forth with speculation of how the game was going to be, thousands of blind supporters and thousands of blind naysayers each fighting for dominance over the other.
Truth be told, no one knew what it was going to be like except for the select few that had the chance to play it, even at that, some liked it, some didn’t, and some were on the fence about it which really didn’t give us, John and Jane Q Public, any kind of help or insight as it just put us exactly in the same predicament we were in to start with. With all that mess behind us now, and the game launched and out for purchase we can finally put all our speculations out of mind and take solace in fact that this is one of the "killer aps" to own for the Xbox360.
There really isn’t anything I can say about the graphics in this game that could do it justice. Everything is as detailed and in-depth as they come. Though it is hard to appreciate the beauty of this game during the first run through because it is so easy to become immersed in the action of what is going on, on-screen. The character models are so very detailed, right down to the minute details of the back of their necks. I was very impressed, visually, playing through this game, and I was playing it on a run of the mill standard non-HD television. I was even more blown away when I played it in HD. The game looks utterly amazing. It is apparent that a lot of care went into making Gears of War. The atmosphere of the game conveys a very depressing, run down, “abandon all hope” feeling, which is exactly what I feel the developers were going for. Explosions look exactly like you would hope an explosion would look like, and the gun fire looks exactly like what someone would expect crazy, wild, sporadic gunfire to look like. (Chips of brick flying everywhere, blood, guts, frag, and shell casing flying everywhere all in stunning HD quality). There are so many little visual details thrown into this game, that when you see them all side by side they amount to a breath taking illustration of what the next level of gaming is going to be like. Gone are the days when developers could get away with cutting some of the finer details in games, things that they deem as un-necessary to the visual representation of the game that we as gamers have been asking for, for years.
Sound is one of the biggest aspects of a game for me. I critique sound harder than anything else when I play through a game. Why you ask? Because a good soundtrack is the difference between a game that invokes an investment of personal emotion and attachment and a game that someone “just plays through to kill some time." When someone hears the chanting at the start of Halo they automatically get hyped and excited because that music, that sound, invokes feelings in them of all the fun they have had playing the game. Hearing the music in Gears may not exactly invoke those same feelings for one simple fact. The sound of everything going on in the game, for the most part, overpowers the background music that they have incorporated in the game. Take heart though, because even though you may not have the music to Gears memorized hearing the sounds of the gun fire or even Mr. Coal trains taunts and exclamations will do exactly the same thing as the Gregorian chanting in Halo, it will hype you up!
Aside from the music, the sound effects they have used in the game are clean and crisp. They sound quite original which is another big thing for me. I very much enjoy hearing the gun fire zing back and forth between you and your target and the explosions from the rockets and grenades. They sounds clean, crisp, and most importantly, real which further helps immerse the player into the world of Gears. A good sound catalogue helps bring the game into a higher level of reality and Gears does in fact pack quite a large catalogue.
“Gears of War takes place on a planet known as Sera, inhabited by the human survivors of a once-glorious civilization. For a century, however, they fought among themselves. Eventually they knew the hush of peace that blanketed the land. That was until the discovery of Imulsion, a phosphorescing, low-viscosity fluid. Discovered by an oil-exploration drill, it was unusable until a woman named Dr. Helen Cooper created the Lightmass Process, which enabled production of cheap energy. The world economy soon collapsed due to its extremely low price and the elimination for the need of hydrocarbon and nuclear fuel sources. The few countries that had an overabundance of Imulsion under their feet soon found themselves at war with nations who were not as lucky, and so began the Pendulum Wars. During the seventy-nine year war, the Coalition of Ordered Governments, or COG, became a legitimate minor political party. Founded long before the Pendulum Wars by fanatical socialist Alexiy Desipich, the party was based on an obscure world-government philosophy based on eight guiding principle values: Order, Diligence, Purity, Labor, Honor, Loyalty, Faith, and Humility. The Pendulum Wars ceased on what is now called Emergence Day. In less than twenty-four hours, a ravenous species known as the Locust burst from under the ground and attacked every major city on Sera. By the time human forces pulled together to form an effective defense, it was too late. The Locust Horde had already taken control of the majority of the world's urban, military, and manufacturing centers. Billions lay dead, approximately one quarter of Sera's population. The COG took matters into their own hands and re-enacted the Fortification Act, allowing martial law to be placed on all remaining survivors from the initial invasion. All survivors were ordered to evacuate to the Jacinto Plateau, a safe haven that the Locust Horde could not penetrate from the underground due to its thick granite substrata. Survivors who could not make it to the plateau were given the following apology: "For those citizens who can't make it to Jacinto, the Coalition appreciates your sacrifice. Please forgive us, this is the only way." Chemical and orbital particle laser weapons were used in a scorched earth strategy to deny the Locust Horde survival on the surface, forcing them to stay in their underground warrens. This war would continue for another fourteen years.
