Originally Posted by brig2221
For those of us chained to our desks at corporate america until 5PM, who have filters that do not allow internet access to anything gaming related, save this forum, can someone copy and past a few of the reviews? 1up, Gamespot, IGN, or all of them? Thanks a million!
Ask, and ye shall recieve.
Gears of War Review
One year in, the Xbox 360 has its Killer App. And we mean killer.
by Jonathan Miller
November 7, 2006 - Left or right?
Score - IGN: 9.4 Outstanding
At a crossroads on the war-torn planet of Sera, you have a decision to make. Both paths are equally dangerous, with the Locust horde armed with explosive arrows and revving chainsaws, ready to tear you to pieces, either way. No, this debate is between you and your co-op partner as you argue over who will pick up that next COG tag, secret pickups that act as currency for heralded Achievements.
It's here that you truly realize what a masterpiece Epic has created in Gears of War. Yes, it's the most gorgeous looking game on the Xbox 360, period. Yes, the sound design is worthy of awards. Yes, the game is fun as hell. But playing with a friend, as you bark flanking orders into your headset over Live, or across the room during a system-link game, or right next to you in a split-screen campaign, you realize that Epic has created the 360 game we all hoped for, and that Gears of War more than lives up to the impossible hype.
And then you snap back to reality, remember that you haven't picked up that COG tag yet, offer some kind parting words to your co-op partner, and choose to go left, because you're Marcus Fenix, and Marcus Fenix goes where ever the hell he wants to.
Badasses on parade.
Gears of War takes place over the course of 36 hours on the planet Sera, what was once a civilized human planet of cheerful sidewalk cafes and flower-filled parks. No more. The population did not know that underneath every major city, the Locust Horde was digging. Underground monsters, of superhuman size and strength, with filthy complexions that could rival the ugliest of teens, the Locust are fearsome creatures. And on a sunny Sera afternoon, the Locust emerged.
The loss of life was catastrophic, or so it appeared in the opening sequence. The soldiers of the Coalition of Ordered Governments, or COG, fought valiantly, but failed. As the battle slipped away, COG soldier Marcus Fenix defied orders to try and rescue his father. He was caught and imprisoned. 14 years passed, and the Locust have closed in. As alien creatures take over Marcus's prison, an old friend opens the cell door, gives Marcus a gun, and asks him rejoin the fight.
Yes, Gears of War is a bit light on story. You are a soldier. There are bad guys. You must kill them. If fact, the only place you'll find the story tidbits above are in the instruction manual -- Epic assumes you already know all this. Without giving too much away, Epic does touch briefly on Marcus's father and Marcus's "sham" of a court martial, but this shallow story is a simple vehicle to drive the action. It's the manner in which Epic introduces us to Sera that is so fascinating.
Epic chooses to show instead of tell, using superbly directed cinematic sequences and bits of informative dialogue between Marcus and his fellow COGs: old mate Dom, cocky Baird, and former Crashball star Cole. The effect is a sweet introduction to the world of Sera and to Marcus, just enough to pique our interest, but not enough to give us a resolution. (Resolutions are reserved for sequels, unless you're Halo 2.) No, we never learn what happened to Marcus's father, even though one mission brings us back to the old Fenix estate. Chapter one in the Gears of War saga is all about one simple goal: to get to an underground mine and deploy the Resonator, a COG device that will map the Locust tunnels.
Along the way, you will fight through "survival-horror" missions, designed simply to scare the crap out of you. And eventually, you'll fight in large, open battlefields, taking on large numbers of Locust at one time before taking on the evil Locust general. Gears is light on story, but presents a very immersive and compelling atmosphere that sucks you right into the planet Sera. Any insight into the story of the war or into our protagonist's past will have to wait for the inevitable-but-as-of-yet-unannounced Gears of War 2.
But enough about the story. Let's talk chainsaw.
The COG Lancer Assault Rifle goes down as one of the great weapons in gaming history, right alongside Link's Master Sword and Master Chief's sighted-pistol. At first glance, there's nothing particularly special about the fully-automatic weapon -- the bullets don't do much damage and it isn't particularly accurate at long range. But as you sneak around a corner and see an unsuspecting enemy with his back to you, you quickly run up, hold down B and rev the chainsaw bayonet, carving up your opponent in a bloody mess faster than you can say "Thanksgiving Turkey." The "vroom-vroom" sound of a purring chainsaw is both a glorious thing and frightening thing.
