If you look back in the history of computer games most of us can pick out a handful of truly amazing games. You know the kind I am talking about, those ones what are talked about for years, in development even longer and when they finally get a launch, the true childlike excitement of buying and playing the game cannot be matched. Many of us will have fond memories linked to the above statement and some of the games linked would be such titles as Goldeneye on the N64, Final Fantasy 7 on the PS1 and many more games. These kinds of games are very rare nowadays since so many games flood the market it is truly difficult to get excited about new games in this day and age. Even more rare is a game that comes out that changes what everyone thinks about computer games or even brings vast numbers of people together just out of sheer love. Doom would happily fit into both categories but in an era where the endless sports churn-out rules and the blatant ripoff is supreme king, can we have those good old feelings again?
If I mentioned the game Quake, what is the first rival title that pops into your head? With the age of Quake and Unreal, the birth of the stunning 3D engine was upon gamers around the globe. Both Quake (id Software) and Unreal (Epic) were at war to produce the most stunning engines to power the latest and greatest games. Bringing this all up to date Epic produce the simply stunning Unreal Engine 3 which is used to power the 360’s latest masterpiece, Gears of War. Many gamers will shoot down any game the just talks up the graphics over gameplay, so is Gears really able to buck that trend and prove you can have a fantastic looking game, mixed with deep, rewarding gameplay? Lock and load soldier!
The game takes place on the planet Sera which now happens to be humanities current and hopefully permanent home. Sera’s inhabitants still suffered from the usual energy issues, crime and corrupt government bodies but something was found that would change the face of humanity forever. A new energy source was found named Imulsion, it was cheap and in limitless supplies. Those that had access had more than they could want, those that could not had to fight to gain control. Enter the Pendulum Wars and 79 years of constant battles all over this Imulsion fever that had gripped Sera. Like any war, soldiers and governments tend to focus on what is at hand but the new inhabitants of Sera got a nasty little shock. Well, it was more like a massive shock as Emergence Day was thrust upon them. While they bickered over Imulsion, creatures only known now as the Locust burst from their underground homes and gave humanity a quick kicking to the Imulsion based happy sacks. To recover from this brutal attack humans did what they usually do and nuked the planet using orbital-beam weapons and left 90% of Sera’s surface dead. The locust fled to their underground homes for safety and waited for another chance. This is where you come in.
Let me settle the score straight away. Gears of War is one of the best looking console and maybe even PC games that is currently available. Epic made the Unreal Engine 3 used to power Gears and they know how to get the best out of it! The detail on the main characters, the lavishly detailed levels, the horrendous, dribbling monsters and the truly amazing weather effects is gob smacking. If you have any viewpoints on what you think is a good looking game, then a quick look at Gears will adjust your eyesight for you. The art direction may feel a little like most post-apocalyptic battlegrounds but the way that Epic have created these levels with so much love and attention is truly staggering. The way rain ripples on the floor and drips from the walls, the way the characters react with the things around them, the cut-scenes which happen to all be done using the Unreal Engine, Gears of War is one of those truly jaw dropping games. The camerawork in both the cut-scenes and during gameplay come straight out of a blockbuster movie. If you wanted one game to put into your 360 to show your friends what graphics are all about then Gears happily fills that requirement.
With such stunning graphics have Epic been a little lacking in other areas? The sound for Gears is pretty much what you would expect. The weaponry sounds meaty and brutal, the Locust troops sound great, the musical score is a balance between orchestra based tracks to track the mood and plot of the game, down to the violent explosions that would make most grenadiers shed a tear. Sonically Gears cannot be messed with in all honesty but so many games do so well at this area but linking up great voice talent, orchestra based musical scores and some deafeningly good sound effects, many big budget games cannot go terribly wrong. There is nothing in Gears of War that stands out from any other big game but there is also nothing you could say that really needs improvement. Money and time well spent on a great musical score that really compliments the gameplay is half the battle, the other half is making the play feel like they are really into the game, with the stunning graphics, the sound just pops a cherry on the already sweet Locust-filled cake.
