July 01, 2007
The cream of the crop, Gears of War is the Xbox 360's 'system seller'. Only three months after it's release it had already sold over three million copies. Also, it's the first game to surpass Halo 2 as Microsoft's most played online game. So if you haven't experienced Gears for yourself yet, go out and grab yourself a copy because you're missing out on one of the best games the 360 has to offer.
The storyline takes place on an Earth-like planet called Sera. The human inhabitants of Sera have been fighting the '72 Year War' over the planets' last remaining fuel. When a new fuel source called imulsion is discovered deep underground, the people of Sera finally come to what they believed would be a time of peace. They soon discovered just how wrong they were when the Locust horde, a race of inhuman creatures living in the 'Hollow' under Sera, emerged from the ground with the intention of destroying the human race to a man. This day would be forever known as Emergence Day.
You start the game as Marcus Fenix, a soldier of the C.O.G. Army(coalition of ordered governments). You've been imprisoned in the maximum security penitentiary at Jacinto Plateau for disobeying direct orders in order to save your father's life. Years later, when the prison is breached by the Locust horde, you are rescued from your cell at the last minute by your best friend, Private Dominic Santiago.
After a brief tutorial(which can be skipped), you jump right into non stop action throughout the entire campaign. From the small but annoying Lambent Wretches to the gigantic Corpsers, and everything inbetween, you'll be giving your firearms a workout during the length of the somewhat short yet deeply satisfying campaign. There are five acts, each with multiple chapters and three diffuculty levels to choose from. The enemy A.I. is somewhat forgiving on the easiest difficulty, and extremely aware(and frusterating) on insane mode. This makes for a very satisfying experience for gamers of all skill levels.
One of the best aspects of the campaign is the co op. You can start a new game with a friend right from the beginning, or they can jump right into your game at any point. The campaign is also easier when playing with another person. When you are being shot/attacked, a red gear called the Crimson Omen appears on your screen. The more injured you are, the darker the Omen gets. When it's full, you fall to your knees and start to bleed out. When this happens in single player the game is over and you have to restart the chapter, whereas in co op, your friend can revive you if they aren't down as well. The only time this isn't available is during the brief periods throughout the game where you have to split up for a small section.
Overall, the campaign was well thought out and very enjoyable, although as stated earlier, it was a bit too short. The bright side to that is that Epic has promised more downloadable content in the future, as well as a sequel. There are rumors that there may be some more co op campaign missions in the works, but at this point it's all just speculation. Only time will tell what the future holds.
Now on to where Gears really shines; the online multiplayer. The mechanics of the multiplayer are what Cliff Blezinski, the creator of the game, likes to refer to as 'stop and pop'. A lot of games are all about running around like a chicken with it's head cut off and getting as many kills as you can before the time is up. In Gears, strategy and patience usually rule the day. Stop and pop refers to taking cover and firing short bursts in the direction of the opposing team in an attempt to gain a tactical advantage. With the simple press of the A button, you can take cover on most objects you can see. This feature works well most of the time, but sometimes you can also find yourself making a getaway using the Roadie Run (holding the A button causes your character to duck and sprint), just to accidently take cover on something and get killed because of it. So while it's nice to have a 'one button does it all' system, it can also be detrimental at times.
The multiplayer offers ten original maps and six new ones via the Xbox Live Marketplace. Most of the maps are well rounded, and offer both teams a fair spawn point, which is rotated every round. The visuals of all the maps are just as stunning as the campaign's environment. The first time I put Gears in my console, I did a quick match just to get a feel for the game before I started the campaign. When I entered the game, which happened to be on the map Clocktower, I just sat there, mouth agape, staring at the absolutely stunning visuals in all their high definition glory. From the smallest rock to the biggest statue, everything is extremely detailed and lifelike. I almost felt as I was on the planet of Sera myself. The visuals are truly breathtaking and some of the best I have ever seen.
You have numerous weapons to choose from including the game's signature weapon, the Lancer. The Lancer is an assualt rifle with a chainsaw bayonet. It's decently accurate as a firearm, but the real enjoyment comes from chainsawing an unsuspecting victim. The violence of it is unparalleled, with body parts and viscera exploding around you. Over the course of time, Epic has released two patches, each making the Lancer stronger. It now rivals the power of the shotgun, which is another weapon you spawn with. There are numerous other weapons at your disposal including the game's only sniper, the Longshot, the torque bow which explodes on impact, the Boomshot which can fire grenades a long distance, the Hammer of Dawn which is a highly powered satelite controlled laser beam, and the three round Hammer Burst. There are also two types of grenades(frag and smoke), and two types of pistols. These weapons are evenly distributed throughout the maps for well balanced play.