Unlike in Halo, where you can circle strafe and jump eight feet in the air before planting an energy sword into an enemy's face, you have to work for this chainsaw kill. The core gameplay mechanic of Gears is the cover system. To get into cover, you simply run up to a wall, a ledge, a wrecked car -- whatever -- and hit A. You will be sucked right into cover, safe from enemy fire, for the moment. From there, you can blind fire, you can pull down the L-trigger to pop out of cover and then fire, or you can perform a variety of evasive maneuvers like SWAT turns and rolls.
Among the greatest kills in gaming history.
Although the system works very well, there is somewhat of a learning curve, enough that some people will find it frustrating. After playing through the first of five single-player acts, you should have the system down. Keep in mind that the use of cover is what Gears is based on, and running out in the open ala "insert arcade shooter here" is a one way ticket to the blood-red game-over screen. The trick is not to run, but to move from cover to cover, advancing with your partner and squad, slowly pushing the enemy back, until you train the crosshairs of a sniper rifle on an ugly Locust mug and shoot it to a bloody pulp.
It's fast tactics. At first glance, Gears looks like an arcade shooter -- the action is, well, fast, and there's a lot of enemies and friendlies moving around the battlefield at once. But at the same time, the solid AI is performing flanking maneuvers, advancing and retreating, and executing the very basics of armed combat. As you are ducking behind a tree, waiting for an enemy to reload, it's not hard to imagine that the idea for Gears and its cover system was born in the heat of a paintball game. As such, Gears is a special blend of an arcade shooter like Halo with a healthy dose of methodical tactical shooter like Rainbow Six. Either way, it's a wonderfully fresh take on the shooter genre that plays great.
There are, of course, a few concerns. The A button does perhaps too much. While excellent for grabbing cover, holding A also triggers the "roadie run," a quick sprint where the camera takes an embedded-journalist perspective, making you feel as if you are running for your life (you usually are). But often times while sprinting, you will be sucked into a piece of cover against your will because you are holding down A. You get used to it. You get better at it. But it still happens enough to frustrate you when you're bee-lining to chainsaw your roommate during a multiplayer match and find yourself stuck behind a bombed-out sedan.
Also, up-close combat can feel a bit strange. Firing from the hip is difficult as the aiming is a bit slow, even with sensitivity turned to high. Sometimes you think you've landed a chainsaw only to be miss and take a shotgun blast to the kisser. These issues aren't enough to take away too much away from the fun gameplay experience, but they do show that Gears was clearly meant to be fought from behind cover.
The weapons of Gears of War are standard fare, with the exception of a few fantastic additions. There's the head-popping sniper rifle, the flesh-exploding grenade launcher, a variety of pistols as well as smoke and frag grenades. The frag grenades don't have a very large blast radius, but if you manage to get close to an enemy, you can use the melee attack to jam a frag in his chest, then roll away and watch your foe disintegrate -- simply awesome, if you don't blow yourself up in the process.
Epic also included the torque bow, a powerful Locust weapon that fires explosive arrows. If you can wind up the bow and hit an enemy, the arrow will penetrate and explode inside your opponent. Sweet.
You'll feel right at home on war-torn Sera.
The other slick new weapon is the Hammer of Dawn. By lacing the target with an infrared beam, an orbiting satellite will lock on to your signal and fire down a destructive laser from the heavens, obliterating anyone in the blast radius. You only need open sky and a direct line of site to your enemy or the cover behind which he is cowering. As the laser fires, you can drag the targeting beam around to different enemies for multiple kills. It takes time to lock on and you have to expose yourself, but it's a great kill.
Each weapon utilizes a neat new reloading method called Active Reload. When you press the right bumper to reload, a meter will appear with a sliding reticule. If you press the right bumper in the "sweet spot," you will reload faster. If you hit the perfect spot, your ammo will get a small damage boost. If you miss, you will jam your gun and it will take even longer to reload. It seems strange at first, but becomes second nature down the line and a nice risk/reward mini-game in the middle of all that action.
Gears of War is played over five acts, comprised of 30 chapters. The journey will take you through a number of exquisitely detailed and diverse environments, like city streets, the Fenix wine cellar, a speeding train and yes, even inside a mine cart. There's even a driving mission. Some of these chapters take no time at all -- the Outpost chapter in Act 2 takes about 30 seconds. All you do is run through a house and take a phone call, then boom! Next chapter.
Typically, however, each chapter consists of a few major battles between the COG and Locust. On the easiest difficulty level, you can breeze through the game in about seven hours the first time through. Your regenerating health system is generous, to say the least. Enemies are generally stupid, standing out in the open with a common death-wish. And your weapons cause considerable damage.
Now this is how you design a cave level.
Not so on Hardcore difficulty. Enemies are aggressive and will attack your weak positions. You will be flanked. You will be pinned down. Some enemies will wear helmets, protecting them from head shots from the sniper rifle. And up close, it will be you who gets chain-sawed. Yes, the Locust are a mean bunch, and beating Gears on hardcore is a gaming achievement anyone could be proud of.
And then there's Insane. Insane is, well, insane. I couldn't get past the first chapter, the training chapter the first ten times through. You are forced to perfect the cover system. You can only pop out of cover for a moment, fire a round or two, and then dive back into cover before being killed. Even drones, the dumbest and most abundant of the Locust, provide a monumental challenge. They move fast, always in cover. They are accurate, deadly and work together. On Insane, each chapter triples, at least, in length as you have to be patient, sticking your head up only for the perfect shot. Don't even get me started on the other frightening enemies, like the screaming Wretches, the brutish Boomers, the giant crabs and the elite of all Locust soldiers, the Theron Guard. To beat Gears of War on Insane will go down as one of the great gaming achievements ever, like taking down Halo 2 on Legendary difficulty.
The three difficulty settings are perfectly balanced, and while Insane and even Hardcore will stifle you time and time again, you feel a great sense of accomplishment after reaching even the next checkpoint, let alone the next chapter. And that's why you call a friend.
Two player co-op play is available via split screen, system link and over Xbox Live, and the Gears of War co-op mode ranks among the greatest of all time. After beating the game on Hardcore with a friend, you will ask, "Halo who?" Epic designed Gears to be a co-op game -- your partner is simply controlled by the CPU during the single-player campaign. The beauty of co-op is that you truly work together, using suppressing fire that actually suppresses the enemy, and using flanking maneuvers to defeat the Locust. Sometimes your paths will split, and Marcus will take either Baird or Cole while the co-op player, Dom, takes the other. Usually you will be able to see you partner through a window or on a platform above and you can help as needed. But most of the game you are side by side, Marcus and Dom, looking out for each other. And on Insane, you will welcome the company.
A Tiny Warzone
While co-op gameplay is fantastic, the guts of Gears multiplayer action comes in the versus mode. Versus is fun and addictive, yet it is small in scope compared to other shooters, consisting of only team deathmatch crossed with last-man-standing with up to four players per team. Epic likes the eight-player set-up and, frankly, so do we. The maps are small, yet well designed, based on areas in the single player campaign. They are symmetrical, for the most part, with special weapons like sniper rifles and Hammers of Dawn located strategically around the map.
The main mode is named Warzone, which is a basic four-on-four deathmatch. There are two variations of this mode. In Execution, you have to get in close in order to finish off opponents. Instead of a kill, enemies are incapacitated and you have about 30 seconds to rush in and dispatch them with either a melee attack, a bullet to the head, a chainsaw or a curb-stomp, a vicious kick that smashes the head down to the ground. In Assassination, the round is over when the captain of the team has been eliminated.
It's important to note that these are just variations of Team Deathmatch, and while each mode is fun in its own right, we would have liked to see team capture the flag or a fight over strategic points.
Bad Locust. Bad.
Locally, you can only play split screen versus, or one-on-one. Needless to say, four players on a big screen would have been a welcome option. Via system link and Xbox Live, two profiles can sign on and share a screen, at least.
This Is Next-Gen
Visually, Gears of War is the finest looking game on the Xbox 360. The environments are huge and diverse, and all beautiful. There is a tremendous attention to detail that some gamers will never even see, like gargoyle statues on the top of a skyscraper. No structure looks the same, there are no repetitive environments, no cheap double-backing. As in Half Life 2, when you fight in a city, you feel like you are fighting in a city. The art design is wonderful, with awe-inspiring architecture, inspired by the ancient Greeks and Romans, that make you feel as if you are fighting for something important. This is a game you need to see to believe, and it even looks great on a standard-definition set.
