Gears of War
Let's Pretend, For the first half of the review, that no-one here has played Gears of War. We'll put our fingers in our ears, count backwards from 10 and allow the hype and hoop-la to drift from our ears like a beautiful smoke effect. And... you're under. So, Gears of War in one word: meaty. Even the sneering lips of the heroes manage to be muscular, and the dialogue stinks of five-day sweat The weaponry is tactile, and the sound effects are like someone slapping rashers of bacon over your ears. The gibs are stupid and make up for the desolate colour schemes of the planet. Not forgetting the stylised eruption of black blood - especially when you score a chainsaw kill - no game makes you feel like you're relentlessly punching a carcass quite as much as Gears of War. If you want to shoot shit and not get your tear ducts misty over some feminine emphasis on plot and characters, hello.
But shooting stuff, as wonderful as that always is, is exactly half of what Gears' single-player game is about. The rest is about taking cover. Cover isn't just a useful bonus here, it's a constant fundamental - it's bound by default to the biggest button on the keyboard for a reason. You'll spend more than half the game in cover, and once you get used to the way the controls reflect that it simply becomes the way you work.
When your teammates get injured - one of the most irritating parts of the game -you're forced to break cover and heal them. As a device to vary the action, it's perfectly acceptable, perhaps even clever. But as a human being I resent doing most of the killing, then getting told that if I don't heal some guy who had an Al failure and ran around beckoning bullets, it'll be game over.
On the subject of small gameplay devices, the active reload is another small but canny move. Take that bayonet gun - the last bullets make a warning click, and once it empties, a reload slider begins. Ignoring this will allow a moderate reload speed. Tapping reload at the right time can boost the speed, and hitting it spot-on will even give you a damage bonus. Try it and miss, and your weapon will briefly jam. It's simple, but when the Locust forces are advancing, it's a real pain - melee combat can kill you very quickly, especially if you don't have your chainsaw revved. When you're sniping, the damage boost can cause a headshot to take down a rocket-launching boomer in one.
Squad Al can always be a worry. But in Gears, it's good enough to make it feel like you're fighting on a team against another team. Both sides flank and charge, and you're free to take a leading role or hang around at the back. But if you do that, bear in mind that your squad will probably get hurt, forcing you forward to heal them. There's the odd gaffe - the teammate spinning around on the spot, caught between two see-sawing priorities, and the Locust who took cover from my squadmate then hid from him while staring directly through me. But I'm only saying this to show off how observant I am. They're very much exception to the excellent rule.
Now, let's accept the truth that you probably do know a bit about Gears of War. You want to know whether it's a shoddy Resident Evil 4 rush job. You want to know about those new bits that fill the confusing gap left behind on the 360. You want me to stop saying "Have you heard of videogames? I hear some of them can be quite fun."
The biggest fear for GOW was being forced, by sloppy interpretation, on to a 360 controller. Not only doesn't this happen, but the ease of control and the sheer, stupid boost of enjoyment I got from the game, having previously been saddled with the 360 controller, is a slap in the face for everyone who's ever got it wrong. Everyone knows that the mouse and keyboard is the best combination for shooters, and although GOW came from a console, Epic's PC heritage has done the platform proud.
The PC version is just plain better. Even the camera - the bane of the third-person shooter genre - doesn't cause any problems. I'm going to repeat myself and say that the squad control is rubbish again, just for the sake of saying something unpleasant. If you finished the game on the 360, you'll have noticed a bit of a plot change at the end; that's because most of the fifth act was missing. This has been restored for the PC, and these levels are bigger, more punishing, with more distance and Locusts between checkpoints than the console version. You'll also get to hunt the 30ft tall Brumak.
The worst thing that can be said about GOW is simply that it takes an engaging, well-developed combat system and works it to death. And, yes, the core gameplay is repetitive enough to occasionally break the immersion. But the loop of cover-kill-advance is broken up by just enough diversions - the blind Berserkers, the lightfearing KryII, vehicles and bosses - to keep you engaged.
Sadly, with these distractions, the game's instinct is to patronise you with deflatingly obvious clues. It would have been nice to have been trusted - if only for a couple of minutes - before being told what to do. But like I said, if you pansy intellectuals want to walk around thinking, go read a book.
The PC version of Gears of War is a welcome reminder of how much better PC gaming can be, and that it can do big, stupid action way better than the consoles that took stupid to the masses. And the extra levels that won't be released on Xbox because it can't handle them? Well, that's just fucking funny.
Bring Your Daughter
Co-op aside, you can get involved in some human vs Locust bloodshed on 20 maps, including three new ones for the PC. There's the usual array of deathmatch options and the ability to revive your colleagues is carried over from the single-player. Most interesting is King of the Hill, a PC-exclusive mode in which teams fight over a small ringed area of the map. It makes for some closely fought chaotic battles; with a full server, there'll be someone behind most walls. And we won't be playing against 360 users, so there'll be no dumbing down of the excellent mouse and keyboard controls. You will, however, need a Games for Windows Live online account, but a Silver one is free anyway.