There are four different game types to choose from, Warzone, Execution, Assassination, and Annex. In the first three of these modes you have only one life per round, which helps to keep the game tactical because every move you make puts your only life on the line. If you get downed in Warzone, you will eventually bleed out if you're not killed or revived first. Execution is basically the same concept except if you're downed you can eventually get back up on your own. Also, if you down someone in Execution, you have to get up next to them to finish the job, whereas in Warzone you can finish them from any distance. In Assassination, there is a designated leader of the team. If the leader dies, the round ends no matter how many people on the team are still alive. In Annex, your goal is to capture designated zones, and hold them until you reach a predetermined set time. Taking a non occupied territory is called a Cap, and taking an enemy controlled territory is called a Break. If you die in Annex, you enter the respawn wave. This wave starts over every 15 seconds, and depending on when you die during that time determines how long your respawn is.
There have been a few updates for the game that have addressed minor and major issues. First of all, the grenade tag distance was significantly reduced. This was a balance issue that definitely needed to be taken care of. Another major part of the update was the removal of host name from the lobbies. This was widely debated throughout numerous communities. Some people felt it was needed to keep teams of four friends from ganging up on a team of randoms. Others felt that it discouraged competitive team play with your friends. Sure you can always go into a player match with your friends, but it's just not the same kind of competitive environment as ranked play. Also, the Lancer damage was significantly increased over two updates. Once again, another debated topic. Weapon sliding and roadie run glitching were removed, along with numerous other glitches and exploits that plagued the game's online multiplayer.
And finally, we'll take a look at GoW's achievements. There are 49 original achievements worth a total of 1,000 points, and they are well spread out through both the campaign and the multiplayer. The campaign's achievements can be done in either single player or co op, whereas the multiplayer's can only be achieved in ranked play. Most of these achievements can be done over the period of a week or two. The only extremely time consuming achievement is called 'Seriously...', which requires you to amass 10,000 kills in online ranked mutiplayer.
A patch was recently released that added an additional 250 gamerscore to the game. These new achievements focus on the six new maps and the gametype Annex.
Overall Gears of War lived up to the mass amounts of hype. The campaign and the multiplayer may have a few quirks, but in the long run they are just as good as anyone could have hoped and more. While other games come and go, Gears of War will always have that timeless quality that keeps you coming back for more.
The musical score in this game is dark and haunting at times, and powerful and triumphant at others. It all fits in well with the atmosphere. Also, the sound of shooting someone point blank with the shotgun, or hearing your teammate's head get sniped off right next to you is very realistic. The voice acting can be a bit cheesy at times, but the soundtrack and sound effects make up for it.
The visuals are, at the time of writing, the best the 360 has to offer and showcases the UE3's capabilities far better than other games using it. This is truly a next gen experience. Throughout the campaign and the multiplayer, the visuals never cease to amaze. Facial expressions, environments, cutscenes, everything is near perfection. Textures are crisp throughout, HDR is put to good use and character animations are stunning.
The A button is multifunctional. You can use it to run, roll, and take cover. For the most part this is a great feature, although sometimes you can find yourself taking cover when you wanted to run or roll. Gears is easy to go back to because of the multiplayer. Whether you're going for the achievements or just in the mood to blow someone into pieces the game seemingly never gets old. One of the things they could do to make the replay value even better would be to incorporate a matchmaking system.
It's very easy to jump right into the campaign or the multiplayer. You could even be in the middle of fighting General Raam himself and have a buddy jump in to help you. The only mistake I think Epic made was the hosting achievement. Since everyone wants to host games to get it, the lobbies can get very convoluted at times. But overall the navigation is very simple.
The achievements are a nice range of campaign and online multiplayer. The 'Seriously...' achievement is still one of the most respected and elusive achievements today. The new achievements played in well with the new maps and Annex gametype.
It's a rarity that a game gets as much hype as this game got, and even more rare that it lived up to that hype. Even 6 months after its release it's still going strong. This day in age, that's a lifetime for an online shooter. In the tradition of Goldeneye and Halo, this is a game for the ages.