I am guessing but now you are thinking that Gears is pretty much the best game in the world ever and you would be almost correct. If looks and how they sound is not enough, one of your next port’s of call would be how they feel. Many people way been watching Gears evolve over the last few years and one of the biggest things people wanted to know is how it all plays. Video footage only shows so much and no matter how good looking it was, if it handled like a greased hippo on roller-skates, downhill, then the game would be poor no matter what fancy graphical trickery they threw at us. In today’s lesson the A Button is one of your best friends. At the basic level, tapping A puts you into cover making your player crouch or hide behind whatever object is near to them. With a tap of the left thumb-stick you can move left and right around the object and as long as you are in a cover spot then that is where you will stay. Just moving away from the cover will snap you out, so there is no need to keep your finger on a button to stay in cover. While in cover moving the right thumb-stick will rotate the camera view. You have a full 360o view from cover so you can always keep an eye on people trying to sneak up on you. If you use the left trigger, you pop out and zoom in slightly for a more accurate potshot at your enemy. Just tapping the right trigger on the other hand will provide you with a great looking blind fire option which the game will alter depending on where you are in cover. Grenades can also be used in blind fire mode which can lead to some funny mistakes. keeping your finger on the A button now activates what is called the Roadie Run, which makes your character duck his head and run like a madman. This is handy because if you hit cover he will get into it but it can lead to some annoyance if you accidentally hit a cover object that you did not plan to hide behind. Not a major thing but it can be a little annoying, but practice with the controls will soon have you covering like a champ. The full controls do take a while to perfectly master but one of the biggest ones is the new reloading system. Dubbed the Active Reload, tapping the right bumper button reloads your current weapon. As it reloads a bar travels from left to right indicating the reloading status. On each bar is a solid white block and a grayish block surrounding it. While reloading, if you tap the right bumper again in the white block you will reload faster and will also get a damage bonus. Every-time you do this the white block gets smaller and smaller until you either fail to reload which will lock your gun for a second or so, or you just get a normal speed reload. If you just reload then the gun does take a few seconds to reload, so mastering the active reload is the key to winning. While the controls may not be fantastically new when it comes to squad-based shooters, the Active Reload system is a breath of fresh air and makes firefights much more tactical and tense. If you fail to Active Reload you can see your character struggling to reload and cursing as he does so. This moment is the one that your enemies look for and exploit, so reloading is now an important and tactical part of the overall gameplay. Nice work Epic!
Epic’s best known game is the Unreal Tournament series so everyone was expecting fun packed multiplayer modes. To be perfectly honest I am a little bit disappointed with the amount of multiplayer options. With the vast options of the Unreal franchise and also the fact so many people have been spoilt by Halo’s wealth of options, looking through Gears is slim pickings. With only 3 main multiplayer modes to choose from, this can make Gears feel a little odd without the usual Deathmatch and CTF games that most shooters and players love. Warzone is your standard Team Deathmatch mode pitting 4 COG vs 4 Locust matches where you can choose number of rounds to win, round durations etc. You can also play around with the weaponry on the map as well which is a fun addiction. Assassination is pretty much Team Deathmatch again but each team has a leader who can use the fancy weaponry and the idea is to kill the enemy leader while trying to protect your own. Nice idea but feels a little pointless with only 8 players (max) and the complete lack of respawns in any of the modes does suck a little. Many said it would mess up the tactical team-play but I would have preferred to be given the choice. Execution is Team Deathmatch….again, but you only get points if you down your enemy and execute them. Either buy stamping on their squishy heads just by pressing the X button or by chainsawing them to bits. Oh yeah, forgot about that. The main assault rifle named the Lancer has a chainsaw bayonet stuck on the bottom. keep you finger on B and you rev it up and then run into your nearest enemy. If you don’t laugh like a mad person when you see that you need to email me and let me know what is wrong with you. Handy in both Single and Multiplayer modes. The game has 10 Multiplayer maps which is a great amount and they are very diverse in the style and tactics, the weaponry in both Multiplayer and Singleplayer is diverse and also fun. Each one has subtle tricks and nuances to play with. Pretty much every shooter includes the standard pistols and assault rifles, down to shotguns, rocket-launchers and the like. Sniper rifles are present and also deadly, the Torque-bow is an odd beast being a basic bow and arrow but with the added fun of exploding arrow-tips. Holding the right trigger notches the arrow but you need to hold for a few seconds to get full power. Not pressing long enough and the arrow can bounce off it’s target and explode harmlessly but this also adds the ability to use the bow like a grenade launcher if you can get it right. Tricky to wield but loads of fun when you go all Rambo style on people. The Hammer of Dawn is a reworked weapon from Unreal Tournament days where you focus on your enemy for a few seconds and a laser comes down from the sky and burns them and anyone around them to a crispy husk. Tasty! The balance in weaponry is pretty tight, while there are powerful guns to play with, the active reload feature can make up for this.