Somewhere around the tenth year, Jacinto was being fortified into an unassailable fortress. Its once magnificent cities, envied for their beauty, were soon converted into military defense platforms. The plateau's natural fissures and utility systems were destroyed or flooded with nerve gas to delay the Locust Horde's inevitable attack. People who had not made it to Jacinto Valley, but had survived, were called the Stranded. The Stranded are living in horrible conditions and malnutrition, and have to find ways to defend themselves. When the Locust Horde began their attack on Jacinto, Marcus Fenix abandoned his post in a response to a distress call from his father, a renowned scientist, at the East Barricade Academy, but he was too late to save him. At his trial in the House of Sovereigns, Marcus was charged with dereliction of duty, cowardice, and failure to obey orders. Exempted from execution due to his exemplary tours during the Pendulum Wars, he was imprisoned instead. Years later, the COG found themselves running low on able-bodied soldiers, so they turned to untraditional sources of men: the infirmed, the young, and the condemned. Marcus Fenix was pardoned, and freed by his friend Dominic Santiago. Shortly afterwards, the Locust Horde overran his prison.”
(Quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gears_of_war)
Game play is where this game really shines. It was being hailed as a third person shooter to re-invent third person shooters, and in my opinion it delivers what it promised and even a hair more. Conventionally a first person shooter and a third person shooter involved pretty much running through the level gunning down everything that came in your path, ducking behind a strategically placed box or walls only to reload or perform some other minute task that would momentarily prevent the player from holding down the trigger button. In Gears, running for cover is the name of the game. No more going commando, standing in an area swamped with enemies, and mowing them down without having to do so much as duck down. In Gears, if you don't grab some cover you are as good as dead. Ducking behind fallen objects or abandoned cars, peeking through door ways and diving under windows are actions that will separate a dead player from a successful one.
This system of going for cover adds so much more depth to a genre that was starting to become stale and run of the mill. It forces the player to slow down and plan a course of action instead of mindlessly shooting everything that moves. The best part about this new cover system is that it is easy to learn. There is no complicated action involved. A simple press of a button and your character slams himself up against his cover. If you want to move to another area of cover it is a matter of moving your thumb stick in the direction you want to go, and hitting the cover button. Once done, your character will automatically run, spin, and or duck his way over to the new area over cover. There is little learning curve involved in trying to figure out how to move from cover location to cover location. The player should have a basic understanding over how the cover system works within the first fifteen minutes or so.
Another nice feature they threw into the game to help compliment your need for cover is blind firing. Usually I am a bit skeptic when it comes to using blind fire because a lot of the time when you are behind your cover in other games that aren't really focused around using cover the blind fire feature becomes a bit hindering as it can be difficult to see what or where you are firing your weapon. In gears, because of the third person over the shoulder view, it is quite simple to locate where your fire is going and what adjustments need to be made during a fire fight.
There are so many little things in the game play that help bring the player a more enjoyable experience. The amount of detail thrown into the game is quite amazing. I think the most notable aspect as far as little details go that were thrown into the game is reloading. Usually reloading is a standard process. Empty clip goes out, new clip goes in. It is done in a standard amount of time, and the process can not be sped along in any way. Gears comes along and changes that. You are in the middle of a fire fight, your ammo is running low. You know you are going to need to reload so instead of drying out your clip and being momentarily caught of guard you hit the reload button. Your character reloads but something is different. There is some kind of gauge on the screen. You hit the reload button again and BOOM your character slams in a new clip in less than a second and you are cocked and ready for action in the blink of an eye. You soon need to reload again, thinking lightning will strike twice you hit the reload button and your character reloads. You wait a little longer this time to hit the button again and all of a sudden your character is swearing and hitting his gun as it has now become jammed taking you even longer to reload than it would if you were to just reload normally. You aren't going crazy. This is a feature that has been incorporated into the game. It is called active reloading. When your clip runs dry and you reload up pops a "minigame" of sorts where you have to hit the reload button again at the perfect time. If accomplished your character will reload in the blink of an eye, and as a bonus the new rounds in your weapon will have a temporary boost in the amount of damage they can do. This is very handy when you are pinned down against a horde of enemies and your partners are all knocked unconscious . . . which sadly, happens quite frequently.
The life system has a pretty handy feature that I have grown quite attached to while playing through the game. Instead of having to go through the game picking up life bars or health drinks to replenish your supply, it auto-regenerates. You are notified of your health status by a cog that appears onscreen as you take damage. The more damage you take the more the cog fills in bright red. When the cog is completely full you are dead. When you behind your cover the cog starts to dissipate and go away. When it is gone you are back at full health.
The game does have a fair amount of issues, but none of them really make you want to stop playing the game. A few issues I found with the game are that your teammates are about as intelligent at times as an episode of Beavis and Butthead. They will be smart and duck for cover, then out of nowhere go commando and rush the enemy and immediately get knocked out. They will try to throw grenades at the enemy but somehow those grenades wind their way up next to you thus ending your life prematurely. Also, the most annoying thing I think I found them to be guilty of doing, is in a heavy fire fight when cover is crucial and they are next to you taking cover behind a different object, if you disengage from your cover and stand up, say by accident or something, even if they don't need to move from their position, they will spin from their cover and take yours or run up on it from off screen and take it, leaving you wide open to act as a catch basin for enemy bullets.
Another little nit-picky thing I found in the game is the fact that you never really walk into a room that is already loaded with enemies or come across enemies that are patrolling the area. It always seems that you walk into a room that is empty to start with and they all come rushing in, or in some parts you look through a hole in the wall and see nothing in the next room, but go into that room and a few seconds later the enemies just seem to pop in. I would have very much liked to have been able to “get the drop” on enemies by surprise attacking them as they patrol the grounds or something like that. I think it would have added a bit more enjoy-ability to the game instead of every fight you get into consisting of them rushing you.
One feature in the game that I wish they had expanded on just a bit more is the command system. Through the course of the game you find yourself in charge of Delta Squad. If you hold the L1 button a little command prompt pops up that allows you to call your squad in to regroup, attack, or cease their attacks. That is it. That is all you are allowed to do as far as giving your squad commands goes. I would have liked to have been able to place my squad in different positions or tell them to flank or something like that, really though, when the battle heats up you tend to forget that you can command them slightly so all in all it really doesn’t matter all that much.
The weapons in the game are pretty standard for the genre with the exception of a few. That is both a good and a bad thing. Sometimes games try to over extend themselves and make niche weapons that do crazy things that end up being nothing more than useless distractions that do not even help you through the game all that much. Gears plays it safe and takes the standard weapons you would expect in a game like this and just expands upon a few of them a little bit, they only expand just enough to differentiate them from other weapons in other games. Though I am glad they didn't go crazy with their weapon design I had hoped that maybe they would come up with a totally original, useful, and fun weapon instead of just touching upon a few upgrades for the run of the mill weapons.
