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.
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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.