Gears of War falls into that second category. Of all the games I’ve played on the Xbox 360 so far, it is by far the best looking.
But does the gameplay keep up with those graphics? Well…
Gears of War still seems to surprise people due to the fact that it’s a third person shooter, not a first person shooter. That means instead of seeing through the protagonist’s eyes, like you do in a first person shooter, you’re actually looking from just behind him and over his shoulder. When you pull in the left trigger, you’ll zoom in and aim a bit more, and if you hold down “A” and do a “roadie run” you’ll zoom in on his … uh … posterior. But the rest of the time, except in the cut scenes, you’re looking over his shoulder.
I am, perhaps, getting ahead of myself. In case you missed the enormous advertising blitz for this game (perhaps the most non-sports game hype I’ve seen in a long time, maybe since Halo 2) Gears of War starts on another planet.
You – the “anti-hero” hero, unjustly imprisoned for trying to rescue your father against orders – get sprung from prison at the beginning of the game in order to help in the battle against the Locusts. From there, you’ll be thrown straight into the fight.
The controls are fairly simple. You can fire by hitting the right trigger, or aim with the left trigger before firing. The D-pad controls what type of weapon you use; unlike other games, you actually have to switch to grenades to use them. Your primary melee weapon – a chainsaw attached to your standard issue rifle – is activated by holding down the “B” button. You take cover by hitting “A”, but more on that in a minute.
The most innovative feature, perhaps, is the reloading feature. If you don’t want to deal with it, you can just click the right bumper and let it be. However, when you click it the first time, you’ll see a meter at the top with a line in it. Click the right bumper again in the smallest zone on that line, and you’ll get a power-up for a short time on your reloaded ammo. Click it in the slightly larger area and no extra power, but you’ll reload faster. Click it elsewhere and you’ll take longer to load. So it’s a trade-off, but if you’re manually reloading, it’s usually easy enough to go ahead and click it twice. The only time I routinely just let it reload “normally” was if it automatically reloaded for me.
There are a number of different weapons, though with plentiful ammo. I tend to grab one and stick with it. You have the frag grenades, as mentioned before – unlike standard “pineapple” grenades, these are more like a morning star – spiked explosives on a chain that you swing and throw. There’s the standard pistol, the assault rifle with the chainsaw, shotguns, and others. One of the most fun is the “Hammer of Dawn”. The weapon itself doesn’t actually do any damage – it’s a tracking beam for an orbital death ray.
The most important thing to remember in the game is that it does not allow you a “run and gun” mentality. Cover is king! If you try to stand and slug it out with the Locusts, you will die, and you will die quickly. In fact, many times you’ll die quickly enough as it is, and the Locusts are not afraid to take cover, throw grenades, or try to flank you from cover.
So, to take cover, you hit the “A” button.
Every other game that I’ve played that uses a similar cover system has had issues, and Gears of War is no exception. The reason for that is simple. As the player, controlling a character running for a bit of cover, I know exactly what I want him to do – I’ve seen where the enemies are, what the layout looks like, things like that. However, when I hit that “A” button, it’s up to the computer to decide what I meant to do.
Which, sometimes, means things like “crouch down with your butt sticking right out in front of that tripod mounted machine gun”. Which then quickly means “die”.
When you are behind cover, you’ll also be given options on how to leave that cover. For instance, you can switch sides of a doorway, go over the top of an obstacle, or if out in the open, roll for cover. Sometimes you’ll just roll repeatedly at a wall, trying to take cover. Other times you’ll take cover fine – but facing the wrong way (though that’s usually easily rectified) or on the wrong side of the pillar/other object (uh oh).
Let’s not even forget that cover is destructible, so don’t stay behind it forever, or if it is flimsy.
Honestly, the cover system is the biggest flaw I’ve found with the game so far, though it is common and is a big one. The other flaw comes with melee. You really, really don’t want to get into melee.
You can stroke a rifle butt into your enemy’s face, or you can engage the chainsaw. The big thing on the chainsaw – other than the very cool blood spray onto the camera – is that it takes a second to fire up. Wait for the Locust to be in your face and you’ll be offal before it starts to spin.
That’s a bit frustrating, but it feels more like a design decision than a bug. I still find it annoying, especially when you get into the frantic point blank confrontations.
It’s also too bad that your buddies aren’t the brightest bulbs in the tulip patch, either. You can revive a cohort that goes down – just run over to him and click “B” when you see the icon. Of course, your buddies can’t do that to you – I guess that’d make it too easy, though it did seem to work well in another game that I played. Of course, what cracks me up is where my buddies tend to die. I lost track of the number of times they died literally within about two feet of the front of a tripod mounted heavy weapon. Seriously. They just run right up to it. I guess they have faith in my abilities. At least they’re not incompetent in firing – they’ll take out their share of the enemies. Most of the time. As long as they don’t get too smart.
The enemies, on the other hand, are fairly smart. Fairly. For the most part, they’ll take cover, use grenades, etc. That’s all well and good. They seem to have short tempers, though, and will start to charge on a regular basis – which just makes them cake, though they do take a startling number of bullets to take down.
Missions are made easier by the “Y” button, which will let you look at an item or area of interest. For instance, normally it shows you where your buddy is – however, if there’s a bug hole opening up, it’ll look that way, so you can see where it is. It’ll also show you where there are things like switches that have to be thrown.
You can carry up to four weapons at a time – remember that grenades count as one – though you have to be careful about what you pick up, lest you throw away a weapon you want to keep. It takes a while to get used to that, as weapons are only identified by a silhouette.
The graphics and sound in the game are just flat out freaking amazing. The game looks GREAT. I’m almost hesitant to go into too much detail about it – at the risk of belittling it – but it’s just so much fun to run around these burned out, bombed out cities, trying to imagine what they looked like before the war.
I have had these great graphics (or something else, perhaps) lead to the game stuttering at points, even in areas that it feels like it shouldn’t. That could’ve been from a long play session on the Xbox 360, but it was definitely worse than most other games I’ve played on the 360.
Multiplayer-wise you have a number of options, including a co-op mode and the ability to curb stomp people who are down. Which goes to show why this title is rated “M”.
This is a very graphic, violent game. It’s a no holds barred, gory, dirty, cursing, “this is why war sucks” kind of game. There’s no glory in the fighting that goes on – it’s just some sad, tired soldiers trying to do their job.
Which is what war usually is about, after all.
Even given the problems I’ve listed, I definitely highly recommend this game for any (adult) action game enthusiast. If you have friends who are thinking about getting a 360, showing them this game on an HDTV is definitely a selling point.