Here is a little run down of the weapons you will find the in game:
Lancer Assault Rifle- The perfect weapon for those medium to close range battles. It is a full on automatic so that means your ammunition is going to zip out quickly if you do not enforce ammunition conservation. The gun is powerful and great for keeping your enemy pinned down, it also packs quite the melee punch as it comes equipped with a chainsaw bayonet, yes you read correctly. A bayonet that will suffice your most bloodthirsty needs. Use caution as some enemies are not affected by the chainsaw and a few will even have the last laugh if you get to close to them as they die by exploding so try to avoid melee attacks on them as they will explode before you can get safely away. Be aware of your ammo reserves, this gun does not hold a large amount of ammunition in reserve and aside from the periodic dropped weapon from a fallen enemy, ammunition for this weapon is not readily handed out as much as you would like.
Gnasher Shotgun- A very strong and powerful short range weapon. The radius of fire on this weapon is wide and will turn an advancing enemy into a crumpled pile of meat in only a few shots. Land a successful active reload and an enemy is going to go down "with the quickness". It can hold a decent amount of ammunition in reserve and the reload time is rather quick for a weapon with this kind of power. The only major flaw with this gun is range. The melee is decently strong and can knock your enemy off guard long enough to follow up with a blast to the head. Do not go long range with this weapon as throwing the gun at them would do more damage.
Hammerburst- This is the Locust answer to the Lancer. It is a semi-auto firing off six rounds per burst. It is very accurate long range but not quite as powerful as the Lancer. It can hold a large amount of ammunition in reserve, which will come in handy when enemy numbers get out of hand. The weapon is lacking in close range combat as it does not pack a hard punch. It will take anywhere from four to six bursts to take an enemy down and the melee on this weapon is one of the less damaging so ensure you have a powerful secondary weapon to deal with multiple enemies advancing in close proximity at one time.
Longshot Sniper Rifle- A nice and powerful, hard packing, long range weapon. This gun takes an enemy down in 1 - 2 hits and will eliminate your stronger enemies in 4 - 5. With practice this weapon can be quite useful in medium range as well, but do not throw caution to the wind when fighting close range. There is very little room for error with this weapon as it has the most horrendous reload time of all the weapons. It holds a fair amount of ammunition in reserve but if you miss on your active reload you might as well switch to a different weapon if you can as you will be waiting an insanely long time to get a new round and since you reload after every shot a missed reload is the difference between the player being alive and the player being dead.
Snub Pistol- Pretty much the most overlooked weapon in the game. It is more than likely going to be a "last resort" weapon. It can hold a large quantity of ammo in reserve for a handgun, but the melee is laughable. A close range battle with this weapon is out of the question and attempting to fight with any more than three enemies at one time will no doubt result in the your immediate demise. On the upside, as fast as you can pull the trigger this weapon will spit out bullets.
Boltok Pistol- Your standard "magnum" in the game. It is powerful, but what it has in power it lacks in speed. Reload time is ok, but be careful to nail your active reloads. The weapon zooms so that helps, but the recoil on the weapon is horrendous. Do not aim for the head and expect to hit it. This is a weapon that you must adjust for to do any kind of damage. It is not that good in long range, but short range it is very good. Do not try to take on a large crowd in close range with it as after six shots you will need to reload, but with the power it packs it makes a good secondary weapon and a finisher to put that final slug in a weakened enemy.
Boomshot- Your grenade/rocket type launcher, a strong weapon that leaves a trail of devastation behind it. This gun has a pretty strong firing rate and can hold about 12 rounds in reserve. Land an active reload and we are talking serious carnage. The splash damage is nice with this weapon, but the enemy needs to be pretty close for it to really affect them. It is perfect for plugging up those pesky emergence holes. Aiming is somewhat of a hassle as the rounds it fires shoot with an arc to them. So when you aim, aim just a bit higher than normal. Sadly, ammo is not readily available for this weapon. The only time you can get it is when you encounter certain enemies (Boomers), so don't hold this weapon for to long thinking you are going to have a supply of spare ammo on hand to pick up when you need it.