Likewise, the sound sets a new standard. A military-themed score transitions to spooky horror music and back, always setting the appropriate mood for the action. The voice acting is gritty and foul, just like Marcus and the rest of the COG soldiers, laced with locker-room profanity. The Locust are among the more frightening creatures you've ever heard. The drones sound like demon-possessed thugs, and the Theron Guard hiss out orders like rattlesnakes. Along the way the Locust picked up a bit of English, which makes their musings even more frightening. The effects, too, are spot-on. I've never heard a head explode or a chainsaw dismember someone, but I would imagine it sounds exactly like it does in Gears of War.
Do you have what it takes? No.
Gears of War is a must-have game, pure and simple. Epic has effectively created a new gaming universe, and the rich story of planet Sera holds its own with the likes of Hyrule, City 17 and the Mushroom-friggin'-Kingdom. A game so gorgeous, both visually and audibly, that is this fun to play comes along only a handful of times a console generation.
There is a healthy learning curve to the cover system, but those who master it will find Epic's twisting and turning and rolling an exciting change-up in the shooter genre, a blend of fast-arcade action and basic, tactical maneuvering. The Insane difficulty level gives Gears legs months after you've finished the relatively-short campaign, and even with a friend it is an impossible, irresistible challenge. Versus is a one-trick pony, consisting of a team deathmatch with three basic variations, but damn, that mode is fun. Downloadable content is on the way, says Epic, but as it stands today, we are left wanting more. Bottom line: Gears of War is the special kind of game that makes you feel like a kid again, a sadistic little bastard obsessed with gore and chainsaws.
Another Takefrom Erik Brudvig
Gears of War is the best looking game I've ever seen. No contest. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, we can talk about the game. Gears of War may have been built around the campaign mode, but the adversarial multiplayer game is nothing to scoff at. The maximum of eight players split into two teams may be a small number for a modern online shooter, but it works well to keep the action going, especially when your first death means you're out of the game. The rounds move quickly and you never feel like you're just waiting around for the game to end, which takes a big chunk out of the annoyances I've found with some shooters in the past. Gears of War really straddles the line between a tactical shooter and a pure action game by forcing players to think about how they can look for protection while still maintaining a furious pace. That really is where the multiplayer game shines. Trying to plan out your attack and think clearly amidst a hectic battlefield makes for some seriously fun and intense gaming.
Then there is the campaign mode. Playing through it co-operatively is a must, especially for those that aren't the most skilled players. The mid-level setting of hardcore is extremely tough, even with another person by your side to revive you every time the Locusts take you down. Forget about playing the game on the Insane. It will tear you to bits. Being able to play the co-op mode in split screen or online is a huge plus, especially considering the lack of offline co-operative play we've seen in some recent Xbox 360 titles. In fact, Gears of War has many of the features gamers have been clamoring for in recent years, straight down to legacy and southpaw control options.
There aren't too many things that weren't done amazingly well with Gears of War, but the game isn't perfect. My biggest gripe with Gears of War comes with the A button being used too much. Holding it down will cause you to start sprinting. Tapping it will cause you to take cover on a nearby wall or downed pillar. It is also used to quickly dive to one side, jump over small obstacles, or leap from one level to another. This all works well towards making the game pick-up-and-play friendly, but it also creates some annoyances. Running along and brushing up against an obstacle will suck you into that piece of cover even if you just wanted to run by. It's a minor annoyance, but its still there. The only other real problem with the game is the lack of modes in multiplayer. Each of them essentially boils down to a form of team deathmatch.
Even with the minor faults, Gears of War is easily a contender for game of the year. The graphics, sound and presentation are nearly unparalleled. The gameplay is phenomenal and you'd be hard pressed to find a more complete package. Gears of War has shown what Xbox 360 is capable of. Now it remains to be seen what other developers can do to keep up.
IGN Ratings for Gears of War (X360
Score 10 - Genius
by Dan Hsu 11/06/2006
You can always find reasons not to give a game a review score of 10. Control issues (Gears of War has that). A.I. problems (that, too). Bad dialogue or story telling (yes on both). Linear levels, online lag, limited modes (yup, yup, and yup). But as I was playing through the game, I found one consistently good feature: It was constantly impressing the hell out of me.
