Gears of War

Xbox 360

Review by Matt Paprocki



Graphics: 10

Sound: 10

Gameplay: 10

Overall: 10


Gears of War is special.

Actually, that doesn't quite get it done. Gears is more than special; it's the action video game you could have only dreamt of previously. Yet, here it is. While playing it, it's hard to feel like you're deserving enough of a title this spectacular, epic, and stunning in every aspect.

From a third person perspective, players control Marcus Fenix, this generation's current Master Chief. Draped in massive oversized armor, bulging with what have to be steroid induced muscles, and guns that would be considered cannons by some current state legislatures, Fenix barrels down the invading Locust horde as if it was a game.

Oh wait, it is.

gearsofwar360.jpg (142749 bytes)Reality checks are the only flaw here. With a masterful graphics engine creating immersive environments, Gears is a title that looks ahead of its time. The Locusts are disgusting when popping out of the Earth's crust, with pale faces, scarred bodies and full of gooey blood waiting to be shot out of them.

Design sets the game in a psuedo-future, filled with architecture from a millennia ago, dark forests, high-end electronics and barren city streets. Level design is textbook, wrapped around the games focus on taking cover. The decision to move away from run-and-gun shooting turns out to be a brilliant one. While the Locust forces are hardly Harvard material, it takes only one to make it free of the attack to flank your forces and cause problems that quickly intensify.

Gears of War is jammed with shooting. When the repetition begins setting in, the designers throw in a section of eerie silence thats creates a completely different sense: terror. When the audio mutes, it generally means something bad is about to happen and you won't move without having an adequate source of cover to move to. You can only imagine what that becomes when enemy forces are barreling down on your position and you're stuck behind a small pillar.

It's easy to pass off Gears as a generic knock-off of Namco's Kill.Switch. The first level doesn't encompass the full experience, and around the middle of the second level, things enter the realm of unforgettable. While other games are intent are reusing game mechanics to stretch the experience as long as possible, Gears continually creates new scenarios to keep the duck and cover firefights engrossing.

A brief section has the player cleaning out a portion of the city from an attack by the light-sensitive Krill in the game's only vehicle section. You'll never enter another user controlled vehicle again. The same goes for the environments. Textures are rarely reused, buildings always feel fresh, and the subtle changes in dominant colors creates a unique mood for each of the game's five chapters.

All of the above still doesn't account for the core gameplay in Gears. With an immeasurable sense of satisfaction from the weapons, especially the heavily hyped chainsaw bayonet, this is a game you'll never tire of. Wisely, the opportunities to user the mesmerizing chainsaw are few, making the player work smarter to gain the ability to use it each time out. Sniper rifles, handguns, shotguns, and the rare Hammer of Dawn round out the weapon set.

While the chainsaw will gain most of the attention for taking video game gore to unparalleled levels, the Hammer can officially replace the BFG from Doom as gaming's centerpiece weapon. Wiping out an unfortunate soul with a heat ray sent from a hovering satellite, this little puppy doesn't kill… it cooks. Its uses are limited, but you'll pick it up with hesitation every time you see it.

For all of the gushing about the single player experience, Gears of War is a cooperative game at is heart. Playing split screen is becoming far too uncommon, yet somehow the developers push the 360 as far as we can currently imagine and lets it display two completely different areas without an ounce of dropped detail. Specific points of the game split the game's squad (which offer only small doses of help when playing solo) into separate areas, allowing for friends to ambush unsuspecting enemies or clear an area before a counterpart finds themselves in a set trap.

When those ambushes fail to work as intended, there's a small set of Xbox Live options to wipe out the person who failed miserably when saving you. While shooting is the focus, reviving downed members on your team takes second place in the importance department. Team play is everything here: two squads meet in one of three modes of play with a max of eight players in a room.

It sounds limiting, yet requires a quick bond with those you're playing with to make it out alive. In Warzone, the closest thing the game has to a standard death match, one death is all you're allowed. There are no respawns, making every awarded life take on a new level of importance.

Execution is a similar mode that allows the player to save themselves by rapidly slamming the A button and hopefully doing so before the opposing squad can deliver a finishing blow, ending your game. Assassination is the final set piece, giving each team a leader who becomes the only goal for the opposing side. That leader is the only one who can pick up specific weapons for their team as well.

As a full package, Gears of War is everything the hype made it out to be, and somehow eclipses those expectations. It's not just one of the greatest action games ever created; it's one of the best from any genre available, going back to the era of Pong. Gears of War is a new standard, and it's hard to move on to anything else after feeling the impact of this beast.


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Last updated: Friday, December 08, 2006 09:56 PM