Generally, I’m not one for shooters. They’ve gotten a little passé. No one really seems to be breaking new ground in the genre, storylines (with a few exceptions) are tacked on, voice acting is crap and it seems to be nothing but a race to make killing things look and sound prettier. Games need to come along and really reinvent the genre and make us as players rethink what a great shooter should be. I’m talking about games like Quake, Half-Life, Halo and a few other select few that really made us take notice.
From the opening tutorial firefight, Gears of War is brutally gorgeous, captivatingly violent, gleefully reveling in the art of the gun. And it is utterly irresistible.
In the single-player game, the player is dropped into the shoes (and cell) of Marcus Fenix, a war hero doing time for some trumped-up charges. This, surprisingly enough, is where the game falls down a bit—more on that later. Marcus is busted out by Dom, another “Gear” (the term for soldiers in the GoW world), and handed a suit of body armor and a gun—cowboy up, Marcus: It’s go time.
Marcus joins Dom, Lieutenant Kim, Carmichael and a host of other Gears as they trek through the wastelands of the former beautiful cities of their world, now the stomping grounds of our black-hats, the subterranean-dwelling Locust Horde. Their mission: locate the “resonator” that will allow the good guys to strike back good and hard at the Locust Horde in their underground nests.
One of the head developers of Gears said he brought a lot of his experiences playing paintball into the development of Gears, and it’s apparent in the finished product. This game is all about cover, tactics and teamwork. There is absolutely, positively no way to run-and-gun in this game. Even on the easiest difficulty levels the Horde forces you to fight smart. They attack en masse, employ cover and superior firepower, move in small fireteams and will shoot Marcus et al full of holes if they don’t have the sense to stay behind cover. The Locust Horde beasties are both frightening and interesting, and employ a number of different weapons (all of which can be picked up by the Gears). They’re also extremely numerous, and if there weren’t plentiful ammo littered about there’d be some real problems.
The game is gorgeous. From the detail of the settings to the cinematic cut-scenes to the blood spray off the chainsaw bayonet, everything looks great. This game really gives us a peek into the kind of visuals we can expect from Xbox 360 titles down the road, and the future looks bright (and violent!). Production values across the board are top notch; Gears is truly a game that is almost as much fun to watch as it is to play. Almost.
Gears of War doesn’t just have legs; the game has wheels. With split-screen co-op play, online co-op play, and a host of online combat scenarios, this game will have a place of honor near the 360 for months and months to come.
Where Gears falls off is the story. The Locust Horde lived underground, but on Emergence Day they attacked the human population. After a big long series of battles, the humans blew up their own cities in an effort to defeat the Locust Horde. And really that’s it. We never learn more about why. We never learn what the Locust Horde has up its devious sleeve. We never learn what Marcus did or didn’t do to have him land in prison. There are so many big dark spots that would’ve made for great story, but they’re left empty.
Gears also leaves the gamer with a light beer ending—looks great, but no closure. Obviously this is going to be a huge franchise for Epic and Microsoft, but this is a trend I’m getting tired of seeing. There are other ways to end a game and still leave the gamer thirsting for a sequel.
This is a fantastic game—the best I’ve played for the Xbox 360 so far—and it sits proudly among the best shooters of all time. If you own an Xbox 360, you absolutely should have this game. If you don’t, then you should track down a friend who has one and play a little co-op with them. Either way, you will not be disappointed.