Torque Bow- An all around good weapon. A quick firing speed followed up a suitable amount of ammo in the reserve (12 arrows). This weapon is very powerful. Capable of taking down a boomer in 1-2 hits if fully charged. Squeeze the trigger and hold it, and the arrow head will charge. At full power you can either release it or it will fire itself. If it makes contact it will lodge itself deep into the enemy and explode from inside. Reloading only takes a few seconds, but that is precious time. Land the active reload and you should have no problems doing damage. Splash damage with this weapon is only so/so unless the enemy is right on top of an exploding round. Early in the game, the ammo is hard to come by, but later on you will have no trouble finding extra rounds. Melee damage with this weapon is second only to the chainsaw. Also, this weapon can close emergence holes with 2-3 fully charged shots. The bow is a very strong choice for a long-range primary or a back up secondary weapon.
Hammer of Dawn- Way high up in the sky, farther than you can see with the naked eye, there is a satellite floating, lurking, ready to rain down hell. The "gun" you get is really nothing more than a targeting pointer that you can melee with. You use your pointer and tag the enemy in question. Hold the pointer on the enemy for a few seconds and a laser blast will emit from the satellite and fry your target. While the laser is coming down you can move the pointer and the laser will follow, allowing you to fry multiple targets with one shot. Plus it has a huge amount of splash damage so you do not have to be right on top of the enemy to hurt it. The hammer is quite useful for large groups of enemies and takes out berserkers and seeders in only a few hits. (Note: The hammer is the only way to kill berserkers and seeders). It is also quite useful for taking out those pesky emergence holes. The down side to this weapon is it can only be used outside where there is nothing covering the enemy and it can only be fired when the satellite is online. Do not hang onto this weapon when it goes offline as when it is time to use it again there will always be another one conveniently near by for you to pick up.
Grenades- A very power, compact, wrecking crew all wrapped up into a tiny ball and chain. Grenades pack more explosive power than the Boom Shot and the Torque Bow. They can be easily aimed or blind fired. Be careful how long you take to aim as you have to stand up unless blind firing. Standing for to long opens you to take heavy enemy fire. Theses are perfect for closing emergence holes. The only downside to the grenade is a miscalculated throw and they could miss your target all together. Splash damage from the grenade is decent, but a dead on shot is a one hit kill. Melee with the grenades allows you to stick the grenade to your target and blow them up. Your character can only hold four at a time, but replacements are usually lying right around the corner.
This game packs an amazing online multiplayer experience. Though I must say my first experience with the online features of this game had me come face to face with a team of people who did nothing but exploit the glitches in the game which is quite sad as it sullied my experience and almost turned me off to online play with the game all together. Do not let this dishearten you because if you are lucky enough to get in a game with a bunch of fair players and good all around people, this multiplayer experience will be one of the best. It is a fun environment and it is a nice way for you to really get good at the game. As far as the market place goes, there are some new maps to be downloaded, for free I might add, and some extra content such as videos and even a Gears of War dashboard skin.
Gears of War is a great game, really. It has something for everyone. It is eye candy and quality all wrapped up into a nice little package. It has quite a lot of replay value to it as there are three different difficulties the player can choose from. A seasoned first and third person shooter fan should really have no trouble getting through the first and maybe even the second difficulty setting. The third and most difficult setting can, at times, bring you to your knees in frustration, but it is not the kind of frustration that makes you give up. It is the kind of frustration that motivates you to beat that part of the game just to prove to yourself that you can accomplish it. If you know nothing of this game, it is easily the safest blind buy you will make. Go out and buy this game now! This is a purchase that is easily justifiable as when you are through with the main game, multiplayer and online play bring a whole new twist to the game and offer countless hours of replay value. This is a solid game, a must have for any 360 owner. This game certainly proves that it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. At the end of the rainbow with this game lies the most solid 9 I have ever given out. A few more tweaks to the game and maybe a little more creativity and this game could be a 10. If you are looking to buy a game with a great story, lots of fast paced-fun action, loads of replay value, and a multiplayer that will keep you coming back for more, this is the game for you. You will have no regrets buying this game. It has a little bit for everyone.
*Please note my rating scale does not reflect the suggested scale by X-S*