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Gears of War Review

Developer: Epic Games Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: November 7, 2006 Also On: None

Microsoft has thrown all their eggs in one basket this holiday season with PS3 and the Wii on the horizon. The Xbox 360 needed a system seller if they wanted to build on their sales lead. Gears of War has been hyped up to be the next greatest game ever since its arrival at E3 2005. While many would
believe it would follow in the footsteps of Halo, Gears of War is an entirely different game than Halo could ever be. Offering everything one could ever want from a shooter, Gears easily has become one of the top games on the 360 next to Oblivion. Now on November 12, 2006, it is time to prepare for Emergence Day.

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You control Marcus Fenix; a legend in the military who has led a questionable path. He was dishonorably discharged and sentenced to jail when he broke direct orders to try and save his father from a Locust attack. When all things went to hell, Marcus is broken out of jail by his friend Dom, who
will become your wingman throughout the game. Defeating the Locust horde and saving the Earth is all that matters. Locusts will keep you away from your goals, but fail and the human race is doomed.

Graphics on the Xbox 360 have definitely taken a huge leap in the right direction with Gears of War. Character models are amazingly well done. You can see the scars and fatigue on character’s faces from the long grind of the war. No expense was sacrificed on the Locusts either. These giant creatures bring every slimy detail to the forefront. The Unreal 3 engine brings everything to life…and into pieces as well. Gears of War is easily one of the goriest games that I have ever seen. The blood splatter and dismemberment of body parts runs rampant throughout the game. Then again, what more would you expect from an Unreal engine?

The city environments depict a war torn Earth that has seen better days. There are Locust holes honeycombing the landscape and buildings are near collapse. A good deal here is destructible, but there is even more that can be used as cover to keep you safe from enemy fire. Cut scenes are brilliantly rendered and add deeply to the progression of the game. It truly feels like you are in a real war zone.

Gears of War is easily the best sounding game on the Xbox 360. The score is intense and keeps you locked to your screen, waiting for a change in the chords to show something is going to happen. This is not Marty O’Donnell’s orchestra, but I found the rock music in Gears of War to be just as good as the music Halo brought to the table. The ambient noise keeps the sounds of war in the back of your mind and gears you toward your next ambush. Gunfire can be felt loudly through your surround sound as it is pumped into your enemy. Even on my basic monorail television, Gears of War is the loudest game I have ever played. With some talented voice actors, the colorful array of characters adds even more enjoyment to Gears. Tense moments are broken up by those of comedy which really make the game more enjoyable. Gears of War sounds perfect.

Gears of War is played in a third person perspective, allowing you to take in more of the action and environment around you. Gears is all about taking down your enemies from a covered location. Even though there is a chainsaw bayonet attached to your gun for close combat, trying to be a super soldier will only get you mowed down. Fenix is merely human and cannot take the punishment that you normally can take in First Person Shooters. There is a small squad based element that would seem like a fun idea, but with the A.I. of your squad mates rivaling that of a two year old, they aren’t much help to you at all. They will die and you will be forced to revive them before progressing forward in the game. Enemy A.I. does not deserve a prize either. You could run up to some of them with your chainsaw and not have them put up a struggle at all. Even as the difficulty is raised, the A.I. doesn’t get
any smarter; only the damage they do and how much they take is ramped up to make it harder.

Moving from cover to cover is a fun thing to do. You will be able to leap out of cover, swat spin to a new position nearby, or leap over the barrier if it is low enough and charge the enemy. There are many forks throughout the game that will force you to pick a path and divide your squad among the two paths. The paths are different from each other and will alter your purpose depending on which path you chose. One path may lead to an ambush by Locust warriors, while the other may take you to a balcony to assist the squad from the ambush. This part of the game adds a good deal of replay value to the campaign to catch all aspects of the level. The quick reload option allows you a chance to reload your gun faster and earn a damage boost for a short time. It is easy to do, but in a tense firefight when you fail to realize you ran out of ammo, you may fail on the quick reload and jam your gun for a few seconds.

Gears of War has a strong co-op mode that allows two players to partner up online and play through the campaign. If you are having trouble on a particular level, you can host a co-op game and play through normally until someone else joins in and will take the role of Dom on your squad. When this happens, there are some areas that allows Marcus or Dom to be revived by the other if they are knocked down, but in a lot of areas, if one dies, both have to restart from the previous checkpoint. This is a good thing though normally, if the lead character would die during the single player mode, you would have to do the same thing. Partnering up with a friend at home is also possible and makes co-op one of the most enjoyable parts of Gears of War.

The strong multiplayer mode in Gears of War will draw in many of the hardcore Halo players out there, creating a strong online community for everyone to play in. While there are only three multiplayer game types, they do suffice for what they are worth. I personally would have liked to see a CTF or true deathmatch game type where you can respawn. The three game types are Warzone, Assassination, and Execution. In Warzone, a human and a locust team are put against each other to outlast the other. During Assassination, a leader is chosen on each team and if the leader dies, the round is over. Execution is a lot like Warzone, only gunfire will merely knock down an enemy. You need to get up close and personal to deliver a special kill. This is done by using close ranged weapons, a chainsaw, or a curb stomp to finish your opponent.

There are a few downsides to the multiplayer however. It is a bit difficult to tell your teammates apart from a distance. There are no icons over friendly heads so they stand out, so team knock downs aren’t that uncommon. During the early stages of the multiplayer life, there were some connection issues in ranked games, where players would fail to connect to a room. This was a very common problem as many of the players I encountered online were complaining about the same problem. Only eight players are able to play at the same time, which is one of the smaller multiplayer games out there. The maps are big enough for a few more though and would spice things up a bit had more been added.

There is a lot of fun to be had with Gears of War despite the short 6-8 hour campaign. I personally found the ending to be rather premature/predictable and could have been dragged out into another level, but many people seemed to be fine with it. Increasing the difficulty to Insane however will extend the campaign another 2 hours easily from battling tougher gunfire. The co-op and multiplayer really hit the nail on the head and will keep players hooked for years to come. Gears of War does not bring anything truly groundbreaking to the table, but it puts some already great elements together in a fantastic package. I’m sure it will earn a lot of Game of the Year votes from the gaming media, yet I believe that Gears of War may take a back seat to Elder Scrolls IV, which totally changed how amazing AI can be in a video game. But if you are looking to add a killer game to your line up this holiday season, Gears of War is your ticket.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 10
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 8.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 9.3
Written by Shawn Review Guide