Gears of War Xbox 360 Review

Hype is a terrible, terrible thing… every year without fail there is always at least one game that publishers decide needs the hard-sell and as a result gets carefully marketed by those PR guys and gals with clever ideas to build the hype to an insurmountable level just as the game hits store shelves. With this hype even the most level headed gamer will sell his granny to get his hands on whatever the chosen game is come release and then the PR team are gorging on pina-colada’s and high-fiving each other for a job well done. I have fell victim to this hype many time and gone into many titles throughout the years stupidly expecting what I was about to play to be the absolute pinnacle of my gaming experiences. As a result every year when “this year’s big game” finally hits the shelves I am hit with nothing but a sharp tinge of disappointment after only a few hours play.

All This Time to Make Amends

Ever since it was first announced you could tell Gears of War was going to be one of those games. Right from the moment of its first appearance you could tell it was the Microsoft chosen game of 2006. Every executive that talked about it was using carefully placed words… every screenshot that was released seem to hit at just the right time; magazines scrambled for exclusives and we saw blood stained front covers of many gaming publications. You could not be level headed in the environment that Microsoft had created for Gears of War so as you would expect I went into GOW with high hopes. As I started to play I was expecting a sharp tinge of disappointment to hit… I did not get that and I will admit as the hours went by I was entertained – although I was still far from being blown away with amazement.

It’s hard to figure out where to start with this GOW review… there is literally so much to talk about my mind is in a mess trying to convert what I have seen and played into words. I suppose it is best to start with the story but doing so brings up one of the game’s first disappointments as GOW has severe shortcomings when it comes to telling a compelling tale. Basically the game’s story is a means to an end to propel you through the beautiful levels… there is no denying the game itself and the cutscenes are spectacular – with the final scene of Act One being one of the most magnificently directed in video game history – but the overall story is very bland.

Always Caged and Now I’m Free

Even though the story is not great I am not going to spoil it in this review but I will talk a bit about the basis of the plot. The story revolves around the games main character – Marcus Fenix – as he and the rest of his team as they fight hoard of locust invaders on an earth-like planet called Sera. The locusts live underground and pop up to fight though cracks in the ground named emergence holes. The game itself plays like a ‘roided up version of GRAW with a high focus on action. Everything about the game seems highly OTT as you dive in and out of one form of cover to another to shield yourself from the masses of locusts. Simply put you CAN’T run and gun in GOW; if you stay out in the open for more than a few seconds you WILL die – and that’s just while playing on casual.

Throughout most of the game you get to play with a selection of other CPU controlled soldiers and thankfully, as a group these guys know how to handle themselves and make smart decisions to aid in your attack against the hoard of bad guys. There are some AI problems though and these problems can be summed up in just three letters; D-O-M. At certain points in the game you will split from your other team-mates and have to fight through sections with only one of your team-mates helping… his name is Dom Santiago! When Dom seems to be fine fighting with his other AI friends the poor guy can’t seem to handle the hoards on his own. Even when trying to guide him with the game’s basic AI commands he still seems to have far too many ideas of his own which lead to him dying far too many time meaning you have to fight the odds on you own in hopes of reviving him … as you can guess this is not a whole lot of fun.

The selection of enemies on show is solid enough… the basic locusts are humanoid in form but are still far from cannon fodder and put up a good fight. These locusts also use cover just like you and your team. The enemy AI seems to be smart enough to use all cover available wisely, laying down suppressing fire and trying to rush you by jumping out from cover. The rest of the enemies in the game are cruder, only killing you in one way but are still fun to take on. The more powerful enemies are called Boomers and Theron Guard who are much more aggressive then the basic enemies and usually have access to some of the game’s most powerful weapons. Then you have the Berserkers who only make a few appearances throughout the game but are probably the most entertaining foe on show. They are blind and have no weapons and react to sound, they rush you trying to trample whatever they hear. The encounters with Berserkers are highly memorable and a different tactic is needed each time you meet up with one. The rest of the enemies on show are mutant in form but talking about them may result in spoiling events in the storyline.

Of course to take on the bad guys you are going to need a powerful arsenal and GOW does not disappoint there either. There is a selection of ten weapons available in the game and many ways to use them. Firstly you have the essential assault rifle but it is far from a basic weapon as it is equipped with a chainsaw. This can be used for one-shot-kill melee attacks cutting your opponent apart and spilling blood all over the environment. Another one-shot-kill move is grenade tagging which is a melee attack done while holding a grenade in which you stick it onto, or should I say into, your opponent hence blowing him up. The rest of the weapons are your standard action game weapons with the likes of sniper rifles, shotguns and rocket launchers all making an appearance.

The last unique weapon GOW brings to the table is called the Hammer of Dawn which is a laser targeted weapon that makes a satellite shoot a big beam from the sky. The weapon only makes a few appearances and is a must while taking on the Berserkers talked about above. As with most action shooters these days you can only carry a few weapons at one time – in the case of GOW it is four different weapons. Pistols and grenades take up two slots but the other two can be mixed and matched with whatever you feel is best for the task. One particularly nice touch is that that the two main weapons and attached to Marcus’s back and you can see him swap them instead of him just pulling them from mid air. The game also introduces a technique called active reloading which is a small mini-game where you have to press the reload button at the right time as line sweeps across a bar that lets you reload faster, however if you fail, your gun jams. The weapons are also introduced very well as you advance though the levels.

And that brings us to the final shortcoming of the single player game – its length! If you are familiar with the idea of using cover to stay alive it is easy enough to finish GOW in well under ten hours. But even if you are learning on the move that will probably only add another two or three hours to the proceedings. Higher difficulty levels and co-op options help pad out the game a bit but for people that only like to play though games once, a few more hours of action would have being nice.

Adolescent Resident

Multiplayer Gears of War has issues – annoying nagging issues but fortunately the vast amount of them are bypassed once you play the game with friends rather than opting for a ranked match with a group of strangers. But still the faults need to be talked about… Hosts can kick you from a game if they don’t like you – for absolutely no reason – even if they are on your team. Online matches are all 4v4 affairs and the game offers no gung-ho ‘everyone against everyone’ option… this causes many problems as there are some people on Live who just can’t play as a team and even though they might love to play the game their antics can ruin the fun for everyone else. Also a team member without a microphone can screw up games as they advance with a tactless approach. Even worse is those with a microphone who just won’t listen and do not want to play as a team. Of course trying to get idiotboy to play as part of a team will usually get a reply of “F**K YOU DOUCHEBAG” or something worse. It is also very awkward to set up a good clan game as GOW does not officially support clans meaning you’d be lucky to get a good game together one in ten times.

Perhaps we are being far too harsh though as when GOW works, it works very well. The collection of ten multiplayer maps on show is nothing short of spectacular. Not only are each of them very different visually but they also cater to all different kinds of players. After a few hours of play most players will have found little niches on each map which will suit their play style. Players will also probably have found their favourite mode from the three available very quickly as well. The three modes are very similar and share the same – kill the other team approach – but are suited to different play styles. Execution mode, arguably the most enjoyable of the three favours close quarters combat and gamers who <3 shotguns and grenade tagging. In this mode players need to get in close for the final kill after they have downed an opponent as such, sniping is kept to a minimum. Execution also offers downed players the ability to revive themselves (by tapping A furiously of course) if another player cannot do so. This simple idea opens up lots of tactics for ambushing for the expert player to use. Assassination is the next point of call - the big selling point of this mode is that each team is given a leader with one being Hoffman, the other RAAM (those are guys from the main game… shhhh spoilers!!). Each leader is the target guy on the team and once he dies it's game over. This mode is the most reliant on tactics and one guy messing around will put a gaping hole in your defences. Of course, as with most things in GOW with the right people this mode can be superbly entertaining The last mode is Warzone and this is more or less just basic team deathmatch so sniping, camping and all the other mainstays of modes in other FPS and TPS titles are highly evident. This mode can be fun in short bursts but the uniqueness of the other two modes makes them the place to go. Now and Then I’ll Try to Bend

