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Gears of War

With Gears of War 2 looming on the horizon, I felt it was worth a look at the game which helped to breathe new life into the third person action genre. Developed by Epic, veterans of the Unreal series, on a budget greater than the income of several small European countries, Gears is a revelation.

The game takes place on a planet colonized by humans where things have gone horribly wrong. After cities were set up an alien race known as the Locust tunneled up from below the surface on Emergence Day, slaughtering the humans and destroying all that they came across. Humanity was forced to retreat to a granite plateau immune to the Locust tunnels and make a last stand.

The Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) was formed and squads of trained soldiers (Gears) were created with the goal of destroying the Locust horde once and for all. You play as Marcus Fenix, a Gear soldier imprisoned for disobeying an order who is accompanied by his friend Dom for the duration of the game. These men are 7ft tall armour-plated killing machines who are so masculine that they sweat pure testosterone, put simply: they are great.

The interplay between the characters is excellent with macho bravado being used to give each distinct personalities. Throughout the game they frequently have shouted conversations during bouts of gun play with the Locust. I was initially skeptical but soon found myself enjoying these instances immensely.

The core element to the game is third person action which is outstanding. Using a traditional over-the-shoulder camera view in a similar manner to Resident Evil 4 you use the left stick to move and the right to aim. However, in order to survive you have to use cover effectively. By tapping A you flatten yourself against an object and have the options to pop out and fire a few shots off or blind fire over the top. Moving between cover and flanking the enemy is critical and whilst seeming simple, can prove to be challenging and very tactical.

The fact that you can only carry 2 weapons and a side arm alongside a handful of bolas style grenades adds further depth to the combat. Whilst the weapon numbers are only in single figures they are all refreshingly different and feel meaty and real. A lethal shotgun, ridiculously great sniper rifle and an exploding bow and arrow are all amazing, but the real star is the basic assault rifle. Not only is it invaluable at putting down the enemy from a distance it has a chainsaw bayonet attached. A chainsaw bayonet: awesome.

The combat itself requires a good deal of strategy though you don't realise it as the action is so slick and realistic. Animation is very lifelike and slamming into a wall to avoid bullets feels weighty and tense. It must be said that the game is violent, enemies come apart with sustained fire, heads explode and blood sprays the screen as you cleave people in two with your chainsaw. In other games this would seem excessive, yet here it fits in with the authenticity and uncompromising nature of war. The very fact you can curb stomp injured enemies and play grenade tag is so over the top that it becomes ludicrous and provides a release from the tension.

The game's graphics are gritty and look astonishing with the Unreal Engine being used to great effect. Lighting is top notch during day and night and the textures really show off the 360's capabilities. The AI of the enemies is also notable, with the Locust employing various tactics to try and outsmart you which is unsettling but provides a real challenge on any difficulty. The number of enemy types is relatively small but the AI of the standard grunt makes this barely noticeable.

Perhaps my favourite point about this game is the multiplayer options. An excellent online mode which carries the single player combat into deathmatches is challenging and satisfying. Having a human opponent is perhaps the ultimate challenge and team games are ridiculously fun and brutal.

Yet the multiplayer mode which shines the most is the humble co-op. Instead of just being an afterthought the entire game becomes even better with a friend as you work together to outsmart the Locust. Flanking becomes a joy, the split paths where you cover each other from the side and reviving one another when injured is just brilliant. Whilst this makes the game somewhat easier it is really fulfilling and there are some amazing set pieces which are immensely rewarding when you both manage to survive seemingly against all odds through teamwork.

Gears of War does have some issues. If you haven't got a second player to assist you in the single player, the AI takes over which has some frustrating problems. On numerous occasions I had a character repeatedly charge into locations where he couldn't be revived or death was imminent which on one occasion meant an hour of irritation as I tried to keep him away from enemies.

A terrible misplaced driving level also manages to undo a lot of the game's hard work at establishing a good pace and proves to be infuriating. In a stupid twist of logic, in single player, the AI doesn't assist you, leaving you to both drive and gun at the same time which I found impossible on the hardest difficulty. In the end the game seemed to take pity on me and after 9 failed attempts simply moved me onto the next level.

Gears of War is a brilliant game which really personifies what next-generation gaming is all about, a game which feels realistic but doesn't deny you moments to make you feel amazing. Inevitably a franchise has just begun, but what a franchise this could turn out to be. It remains to be seen what direction the series will take, but whatever happens Gears is a truly Epic game. An Epic game with a chainsaw bayonet.

9.00/10 9

Gears of War (Reviewed on Xbox 360)

Excellent. Look out for this one.

With Gears of War 2 looming on the horizon, I felt it was worth a look at the game which helped to breathe new life into the third person action genre. Developed by Epic, veterans of the Unreal series, on a budget greater than the income of several small European countries, Gears is a revelation.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Christopher Wakefield

Christopher Wakefield


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