Let's go back to the bad stuff for a moment. Gears of War is an action shooter with tactical elements (or is it a tactical shooter with action elements?), so people will have an adjustment period for the controls. You can't run-and-gun like you do in Halo 2 -- you will get slaughtered. You have to learn to slide from cover to cover, using the environment as bullet shields. It's not complicated at all -- the "A" button does pretty much everything -- but tournament-level players won't like things like how you throw grenades (you really need to aim them, which takes too much time) or how you use the chainsaw on your rifle to melee attack an enemy (it's cumbersome and inconsistent in precision).
Your A.I. squadmates are rather helpful at first...taking out enemy Locusts here and there without making the game too easy for you. But eventually, you'll wonder if the game swapped in some look-alike substitutes that just got off a tiring ride on the short bus. Your partner, Dom, dies...A LOT...especially on the Hardcore difficulty setting. He is a constant liability, crying for you to revive him when enemies are all about, firing at the only other human that's standing around (which happens to be you). And on one late stage, Dom just flat-out refused to follow me into a train station packed with bad guys -- he got hung up in an alley and would not leave. If you can, let a friend take over Dom's role in co-op play...Gears is so much better an experience with a buddy.)
The story is ambitious (the underground-dwelling Locust burst through the Earth's crust to wipe out humanity), cliché-ridden, and you can tell how the story's going to end before you even reach it (a setup for Gears of War 2? No way!). And the dialogue? I didn't know people still said, "Sucks to be them." Cue eyes rolling.
My biggest complaint, however, is with the multiplayer options. What's there is a lot of fun, but that fun isn't going to last very long until downloadable content comes along (which developer Epic is working on now). Gears of War offers enough maps by today's standards (10), but not enough variety in features. All matches are four-on-four, which isn't bad in itself, but all three modes are just slight variations of each other. The standard War Zone is last-man standing (everyone always has only one life, elimination style). Execution is the same thing, except you can only off someone with a sniper headshot, chainsaw, or up-close-and-personal execution (like stomping his head into the ground). Assassination is the same as War Zone, only the match ends when the pre-designated "leader" dies. Compare this to Halo 2 with its 5 katrillion possible custom combinations of multiplayer modes, and you can already tell that Gears of War won't have the same longevity. It also doesn't help that the matchmaking system is broken.
You can always find reasons not to give a game a 10. But can the good stuff overwhelm the bad by such a wide margin in order to reach our highest rating possible?
I'm not going to talk about the graphics. You've seen the screenshots and trailers -- you already know how sick this game looks -- and yes, it really looks like that. Most of the game that's underneath is just as awesome, with a well-paced campaign mode (for the most part -- the middle drags just a teeny tiny bit) that's a little bit Halo 2 military sci-fi, a little bit Doom 3 frights, and a little bit Resident Evil 4 boss fights.
Each stage is memorable. Even as I write this a week after beating the campaign, I can recall dozens of "oh wow" moments, like the first time I encountered the shrieking wretches (that horrible noise they make will haunt you for days). Or when the blind, hulking berserker was stalking me by sound and smell alone. Or the part where I was defending my old home from a Locust onslaught (it felt like a smaller scale, more domesticated version of Lord of the Rings' Battle of Helm's Deep). Or when I looked at the face of an apartment complex, and dozens of drones were firing at me through the windows, their muzzle flashes strobe-lighting the darkness like we were on a CNN newscast, live from some war-torn third-world country. Or the parts where I have to blow up propane tanks because staying in the light will keep the flesh-tearing Kryll at bay.... They all combine for an unforgettable adventure through 36 hectic, desperate hours of a group of soldiers' lives.
You won't see any epic, you-against-an-entire-army battles that the end of the last trailer hinted at, but it doesn't matter because each individual kill is so damn satisfying. When you run into the first bunch of enemies, you'll be surprised at how many bullets each guy will take and how much blood he'll spill before keeling over -- it takes work and a little bit of strategy to take out even the lowliest of Locusts. Later, you'll drop drones to their knees just as they're running across a patch of darkness, so the Kryll can instantly swoop in and finish the job for you in a very violent, wet-sounding manner. And you'll probably never tire of redecorating a Locust's bodily interior with your vicious chainsaw.
Even in multiplayer, the limited modes seem to be less of an issue when so many encounters are so rewarding. I've literally jumped up from my seat in fist-pumping "yeah!!"-out-loud victory at least twice during our test sessions. One was when I caught three enemies at once in a single Hammer of Dawn orbital laser beam, making three bodies simultaneously blow up into bloody chunks to end the match -- another when someone had me pinned down with a turret, and I snuck around until I found a sniper rifle, poked out just far enough, then pop! It sounds awfully childish and/or shallow, but a sniper headshot is so much more gratifying when the target's melon explodes like...well, a melon.
I can go on and on, but you really need to play this visual and visceral masterpiece for yourself. When you do, you'll find plenty of minor problems, just like I did...but you can always find reasons not to give a game a 10.
And while I was playing Gears of War, all I kept running into was reasons to give it a 10.
Gamespot - Score: 9.6 Superb
Gears of War is an outstanding technical achievement, but in addition to looking and sounding amazing, it's a seriously awesome action game.
The Good: Stellar graphics reset the bar for what consoles can do visually; great soundtrack and killer sound effects; satisfying gameplay in single-player mode; very addictive online play; best use of a chainsaw in any game, ever.
The Bad: Story could have been a bit more fleshed out; difficulty could have used some slight tuning.
In Gears of War, a slab of concrete is your best friend. And if that slab of concrete isn't around, you can always make do with burned-out cars, piles of metal, huge columns, or even the ever-popular wall next to a doorway. Why are these inanimate objects so friendly? Because if you aren't hiding behind something in Gears of War, you might as well be dead. Microsoft and Epic have teamed up to create this wicked game of hide-and-seek with high-powered future guns, which delivers one of the most heart-pounding and graphically thrilling experiences of the year. If its exciting campaign doesn't rope you in, chances are the team-based multiplayer will--either way, Gears of War is downright amazing.
Marcus Fenix disobeyed orders and got locked up, but in tough times, even a traitorous soldier is better than nothing.
The game's campaign tells the tale of a man named Marcus Fenix. He, like the other soldiers around him, is an extremely thick dude that very clearly doesn't have time to bleed. The game immediately sets an action movie-like tone, complete with an interesting post-apocalyptic world that's been overrun by a mysterious force called the Locust. Marcus is a former soldier for the Coalition of Organized Governments, or COG. Their soldiers wear ridiculously huge, bulky armor, but can't be bothered to wear helmets. They're just that tough. Or stupid. Either way, Fenix is a former soldier that's been branded a traitor and locked away, but he's busted out of prison at the opening of the game, to help in the fight against the Locust. After a brief tutorial level where you and Dom, the soldier that busted you out, make your way out of the Locust-infested prison and, yes, get to the chopper, you're connected with the other members of Delta Squad and sent out to find Alpha Squad, which is both missing and supposedly in possession of a device that could turn the tide of the war. The game's story isn't very deep, and aside from a very brief mention in the front of the manual, it doesn't really bother to fill you in on the details behind the conflict or the main character's incarceration. The lack of exposition feels like a missed opportunity to make the characters and the setting even more compelling, and there are parts of the game that seem like they were built specifically to make room for some kind of flashback sequence, but the gameplay is so sharp that you probably won't care.
You'll fight a decent variety of enemies in Gears of War. Most of the Locust are humanoids, with minor visual distinctions between the standard troops, ones with shotguns, and so on. Later on, you'll fight some different-looking humanoid-style enemies that are armed with explosive torque bows, and there are plenty of other critters to face--some small, some screen-filling. They all use slightly different tactics, but the same basic rule applies: Wait for them to pop their heads (or other weak points) out and attempt to shoot it off. The enemy response to your actions has its great moments, but it also has its problems. Enemies hiding behind cover tend to not react when they get hit. From time to time, you might catch the back of an enemy peeking just over a piece of cover, and if you start shooting it, he'll usually just sit there and let you drill him to death. But in spite of its few problems, the action is tense and extremely enjoyable.
Gears of War consists of a large series of pitched battles between your squad and the enemy forces. If you leave your fool head popped up for too long, it'll get shot off every single time, so the proper place for you is tucked behind a wall or some other piece of cover. The cover mechanics work very naturally, making it easy to stick to a wall, pop up or around to take shots at the enemy, and get back down safely. Moving between nearby pieces of cover is also very easy to manage.
This isn't the first time that taking cover has been a focus of gameplay--the mechanics work very similarly to a fairly obscure PlayStation 2 game from Namco called kill.switch. But no game has made this sort of gameplay quite so exciting. One of the greatest feelings in this game is that when you pop out to take a shot, you immediately feel like you're taking your life into your own hands, because the enemy is very good at opening fire the second they see you and you'll see those bullets heading your way. This formula remains thrilling from start to finish, though boss fights and a pretty neat vehicle section help to break up the action.
Thankfully, one shot won't kill you, in most cases. The health meter takes the form of a skull and gear icon that appears onscreen in pieces as you take damage. If it's completed, that means you took one hit too many and you're history. But if you can avoid getting shot for a few seconds, the gear fades away and you're restored to full health. It's a much quicker recharge than something like Halo's energy shields, and this helps keep the action moving while reinforcing that you really need to play cautiously.
You'll usually have three other guys in your squad, but they usually aren't much help. They're good for distracting enemies, and they'll take down a few here and there, but they also tend to get dropped a lot. You can revive them, if you can get over to them and hit the X button, but usually it's easier to just finish the fight yourself, which brings them all back without exposing you to the same enemy fire that took them down in the first place.
Gears of War is all about ducking, covering, and blasting your enemies whenever they give you an opening.
Gears of War offers two difficulty settings right off the bat, and a third unlocks when you beat the game. The game defaults to the easiest setting, called casual. On this setting, taking cover only becomes important when you're up against heavy odds or later in the game, when the enemies get tougher. The middle setting, hardcore, feels just right at first--you need to take cover, but you can usually pop up and take shots without immediate punishment. But near the tail end of the game, both difficulties ramp up quite a bit. Hardcore starts to get a little unmanageable. Casual gets to be about as hard as the hardcore setting is near the beginning of the game. And once you unlock insane, you'll find that it's aptly named, though not impossible. Overall, the difficulty feels like it could have used a bit more tuning, or another setting that finds the sweet spot between casual and hardcore. But since you can select your difficulty each time you load up your game, it's easy to set it down to casual if you get stuck at a certain checkpoint, then raise it back up once you've made progress. Making your way through the campaign should take most players somewhere from about 10 to 12 hours, depending on the difficulty.
The game has achievements for finishing each of the five acts on each of the three difficulties, and they stack, so if you beat an act on hardcore, you get the casual points, as well. It only seems to keep track of what difficulty setting you're on when you finish the act, so all this switching around won't cause any trouble on that front, either. The game's achievements are pretty good, with a smart mix of points you'll get for simply playing through the game and some more esoteric ones, like points for playing as Dom in co-op, points for perfectly reloading your weapon many times in a row, doing well online, and so on. None of the points seem that far fetched, but you also won't have the full thousand during your first couple of days with the game, either.
While the campaign is fine and good alone, it's even better when you're playing with another player. You can do so via a split-screen or over Xbox Live, and the good news is that you can continue the campaign from where you've played in the single-player, so you can use any mix of single or cooperative play to get through without having to replay missions. The second player takes on the role of Dom, and the game is both more entertaining and significantly easier when playing with a partner. That's because when players die in co-op, they can be revived, provided they haven't been blown to bits or their deaths don't take place during one of the few times when the team splits up, separating the two human players. Online, the co-op behaves quite smoothly, and the graphics in split-screen mode appear to be just as good as they are when you're playing alone. About the only negative aspect of co-op play is that if a player drops out of an online game, the other player is forced to quit back to the main menu. A more seamless drop-in/drop-out setup would have been cool.
The game's online options make for some really exciting team-based gameplay.
A big part of making any shooter memorable is the design of its weapons. Gears of War has some very satisfying weaponry that really make the game stand out. The machine gun you're going to use for most of the game is the Lancer, and in addition to it being a fast-firing death dealer, it also has a unique melee attack in the chainsaw bayonet. Yes, a machine gun with a chainsaw mounted to the bottom of it is just as awesome as it sounds, though since most of the enemies are content to hide behind cover and mow you down if you attempt to get close, you don't get to use it as often as you might like. But when you do, it's a terrific display of great, splashy blood effects. The other weapons in the game aren't quite as flashy, as you'll get a standard sniper rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, some grenades, and so on. But you'll also get to use something called the Hammer of Dawn, which is an orbital satellite that beams down hot, fiery death from above when you paint a target. But the catch is that the satellites have to be lined up above your position and you have to be outside for it to work, so it's only available in a few very specific situations during the campaign. You can carry four different weapons, but you'll always have slots reserved for a pistol and for grenades, so you have to make choices about which two main weapons you'll carry around with you.
Another really cool facet of the gameplay is that there's a trick to reloading your weapon. By default, reloads take a set amount of time and aren't anything flashy. But if you look just below the gun indicator on the screen, you'll see a line sweeping across a bar with a couple of different colors on it. That's the trick. A button press stops the meter. If you stop it in the gray area, the weapon reloads faster. If you stop it in the tiny white zone, you'll reload and all the bullets you just fed into your weapon will do more damage. But if you miss and hit it in the black, the gun jams and takes even longer to reload. It's a fascinating risk-versus-reward scenario that isn't difficult to master, but when you're under fire in a tense situation, you're still likely to screw it up now and then.
In addition to the single-player and co-op play, Gears of War has a team-based multiplayer mode for up to eight players. The four-on-four action is also round-based with no respawns, though like in the co-op game, you can revive other players when they go down. On the other side, though, that means you need to pump a lot more rounds into your enemies after they go down, just to make sure they stay down. Or, alternately, you can run up on their downed body and hit the X button, which delivers a very satisfying life-ending boot to your foe's head. For as much fun as the weapons are in single-player, they're actually more exciting here. The Hammer of Dawn becomes a pretty hilarious addition to the game, and you'll get to use that chainsaw more frequently against unsuspecting players thanks to the way the maps offer multiple ways to get to the same location. The key to multiplayer is to never work alone so that you can always have someone around to revive you and vice versa. Two players rolling up on one player usually (though certainly not always) results in the single player getting decimated. One of the other players may go down, but that's nothing a revival won't fix. The game's 10 maps offer a good variety, and you can mix the action up a bit by changing out the weapons that appear in the map. You can play in three different modes. Warzone is a standard team deathmatch. Assassination puts one player in the leader role and the other three players must fight as protectors. Execution forces you to kill opposing players yourself--if you let them sit there and bleed, they can hammer the A button to revive themselves. With a good number of maps and exciting action, this game appears to have some longevity to it online. If you like, you can also play over a LAN via system link, or locally--though local multiplayer is limited to two players, which isn't too exciting.
A shooter is only as good as its weapons, and Gears of War has a couple of really outstanding guns in it.
Consider Gears of War to be the game that raised the bar for how console games should look from here on out. The character models are thick and look outstanding. The gray, war-torn environments are nicely varied throughout the game, and the game is full of amazing standout visual moments, such as a train sequence where you see that the sky is full of ink left behind by flying Locust enemies, blocking your view of the stars just enough to prevent you from busting out the Hammer of Dawn. Or, when you get to an underground mine and see a lot of molten, glowing lava all around you. Or, anytime you get to use the chainsaw on anything, ever. Or, the way the camera gets down low and starts shaking like a wartime documentary whenever you start running. It all looks absolutely amazing, from the animation to the game's over-the-top blood effects.
The game also runs at a very steady frame rate during gameplay. The cutscenes, however, are rendered in real time, and when the action really gets heated in some of the sequences, the visuals chop up. The music in Gears of War is appropriately cinematic and really helps carry the action-movie style that the game is shooting for. The dialogue also gives off an action-movie vibe, mainly because most of it is totally meatheaded. The COG soldiers aren't scientists--they're dumb, strong soldier boys that are at home when they're behind the trigger. As a result, almost all of the dialogue is appropriately gruff and filled with the sort of "let's rock!" enthusiasm that you'd expect from a team of hardcore shooters. The weapons are also enhanced by great sound effects. The squish of flesh being ripped apart by the chainsaw, in particular, is outstanding.
Gears of War is a game that capitalizes on all of the promises made by the next generation of gaming. It looks more than a few steps beyond what consoles have been doing to this point, and the gameplay is supremely fulfilling from start to finish in all of its various modes. While there have certainly been plenty of similar shooters before it, the game's great weapons, amazing graphics, and absolutely thrilling action make it stand out from the pack in a big, big way.