Co-op play is one of the game main draws – in fact it is the biggest draw of the game as GOW has been built from the ground up with co-op in mind. Not only does co-op fix all the AI problems that we listed above but it is also a highly enjoyable experience both on and offline (via split screen)… microphones are once again a must and you need to talk tactics at all time while playing online. If you are the quiet type then stick to the Casual difficulty and you may get by but constant chatter is the only way you will succeed in Hardcore & Insane. You can hop into a co-op game at any time, at difficulty, at any point in the game so it is very easy to access. All in all, even with these faults there is no denying that GOW is the 360’s big draw for online gaming. It’s got the core mechanise nailed down to be great but an small update from Epic could make it perfect.

Of course as with all 360 games GOW has those dammed achievements that are there to be won in order to inflate your Gamerscore a considerable degree. The points are broken up well between multiplayer and single player so you will have to put in some considerable time in both modes to get anywhere near getting all 1000 point available.

Still There’s One Thing That Comforts Me

If there is one part of GOW that Epic can be truly proud of it is the graphics as there is not one game on shelves, on any system today that can rival what GOW brings to the table. Even looking way into late 2007 you could easily count the number of games on one hand that rival it in terms of eye-candy and still have a few digits to play around with. It really is amazing what CliffyB and the rest of the guys at Epic have accomplished this early in the 360 lifecycle.

Throughout every twist and turn of the game’s five acts there always seems to be something new to see and something to top what you just saw seconds before. Each area you enter is always different from the last and each act seems to raise the visual bar that bit higher to make you go wow! time after time as you advance. The game has everything; there are a collection of missions set at night that highlight the game’s lighting engine with beautiful shadows being cast from every object in the game. This is quickly followed by a level with some of the most beautiful rain ever seen in a video game! This is once again topped by sunlight levels letting you see every facet of the game’s high detailed massive environments with both the insides and outside of destroyed building rendered in fantastic detail. Effects such as blood hitting the screen after you use a chainsaw, to meticulously detailed explosions just helps make everything look that bit better!

The game does not disappoint in the audio department either. Firstly all the weapons in the game seem to have lots of bass while fired – and when we say bass, we mean BASS as some of your close neighbours will think Thor the god of thunder is trying to break into their building to fire rounds in anger! Music is also another plus point with a nice selection of tunes included to amp you up for battle. Some people may have a problem with some of the voice acting as it seems very shallow; it does however match up with the game’s equally shallow story but you have to admit that lines like “eat shit and die” do get boring very quickly – in fact grating the ears after just the second time you hear them.

One Last Thing Before I Quit

I’m sure if it wasn’t for the countless times I have screamed at CPU controlled Dom for dying just inches short of a checkpoint and the numerous times I’ve experienced some dim witted 12 year old twat playing what is supposed to be a team based multiplayer game HIS WAY GOW would have scored well into the high nines. Unfortunately the simple fact of the matter is that right now while playing Gears of War it is far too easy to have your game ruined by a selfish and/or stupid host or a selfish and/or stupid team member who has somehow found their way onto your squad.

Gears of War never set out to reinvent the third person shooter – it just refined parts of it to the point of near perfection. Unfortunately there are still many facets of the game that are rough round the edges. GOW has its faults, there is no hiding that fact; but under the right circumstance most of them are surpassed. Nevertheless it would have being nice of Epic to include a few more small tweaks to sort out the notable nagging problems. In the end “this year’s big game” could not live up to the hype – but when you think about it the bar was set so high it was an impossibility that anyone could do so. It was a damn good try though.

It tries its best to be an epic game but in the end only succeeds in being an Epic game.

8.4 out of 10

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