Xbox Live play is huge amounts of fun just because the pace is slower than your usual shooters. With players hiding behind cover and firing random shots all over the place really gives you a sense of warfare instead of mindless shooting and seeing who can get the head shots first. People who play as a team will win as a team, those that wander off and leave their friends alone will get shot and killed over and over. Cover is your best friend in this game and if you use it then cover will help you survive. If you want to go running into the open spaces then don’t be surprised if Gears does not become your favourite online shooter. Those that comes from a Halo background may find it difficult to adjust to since Gears is a completely different game. There is no point trying to compare the two since they both do great jobs at what they are trying to do. Epic have already stated that downloadable content is on the way so expect new maps, tweaks to current settings and hopefully some new gameplay modes in the near future.
So is Gears of War the most perfect shooter in the world? Is it one of the fabled games that has so much hype around it that it cannot possibly live up to? Does gears belong on the same pedestal as Goldeneye and Final Fantasy? The simple answer is yes…and no. While Gears is an amazing shooter that everyone with a 360 should buy, it may not appeal to everyone. The controls do take a little while to get adjusted to and while the graphics are simply amazing it does suffer from a few graphics glitches here and there. Sometimes the textures take a second or so to load in which leads to some areas looking a little blank until Gears catches up, the Xbox Live co-op mode can throw up some very odd glitches as the host and client play catch up which can lead to some maps loading without any walls showing. These problems are very few and far between so they cannot really go against Gears. All games have graphical issues and these ones are so minor that most people do not notice and it does not impact on how much fun the game is to play. The game is pretty gory so some may not like this aspect of Gears, even though the game is an 18 rated mature themed game. Epic have given the option to take out the excessive content for people that wish to and this does not impact the fun of the game either. Sure chainsawing a Locust and having the chunks fly everywhere and the blood splatter on the screen is hysterically gory but taking this part out still retains the fun but lacks the visual impact of what you are doing again, nothing big enough to stop people enjoying Gears but it is something to think about.
Overall Gears of War has lived up to most of the hype generated around it. The graphics are stunning, the sounds are perfectly suited to the action, the gameplay is loads of fun and the controls, while taking a bit to get used to, are perfect for the job. The Xbox Live co-op is huge amounts of fun to play through and the competitive Live modes add a tactical element that is lacking in many of today’s modern shooters. Missing Gears of War would be a huge mistake for anyone that professes to enjoy playing games, even those that are unsure about buying a 360 to see what the fuss is all about need to check out gears just to make sure. Even those with different consoles really need to check out Gears of War because so many people will be really missing out if they just dismiss this game just because it is on a rival games console. Epic have shown in the Unreal franchise that they know what they are doing and they always support their games and Gears is no exception. More Gears content is on the way and more Gears games are already being talked about. I would happily push this game onto the same throne as Goldeneye and Final Fantasy etc, and as long as Epic live up to their name and support Gears of War, it will be around for a long time to come.
Long may she rule!
Originally Written By: Barrie Rogers