Gears of War
Pop-and-shoot first person shooter astounds
Every now and then, a game comes along that defines the system is it released for. Halo 2 did this for the original Xbox. Gears of War may be that game for the Xbox 360. While the world will have to wait to see if Halo 3 outperforms Gears of War, at least Gears of War is available to play in the meantime.
Gears of War is set on Earth. The human race was attacked in a surprise assault from a group known as the Locust Horde, which collected underneath the Earth’s largest cities. War between the humans and Locust raged for years, with the Locust gaining ground easily. Finally, with the Locust Horde apparently having won the war, the humans annihilated the surface of the planet with superweapons, denying the victors their spoils. The humans still battle the Locust to this day, despite being on the losing end of the war.
This is where you pick up the single player campaign in Gears of War. And once you have schlepped through the good, but not great, campaign, you will move into the multiplayer part of the game, where is shines like only Halo 2 could.
Gameplay: Rock-solid shooting
Gears of War is only great because its gameplay is stellar. There are many shooters out on the market and they do not distinguish themselves from each other well. While Gears of War incorporates pop-and-shoot mechanics and other common elements of shooters, it does it very well.
Gears of War is a pop-and-shoot game. The most well-known game of the run-and-gun genre of shooters is Halo 2. In Halo 2, all one needs is quick reflexes and good aim. However with Gears of War, one needs to know gunfight strategy and does not need near as quick of reflexes. Taking cover in the game is paramount, as standing out in the middle of nowhere will get you killed quickly. Gears of War’s cover system is also very easy to use, which is great since taking cover is so vital to success.
Your character will not move very fast in normal walk mode, which is why the game does not do well as a run-and-gun game. You can take evasive action by rolling, and you can also use the “roadie-run” feature, where your character will hunch down and run in whatever direction you need. The neat thing about the roadie run is that it feels like you are driving a car. You cannot shoot while running.
Using the weapons in Gears of War is also pretty easy. You can carry up to four weapons at once and you switch between them by using the D-pad. The neat thing about the assault rifle in the game is that it has a chainsaw attached to the bottom. If you get close enough to an enemy and rev the chainsaw, you are treated with a wonderful display of blood and gore, which is strangely satisfying. Do not get shot while revving the chainsaw, however, because you will lower it and you will have to re-rev it.
The other weapons in the game seem pretty standard-issue. There is a shotgun, which is obviously better at close range. There is a sniper rifle, a rocket launcher called the “boomshot,” grenades and more. If you melee attack an enemy with a fragmentation grenade, it will stick to them and blow them up. You had better run away, though, because you can still die from the explosion.
The multiplayer mode is where the game does best. Four-on-four teams can compete in ranked and unranked games, and there is never a shortage of games to play. You might want to consider getting a headset to talk to your teammates, however. Communication in Gears of War can be the difference between a horrible defeat and a great victory.
There is also a neat little trick you can do with reloading in Gears of War. Usually, reloading is stuck in a game to provide realism, but you can perform an “active reload” in the game. If you time an active reload correctly, you will reload faster and can provide cover fire more quickly. If you time it really well, then all the ammunition you are reloading will gain an increase in the damage provided. However if you time your active reload incorrectly, it will take longer than a normal reload to complete. This is a neat feature that you can get used to quickly. It is not too much of a gimmick, as the risk/reward is pretty balanced.
Overall, the gameplay of Gears of War is actually what drives the game so well. Although the visuals certainly do not hurt. Score: 9
Visuals: Gorgeous devastation
Some may think that a devastated planet could not look very good… Those people would be wrong. The ravaged Earth in Gears of War looks absolutely great, as do the player models.
The campaign mode tends to benefit more from the great graphics of the game simply because it is a scripted environment, but the multiplayer looks awesome too. You really feel like you are in the game, fighting to save your life.
The third-person view while taking cover may irritate some hardcore gamers, but you will find it to be more helpful when trying to defend or attack a position. You also switch to a third-person view while roadie-running, which needs some getting-used-to to pull off right.
The characters in the game look awesome, as does the weaponry and their ammunition. As said before, chainsawing an enemy looks great, and even simply blowing up an enemy with a grenade looks slick. The environments all look great and are immersive.
Really, the best way to appreciate the visuals in Gears of War is to play the game. They are awesome, and they set the bar for Xbox 360 games to this point. Score: 10
Audio: Good gunfire, great effects
With such great gameplay and awesome visuals, does Gears of War fall short in sound? Nope, although it is nothing to write home about.
The sound quality of Gears of War is pretty good. Firing a weapon provides an expected sound, but it does not sound too low-quality or forced. The characters will occasionally say something, such as when they are revided or screw up an active reload.
The soundtrack for the game flows well, but most players will quickly forget about it and will focus their attention on other sounds. Hearing an opponent run up behind you is a good thing, albeit very creepy.
There are some good sounds to go with a good game here. Score: 8
Value: $60? Could have sold for $120…
Gears of War has tremendous value. If the single-player mode was all the game had, then one could argue that the game was not worth the $60 price tag. Even a serviceable multiplayer mode would have made the game worth it, but with such an awesome and addicting multiplayer mode, the value of this game skyrockets.
Like most Xbox 360 games, Gears of War sells for $60. With how much time most people are going to devote to playing this game online, never before has $60 been so well spent. The multiplayer mode provides endless hours of great fun and gameplay, as well as the opportunity to meet new friends and… oh wait, nobody wants to make friends in Gears of War, everybody wants to win!
Really, the replayability of Gears of War is immense. You will get plenty of hours of enjoyment out of this game. Score: 10
Intangibles: Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
Well, there are not really any animals in Gears of War, but there are enough amenities and niceties about the game to really beef it up. The game takes the standard pop-and-shoot scheme and adds in awesome gameplay, great visuals, good audio and tremendous value.
The active reload feature is a nice wrinkle in the reloading scheme for the game. Reviving teammates can be done by any player and is easy to do, although you cannot do it while taking cover. The layout of the multiplayer maps makes for some great strategic decisions, and the multiplayer mode Assassination is also a great addition. In Assassination, each team has a leader and the object of the game is to kill the opposing leader.
There are just too many neat quirks about this game to list. Score: 9
Gears of War is the best game to come out for the Xbox 360 so far, hands-down. It is reason enough to buy an Xbox 360 if you do not have one already. In fact, not owning an Xbox 360 is a poor reason for not owning this game. It will be a tough act for Halo 3 to follow.