Gears of War

Reviewed by Dave Linger, Posted on 2007-11-20


Developer: Epic Games Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: November 6, 2007 Also On: Xbox 360

Gears of War on the Xbox 360 was awarded literally dozens of Game of the Year awards, due to its new style of gameplay and beautiful graphics. One year later, it still holds all of the flair of the 360 version on the PC. Gears is a Games for Windows title, meaning it is integrated with Microsoft's LIVE for Windows.

As you can read in my review of Halo 2 for Windows, this system started off as a very bad idea. On Halo 2, every menu and dialogue was designed only for the Xbox 360 controller, the online system was fatally flawed, and the game was buggy. Not to mention it required Windows Vista. It seems that Gears of War fixes a lot of these such problems of early Games for Windows games. For example, the game works equally well on Windows XP and Windows Vista, and menus and dialogues are shown for both the keyboard and gamepad controls (“press the E key or X button to pick up…”). The online play system is a lot better, and unlike Halo 2, Gears for the PC is a heck of a value.

Halo 2 for Vista cost $50, and contained the same content as the Xbox version. Problem being, of course, that they were charging full price for a three year old game with no new content. With Gears, the price is also $50, but the 360 version is still $60, so you’re saving $10 by buying it on the PC. Plus, it’s only one year old, as opposed to three years old as in Halo 2. Not only that, but they really packed as much content onto this disc as possible. You get all of the content of the 360 retail version, plus 5 new campaign chapters (adding about 20% to the single-player game length), 3 completely new multiplayer maps, a new multiplayer game mode, 50 new achievements, and ALL of the purchasable content for the 360 version from the marketplace.

To be fair, though, the game is not without its flaws. First of all, some online features still require LIVE gold – and those features still do not cost anyone any money to have. For example, you must have a gold account to play ranked games – but even ranked games are hosted by players – there is no “middle man” server, so it’s not costing them a penny; pure profit. Of course this is better than the 360 version, though, which requires gold for any online play. Another nuisance is the fact that the multiplayer was not completely adapted for PC players. You cannot tell players’ pings, and text chat was an afterthought. In order to send a chat message, you actually have to open the developer console (by pressing ~), and type "say," followed by the message. Then it shows up for everyone as chat does in every other game. Why didn’t they just bind a key to open a chat box for that? Hopefully that will be fixed with a patch at some time.

Gears also has the longest install time of any game I have ever seen, at nearly an hour on some machines. Even on my PC, it took about 40 minutes. The main part of the install takes just a few minutes, and extracting from the archives takes the rest of the time, most of which the progress bar does not move. In exchange for this process, though, the game's loading times are relatively short in comparison to other games. The voice chat system also seems sub-par, with very low volume and no way of boosting it. There is also no visual signs of who is talking when – like in… pretty much every other PC game with voice chat. There is also no option for push-to-talk, so voice activation is your only choice – and sadly, there are very few online games available at any given time, usually only about 3 or 4 for each mode.

As far as the actual game is concerned, Gears of War is still stunning. The Unreal 3 engine never looked so good. The graphics are absolutely, without question, the best I’ve ever seen on my PC (and I’ve played Crysis). It’s not that they’re the most realistic, it’s that they’re the best looking. The art style is stunning, and the gritty high-contrast look of the world adds to the feel of the game. And unlike Crysis, you can get 99% of the same quality on Windows XP/DirectX 9 as you can on Windows Vista/DirectX 10. The only option only available for DX10 is antialiasing, which is simply a limit of the engine itself. Fortunately, the visual style of the game does not accent the jaggies, so I can comfortably leave that setting off without missing out. The sound is also top-notch, combining great voice acting with dramatic, orchestral music.

You don’t need me to tell you about how great the gameplay is, but I suppose I should – It’s one of the most unique shooters in years, and it totally works. It’s a tactical third-person over-the-shoulder type of game, leaving you running from cover to cover to avoid shots, while worrying about flanking the enemy and avoiding being flanked yourself. There’s a fair variety of weapons, and some weapons are incredibly unique. For example, the Lancer’s melee attack is using its attached chainsaw on the enemy, lobbing them into thirds. Throwing grenades is unique in that when “aiming”, it shows the projected trajectory of the throw, and if you melee with that armed, you stick the grenade to the enemy, with seconds til detonation. You also have the typical shotgun, sniper rifle, and assault rifle, as well as the “torque bow”, a long range charge-up sniper-type weapon with exploding bolts, and the hammer of dawn, an outdoor satellite-based weapon for use on larger enemies.

The multiplayer mode is alright, aside from the flaws I mentioned before. There’s a fair assortment of modes, from types of deathmatch to types of king of the hill. There are ranked and unranked matches, as well as co-op mode for the campaign, which works surprisingly well and without fuss. As far as other extras are concerned, the game actually comes with a fully fledged level editor. And when I say fully fledged, I mean FULLY. You get all of the tools of the developers, and can distribute your creations to your friends.

Overall, Gears of War for the PC is one heck of a value on one heck of a game. You get more single-player, more multi-player, and the power to create your own, all for less than the current price of the 360 version. It has some slight flaws, but at the end of the day, this is one of the best packages you can buy for your PC, and still looks like brand new even a year after its original release. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Gears of War for the PC.

Graphics: 10
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 9.5
Written by Dave Review Guide

Reviewed by Dave Linger