Gears of War is the Xbox 360’s killer app and it deserves every bit of hype it’s received.
The Good: Jaw dropping visuals that show what the Xbox 360 is truly capable of. Beautiful, intense orchestral score. Sound effects on the whole are extremely well done. Intuitive yet simple combat and maneuvering system lets you go from cover to cover seamlessly. Active reload system is genius. Constant and consistent moments that blow you away your first time through. Drop-in/drop out co-op over Xbox Live. Multiplayer is tons of fun. Chainsaw bayonet, need I saw more?
The Bad: There’s not much in the way of story.
It should come as no surprise that I’ve given Gears of War a perfect 10. That’s not to say that it’s not without its faults. It definitely has room for improvement. But the good out-weighs the bad by such a huge margin, it’s not even showing up on my radar.
It’s actually hard to find things to say about Gears of War because you simply need to experience it for yourself. There are so many moments in the game that knock you back in your seat and make you want to instantly re-play them that it was hard finding a chunk of the game that I could capture without giving any of the awesomeness away. I decided to go with Act 1 Chapter 2 in its entirety as it’s basically just straight combat from start to finish. I demonstrated a lot of the combat maneuvering you can pull off and tried to illustrate how things pan out depending on how you use cover and progress through the game. So if you’re worried that the gameplay video will spoil it for you, worry not! It’s spoiler free.
Gears of War has raised the bar a few notches above every other Xbox 360 title in terms of visuals. It looks absolutely unreal (no pun intended). From the war torn, post apocalyptic environments to the beat up faces of the Gears themselves. Everything is just so detailed that you can’t help but be totally wowed every time you play the game. In most cases, high graphic details means lower performance. This is where GOW shines through as there isn’t so much as a dropped frame (that you can notice) outside of cut scenes through the entire campaign. There are definitely noticeable slow downs during the cut scenes where there’s tight shots of a few of the dudes at once, but that’s about it. It runs smooth as butter otherwise.
From the moment the menu screen loaded up for the first time, I knew I was going to love the soundtrack. It’s moody, eerie, intense and beautiful. A gorgeous orchestral score that fits so well with what’s going on in the game. The sound effects are also amazing. Weapons and explosions are big, loud and raw which contrasts quite nicely to the squishing of bullets piercing flesh or a chainsaw cutting through a torso.
Putting a chainsaw bayonet on an automatic assault weapon was the best idea for a weapon mod ever. I still get stoked every time I cut through a dude. His arms flailing as the screen is splattered with blood. Fuck, it’s just awesome!
I found the controls so easy to pick up and master. There’s basically only one action button – A. Depending on the direction you’re indicating with the left thumbstick a different action will be performed. You can slap your body up to just about anything by pressing the A button when you’re close by. Once you’re behind cover, left and right will make you do a roll out or take cover behind another close by item if there is one. While up allows you to jump over shorted objects and back simply gets you out of cover. If you’re at the edge of an object, you can press up and left/right to leave cover and continue moving forward in one smooth motion. To top it off, holding A gets your character sprinting. He hunkers down and bolts in this awesome animation that really adds to the intensity of the battles. Once you’ve got all the controls down, you can easily strings these motions together and move from cover to cover seamlessly and it looks and feels amazing.
While there is a little to be desired when it comes to the story, I really like how it’s presented. There is no back story at all. You start the campaign as Marcus Fenix and one of your squad mates has come to break you out of prison. Why you’re there, you don’t know. What’s going on, you have no idea. All you know is that it’s 14 years post E Day (Emergence Day) and you’re needed to help fuck shit up. You can learn a bit about how things got to the point they’re at by watching some of the early trailers or the movie that kicks in if you sit at the menu screen for a few minutes. But progressing through the campaign, you have one objective at a time. Beyond that, you really have no idea what’s going to happen. The campaign is broken down into 5 Acts, each with a series of chapters. Each Act has one main objective which usually leads to a couple of secondary objectives along the way.
You play the campaign through with at least one squad mate by your side and up to four at the most. Though, they’re not overly helpful. Dom (your sidekick) tends to run out of cover at precisely the wrong moments and gets mowed down more than he contributes. Reviving him is a simple matter of pressing the X button when you’re close by. Typically, you’ll want to let him lie there and think about what he’s done before you make your way over. This is where the game’s drop-in/drop-out co-op system truly shines. At any moment, you can pause the game and invite a friend to join you, assuming the role of Dom. This can be super handy if you’re playing solo but find yourself really stuck. But honestly, co-op is the way to play Gears of War. I finished it on Casual (the lowest of the 3 difficulty levels) on my own the first time around. Mostly because I wanted to take my time and really enjoy it. And I’m now playing it through again on Insane (the hardest difficulty) with a buddy over Xbox Live. I have to say, it’s a lot more fun when you’re pinned down and have someone to help you flank dudes. The real time communication just betters the experience on the whole.
The multiplayer end of GOW is an absolute blast! While I haven’t spent a great deal of time online just yet, I immensely enjoyed the games I have played. And if you think cutting a dude in two is fun in the campaign, wait until you do in online!
I really can’t say enough good things about Gears of War. It’s outstanding on every level. If you have been waiting for a good reason to pick up an Xbox 360, it’s here!