Thursday, November 16 2006 @ 12:00 AM CST
Hype can kill a game no matter how good the game is. Before a demo is released, or the game is made available to the public, fan boys around the globe tag a title as the “killer app”. With such a title, expectations are often through the roof. Gears of War followed this formula from the time the game was even announced. After over a year of trying to avoid being sucked into the anticipation we are finally able to chainsaw our enemy’s in half ourselves!
Epic has dealt with the hype for everyone of their releases. Since the release of the first Unreal title on the PC back in 1998, Epic Games has continued to advance the franchises engine, which has been featured in many other titles.
Gears of War is a tactical third-person shooter video game developed by Epic Games. Developed using the Unreal Engine 3 technology, it is the first game to showcase Epic’s new engine. According to Microsoft Game Studios VP Shane Kim, the preorder sales were expected to reach $100M USD, second only to Halo 2 in videogame history.
As you can tell, going into this review was a difficult task. Often times the hype can be overwhelming. In Gears of War’s case though, the game may be slightly diminished as I do not feel it lives up to all the hopes the game was bringing the Xbox 360. Without a doubt Gears of War is a jaw dropping game. Though it has gameplay faults that will turn many off and those with Xbox Live will notice that for such a short single player campaign, Gears of War is missing much needed multiplayer maps.
The single player game starts off with your character sitting in a jail cell. You play as a disgraced COG solider Marcus Fenix who is getting busted out of the joint by your old partner Dom. The conflict between the human inhabitants of planet Sera fighting a subterranean enemy known as the Locust Horde has torn their world apart. Right away the fun kicks off as you join forces with three other soldiers to attempt to clear the world of the Locust. After a failed initial plan the world is put into your hands to help map the underground tunnels that the Locust inhabit and blow them up.
The single player campaign lasts for around eight hours and has you play through five chapters of gameplay. Raising the difficulty from Casual to Hardcore will add a little time to the total. There are plenty of achievements to complete with rewards for playing at each difficulty level. After beating the game once on either casual or hardcore you will be treated with Insane difficulty. In the end the game has plenty of hours of gameplay available for those wishing to master the single player game. For those who will just play through once you can’t help but feel cheated. It really does feel as though the game is ending just as you were starting to get warmed up.
Part of the problem lays in the games controls. After playing the game for a few hours you will start to grasp the games controls. Gears of War is played from the third person perspective and relies on the character to take cover and exchange tactical fire with the enemy. Taking cover is simple enough with the A button slamming your back into a wall. Pressing the left trigger will bring up your targeting recital and the right trigger is used to lay fire. The real problem comes from the games learning curve. It takes some time to use the cover around you properly. Until you really start to master the cover system expect to slam yourself into the wrong walls or just go diving in an obscure direction.
When you play a shooter you expect cool guns. Gears of War both delivers and falls short in this category as well. The standard machine gun is fitted with a chainsaw on the end that will allow for the most impressive kills in a game yet. Using the chainsaw to cut your enemy down will almost always result in yelling out for others to watch as the blood will splatter on the games camera and create an amazing effect. The Hammer of Dawn is also a impressive weapon that allows for the assistance of satellites to rain down a death ray that can be controlled for a few seconds. The only drawback to the weapon is that is takes a few seconds to charge and also can only be used outdoors. The Torque Bow is also an impressive weapon that allows you to fire explosive-tipped arrows. Outside of those three the standard rocket launcher as well as some smaller arms can be found laying around. Where Gears of War fails is having three such powerful weapons available that the others feel worthless. Through most the game I carried the human machine gun with the chainsaw and the torque bow as my two weapons.
The entire game can also be played through co-op over Xbox Live, split screen or system link. You'll play through the entire campaign, and online you'll be able to search for co-op games that are currently looking to play specific chapters and difficulty levels.
There are three main game types for the online play, each of which can be played as either ranked matches or unranked matches. Each game type supports up to eight players over Live. Ranked matches track stats and points, which are tracked for some nice online leaderboards. The unranked matches are a great place to hone your skills before joining the cutthroat world of ranked games.
The first and most basic game type is Warzone. This is team deathmatch where four COGs battle it out with four Locust. The winning team is the one that takes the other side out first. Also there is Execution mode. This is really the same as Warzone, but the big difference is that once you're knocked down and you've sat through your bleed-out time, you'll be brought back into the game.
Next is Assassination. This mode sees each side have a specific leader. For the COGs it's General Hoffman, and for the Locust it's General RAAM. Only these leaders can pick up the better weaponry in the levels, but they can then pass them on to other members of the team. If you kill the leader of a side, the game is over, and the assassin becomes the leader of his/her team in the next game.
Overall Gears of War offers 10 maps total for the three game modes. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more maps made available. I am almost scared that a map pack will be made available soon, but will cost in the ballpark of 500 points. While I am sure Microsoft and Epic will have no problem selling the map packs, I just feel more maps should have been included for the retail purchase.
Graphically the game is amazing. The Unreal engine delivers the best looking graphics we have seen on a console game to date. All the maps are gorgeous to play through. From outdoor courtyards to the underground caverns of the Locust’s, Gears of War shows the power of the Xbox 360. The only beef I have with the gamed visuals is for how fantastic they look, it is rare to see a color other than gray. For an engine that can show all shades of gray in breathtaking fashion, it would have been nice to show how well it can handle color. Much of this is due to the war theme which I can understand. Just hopefull thinking I suppose for the sequel.
Overall I am impressed by Gears of War. Sure the hype couldn’t help me from expecting more, but in the end I cannot think of a game I have played on the Xbox 360 that you want to show people. You know the game that shows why you dropped four hundred big ones on a new console. Gears of War gives the Xbox 360 that title a year after its release. While the single player will be finished in a few hours, Gears of War will have you playing on Live long after you beat the game. Will Gears of War knock Halo 2 off the top of the Xbox Live top played games charts? Only time will tell.