Thereâ€™s no point wasting time. If you follow the video game industry, even slightly, you already know about Gears of War. You know itâ€™s Microsoftâ€™s big title for Christmas, and you know itâ€™s had a ridiculous amount of hype surround it. The question you really want to know is whether it lives up to the hype.
In a word: yes.
If youâ€™ve been following the game and youâ€™re simply waiting for the go-ahead, youâ€™ve got it. Go pick up you pre-order and enjoy it.
However, the rest of you, especially those who arenâ€™t fans of shooters, will want to read on to find out whether or not Gears of War is worth your time and money.
Itâ€™s hard not to accuse Gears of War of being . . . deliberate. Itâ€™s definitely aimed at the Xbox 360â€™s target demographic, the 18-to-35-year-old male, and it wears its inspiration on its sleeve. In terms of aesthetics and style, Gears of War is a bit of a pastiche. Youâ€™ll easily notice the bits that have been shamelessly pulled from blockbuster action movies such as Aliens and Pitch Black. The game also has an â€śeat s*** and dieâ€ť mentality that is obviously going out of its way to be as badass as possible.
However, it works. Not simply because Gears of War manages to pull it off with finesse, but because Gears of War attempts to be highly cinematic and achieves it. Thereâ€™s not much of a story to speak of. Marcus Fenix â€“ voiced by John â€śBenderâ€ť Di Maggio â€“ is busted out of jail to aid the resistance against an invasion by a coalition of intelligent monsters known as the Locust. While the story isnâ€™t just an 8-bit style premise that merely provides motivation of killing the â€śbad guysâ€ť, itâ€™s also nothing special, and mainly serves to link the acts together.
But action movies arenâ€™t known for their stunning stories; theyâ€™re known for gunfights, car chases, and explosions. Likewise, Gears of War delivers what it should. The gameplay actually starts a lot like the chainsaw bayonets found within the game. Itâ€™s slow to start, and it eases the player into the experience, gradually teaching them everything. Once the full skill set has been provided to the player, the action really picks up and the experience becomes highly enjoyable.
For the most part, itâ€™s Gears of Warâ€™s simplicity that makes it so enjoyable. Many people claim that Resident Evil 4 is the rather obvious inspiration for this game. These people arenâ€™t paying enough attention. Resident Evil 4 had sloppy movement and pusillanimous combat â€“ it was needlessly protracted. Gears of Warâ€™s dual-stick controls allow it to one-up Resident Evil 4 by making it feel fluid.
Additionally, Gears of War implements a cover system that takes it far beyond the simple shooting gallery that is Resident Evil 4. Instead of run-and-gun, Gears of War employs a pop-and-stop mechanic. The goal is to hide behind cover, popping occasionally up to take out enemies. In this respect, Gears of War plays more like Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter.
However, Gears of Warâ€™s streamlined cover system makes it far more accessible. Simply pressing A in combination with the left stick will allow players to execute a variety of covering manoeuvres. Itâ€™s not perfect â€“ occasionally the context will fail and youâ€™ll execute an ill-advised dive-roll instead of sliding to safety â€“ but it certainly allows the focus to shift from the controls to the action on screen.
The game also offers a streamlined system for commanding your squad. Unlike the complicated Ghost Recon, players merely issue orders of attacking fire, ceasing fire, and regrouping. This avoids any breakdown in the action by needing to pause in order to work out ideal placing for your squad.
Gears of War also contains a variety of cinematic thrills and chills, plenty of which will induce screams from the not-so-gruff. Some of the scripted events, such as fights with Berzerkers, are amazingly cinematic and highly satisfying. If Gears of War is trying to capture the fun and excitement of an action movie, it succeeds. It wears the label of interactive movie far more comfortably than most.
Itâ€™s not without its flaws, however. There are also a few graphical glitches, mainly with textures failing to load in time, as well as the aforementioned context problems with the cover system. The AI is also a tad questionable. The enemy AI is amazingly intelligent; theyâ€™ll flank you, take cover, and basically kick your ass if youâ€™re not careful. Delta Squad, however, appears to have the intelligence of a rabid gibbon. Your squad often gets themselves into a variety of lethal situations, most notably Dom, whoâ€™ll get himself killed constantly. In Act 2, this can prove frustrating, especially as it forces restarts.
Thatâ€™s why itâ€™s best to play Gears of War with a friend. You can play locally or over Xbox Live, with the latter being the optimum choice. In a sense, Gears of War almost feels like an updated version of Contra, especially given its trial-and-error nature and its emphasis on a perfect run. Thatâ€™s not to suggest that the single-player campaign isnâ€™t fun, but just like Halo, Gears of War is more fun if you share it with a friend.
In regards to length and difficulty, most people will find the Casual difficulty an appropriate challenge, with the game lasting about 12-to-15 hours. Those who are rather well versed in the shooter genre will probably want to start off on the Hardcore difficulty setting. Those who manage to complete that mode will find the Insane difficulty setting waiting for them. There are achievements for completing all three modes, which encourages replay.
And when youâ€™re finally done with the online mode, youâ€™ll be able to take Gears of War online. You can compete in three types of matches, all 4-on-4. Warzone is your standard team deathmatch; Extermination is a mode where players can only die after being finished off, usually by having their face stomped into the pavement; and Assassination has a leader player who must be exterminated in order to achieve victory.
All the modes are enjoyable, the maps are well-designed, and the squad-based gameplay that focuses on teamwork really helps the game set itself apart from other online-enabled shooters.
Despite its flaws, Gears of War is an excellent shooter. Indeed, it is probably the most refined, well-executed shooter, and enjoyable shooter ever made. Itâ€™s cinematic nature and streamlined gameplay help to create an experience that is not soon forgotten. However, it will not convince those who dislike shooters to change their mind about the genre. This is not what Burnout 3 is to racing games.
If you have an Xbox 360 and you like to shoot things, buy this game. If you like to shoot things and youâ€™ve been sitting on the fence about getting an Xbox 360, this should convince you to â€śjump inâ€ť. Everyone else, however, might want to look at renting this game first to make sure itâ€™s their cup of tea. It comes highly, highly recommended, but only to people who are fans of the shooter genre.