Download Gears of War
Now that the 360 has been out a year, it's about that time when the developers are finally figuring out the system and how to take advantage of it. One of the most impressive instances of this is Gears of War. Once you start playing, there will be no doubt in your mind that this is a next-gen game in almost every way. Gears of War has been marketed for some time as the next Halo and although those are some big shoes to fill, it's clear that they may be slightly large for Gears of War, but they fit just fine.
The story behind Gears of War is simple, and yet effective. Basically, you're on a planet that has been losing a war against a race known as locusts. These locusts, huge brutes of which ugly doesn't do them justice, burrowed under all the major cities and executed a devastating surprise attack and decimated the defenses and population. In one of these battles, a soldier named Marcus Fenix disobeyed orders in an attempt to save his father and found himself in prison. That was 13 years ago and the war hasn't gone any better. Now the prison Marcus Fenix is in gets over run and a pardon comes his way, along with every other prisoner, freeing him to rejoin the fight.
The first thing that will impress you about Gears of War is the visuals. Large environments, extremely high levels of detail, beautifully designed areas all show off the 360's capabilities and set a new standard for visual effects. The sound effects are close behind as well and help immerse you into the Gears of War universe.
That's only the start however. Once the game begins you'll start to notice a few other things as well. First thing many of us will discovered is that running straight at the enemy, firing wildly is a great way to get plastered. Upon further review, it became clear that this AI wasn't the stand and shoot variety and required more planning. In addition, learning to cover behind various objects also plays a key role as you aren't going to be ignored standing in the open firing either. Basically, the developers clearly attempted to weave elements of actual combat into this game and it shows.
As you can imagine, the multiplayer component has a strong showing as well and includes a split screen option to play through the campaign along with the various other multiplayer options.
The hype surrounding Gears of War has clearly been justified and given more substance then might be expected. But then again, the stakes are high. As the PS3 entered the market with a handful of titles available and few coming in the next months, games like Gears of War make the cost and availability of the PS3 that much more difficult to swallow.
In a sea of so-so Xbox 360 software, sci-fi shooter Gears of War stands apart from the pack. We went to Lead Designer Cliff Bleszinski--known as CliffyB to his Internet friends--to take a class on how to make a true next-gen game.
Go big, or go home Gears of War's heroes and villains are a sturdy lot. "I don't want to make a game that feels like it has little small, spindly-type characters that look like they'd break it you dropped them," says Bleszinski.
Make melee attacks dramatic Keep the action intense. "You have these two guys that are engaging in this dance of death where it's almost like the prom date where the room melts away and it's just the two of them focusing on each other," says Bleszinski. "Except instead of trying to have a nice intimate moment of romance, they're trying to kill each other."
Make the world realistic The Xbox 360 hardware excels at creating complex, believable environmental physics, and much of Gears' gameplay will revolve around using your surroundings to survive--knocking over a pillar can solve a puzzle, take Gut an enemy, or create cover. "We want you to know you're safe in cover for a very short period of time," says Bleszinski, "then once you're in cover, you must make your decision as far as how you're moving from point A to point 8 and start engaging in that lethal game of Whack-a-Mole."
Keep things "in your face" Despite some early comparisons to tactical shooters like Ghost Recon, Gears of War is truly all about combat intensity. "This isn't a game about shooting random dots on the horizon," explains Bleszinski. "It's a game about up-close, in your face urban combat."
Microsoft and Bungie had just released the Halo 3 trailer, yet everyone was ogling Gears of War's graphics at this past May's E3 videogame trade show. That's how you know you've got one hell of a looker for a game. "From the start, the visuals in Gears of War have been incredibly important to the story and atmosphere we wanted to immerse the player in," says Jerry O'Flaherty, art director at developer Epic Games. Charred landscapes, rusty, burned-out cars, rubble-strewn streets, and an overall things-are-really-f'in-fed postapocalyptic vibe fill Gears' world, a future Earth scorched by its own inhabitants to deprive the invading Locust Horde aliens of its natural resources. Pretty grim, huh? "The ‘destroyed beauty' look of the environments came from a desire on our parts to not just make ‘levels' that the player moved through," says O'Flaherty, "but to actually give our world and fiction a history and a sense that things have happened here long before you, the player, arrived on the scene, and more things will happen when you are gone." And in case you're distracted by all this "destroyed beauty" eye candy, when prompted, you can hold down the Y button to automatically track any scripted events happening in real time around you so you don't miss anything exciting--like those Locusts blowtorching through the only door keeping them out of the room and you safe.
The game's beauty carries over to the living things, too. Rugged human soldiers slam into walls for cover or duck and run with motion and momentum that you don't see in most videogames; if s as if these moving images on your screen actually weigh 200 pounds each (maybe 300 with all that heavy-duty body armor). The aliens look equally lifelike, with snarling mugs and snakelike skin--Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't know "ugly motherf***er" until he's peeped one of these creeps.
Snapshots and Media
- Battlezone II: Combat Commander
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- Arma 2
- Duke Nukem Forever
- Kingpin: Life of Crime
- Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis
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- Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus