Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Gears of War

(Microsoft for Xbox 360)

Finally arriving on shelves after years of frenzied anticipation, Gears of War is an intense shooter developed by Epic Games and designer Cliff "CliffyB" Bleszinski. Taking place on a war-torn, raved planet, you are cast as a soldier looking to destroy evil Locust forces and restore your good name. There's plenty of action, with a number of cool weapons, intense battles and a unique cover system that gives the gameplay a unique feel. The level of visual detail is quite impressive, with massive levels, realistic maps and breathtaking environments. This is one of the most elaborate and biggest games of the year. Gears of War has been in development for several years, and is easily the Xbox 360's biggest release to date, with high expectations. Look inside as we saw our way through a bunch of lizards and discover if Gears of War lives up to its advanced billing.

Gears of War is an intense first-person shooter that transports players into a ravaged, war-torn world under assault from an alien force known as the Locust who have over-run a formerly peaceful planet. The remnants of humanity struggled on and decided to destroy the areas of their planet the Locust infested. What remains is rubble and the surviving forces are in a desperate struggle for survival. As Marcus Fenix, you are a former prisoner set free when the Horde attacked your penitentiary. You rejoin your comrades, who are both suspicious of your motivations and awed by your bravery. The storyline unfolds in a series of elaborate cut-scenes which are incredible from a visual standpoint and help to further immerse you into the game. Gears of War begins in the bowels of the prison, and as you fight your way out, you find the Locust have not been kind to your fellow inmates. You're faced with an enemy that's incredibly smart, ruthless and unpredictable. The gameplay is fairly epic in terms of storyline and presentation, taking you through some impressive, though incredibly ravaged environments rich in both detail and realism. Gears of War's scope and presentation are quite impressive and the game succeeds in creating a believable world under siege. This attention to detail extends to every element of the game, making this one of the most impressive next-generation titles to date.

The gameplay structure is quite impressive, with some interesting mechanics that offer some interesting twists on the FPS genre. The key strategy in Gears of War is your character's ability to take cover behind walls and use the environments as a shield. Pressing the A button allows you to crouch next to a wall in a defensive posture. When in this mode, you can stick your character out and attack foes, then quickly hide once again. Its easier to find and use cover than in other shooters, because the remarkably elegant system allows you to run, dive and move quite easily using the analog stick. This approach allows you a great deal of flexibility and brings a unique feel to the action. Any cover you find can be used to evade fire by holding down the button while running, which makes the character sprint and crouch to the next destination. This comes in handy when you are trying to go around the sides of an area and flank an enemy unexpectedly, and is especially effective when you want to take out a fixed machine gun nest. Using the cover system effectively, and patiently waiting for the other soldiers in your squad to clear out areas helps to ensure a greater degree of success. This approach to combat gives Gears of War's battles a high degree of realism. There's a lot thrown at you during the course of each mission, but the frequent checkpoint saves make progression quicker with little backtracking. To make things easier, Gears of War also follows in the path of several recent high-profile shooters have implemented a regenerative health system. Instead of looking for health-packs, you simply need to get out of the fray and wait for your health to be restored. It's not as realistic as it could have been, and it does reduce the challenge a little. However, those thinking this is a cakewalk are in for a surprise, since there are areas where you're exposed with enemies attacking from all directions. Finding cover doesn't always mean you're completely safe, either. Firing at enemies will alert them to your location, and they'll move in to your position quickly, so you can't stay in one spot for too long. The battles have a way of switching completely as well as the enemies respawn on the other side of the area, so you have to stay alert constantly.

Each level feels like an episode of a war, and this makes it one of the most visceral shooters on any console to date. One of the key objectives is to close up the Locusts' Emergence holes, which usually only takes a few grenades. The key is to do this quickly before reinforcements arrive. The game's pacing is almost perfect, with moments of anticipation followed by intense battles. Since the Locust can spawn almost anywhere on a map, it makes things less predictable and dangerous since you never feel completely safe at any point. You can go forward in a room thinking it's secure, when a sudden wave of enemies attacks you from the other side. This franchise is a bit different however, since it's more brutal than those two games. A key difference here is the sheer brutality of the missions, which are relentless and give you very little room for error. Gears of War unfolds in a fairly linear fashion in single player mode bur there are several levels that offer multiple paths, keeping it from becoming overly predictable. The majority of the action centers on intense combat, but there are other objectives such as rescuing other soldiers, finding objects and many boss encounters which help to move the story forward while not allowing you to get into a rut. While the single-player modes are quite intense, Gears of War offers a number of solid multiplayer modes as well. You can choose to play either split-screen, system link or online. There are multiple modes of play including the standard one-on-one modes, death-matches and co-op modes included. The gameplay is just as intense online as you'd expect, and setting up matches is a fairly painless task. Gears of War's unique cover system makes fragging and shooting much more strategic online than other games, and makes for a different experience than you'd expect.

Gears of War's weaponry is one of the key aspects that make the game stand out. Your arsenal is more believable than some other shooters as well, with the game's signature armament a rifle with a chainsaw attacked. Not only is this weapon one of the coolest ever devised, it brings the action closer, as you engage the enemies at close range and can slice them to bits, giving Gears a much more hands on approach. Most of the other weapons, such as the grenades and sniper rifles offer what you'd expect, and they feel very powerful in your hands. At certain points, you can also use what is called the Hammer of Dawn. This is a remote controlled weapon that you can use outdoors to target some of the larger Locust boss creatures, which creates a powerful beam of light that annihilates them in a flash of light. It's a very limited use weapon, which means you have to be extremely careful not to waste shots. The weapons might seem slightly dull in isolation, but taken together, they form a cohesive feel that ties together with the game's bleak back story to add to the sense of realism. It's obvious that a lot of though has gone into the weapon design, and the controls reflect that as well. Using the weapons is fairly simple, with intuitive aiming reticules, and context-sensitive movement and cover mechanics that make playing the game a surprisingly simple task. Gears of War allows you plenty of freedom of movement and makes you define your own pathway through each level, so you can attack foes from different directions. Since the majority of Gears takes place from a behind perspective, aiming and shooting isn't quite as difficult as it might have been. This makes playing much more accessible than expected - veteran shooters should have no problem with the game's interface and novices should be able to learn the ropes quickly.

From an aesthetic standpoint, Gears of War shows off the Xbox 360's hardware quite brilliantly. The game's epic scale is immediately apparent and remains quite impressive throughout. You and your fellow soldiers battle through massive, destroyed urban environments rich in detail. Every object in the game, from the holes in the walls, burned out vehicles, and books on shelves is rendered with an incredible level of realism. The game's environments feel incredible with elaborate designs, believable architecture and level layouts that bring the world of Gears to life. The action looks razor-sharp on an HD monitor and moves along at a crisp, consistently fast frame rate without sacrificing detail or image quality. Each character in the game features a full suit of armor that is quite impressive with impressive builds of their physical appearance making them move and react realistically. The animation is also quite intense, with elaborate cinematic feel that brings the scope and scale to life vividly. Each of the Locust enemies are also brilliantly designed and feel as menacing and alien as they can, despite retaining their human form. The attack ruthlessly and quickly, and come in various types ranging from standard soldiers and more. An impressive array of special effects, elaborate weapon animation and environmental effects such as water, light, dust and more gives the game an almost photo-realistic feel that creates a believable, coherent world that sucks you right in. Gears of War's slick production values and near-perfect presentation are absolutely incredible, and make this one of the best-looking shooters on the Xbox 360 to date.

While the graphics are the immediately impressive aspect of Gears of War, the solid gameplay underneath is what really keeps your interest level high. The game's cover system is unique, expertly implemented and easy to use. It gives the battles a more realistic feel where you spend almost as much time defending your position as you do assaulting the enemy. The aggressive foes you face are unpredictable but you have an impressive array of cool futuristic weapons at your disposal. Unlike many other shooters, where the action seems a little disconnected, the close-in melee combat, highlighted by the chainsaw machine guns, really helps to bring you into the action. The game's pacing is superb as well, with an excellent plot unfolding in small doses between and during battles. The gameplay itself is intense and challenging, which makes the single player experience rewarding and challenging. An excellent multiplayer online mode shows off the Xbox 360's Live component effectively, making for a deep and satisfying gaming experience. Gears of War has received plenty of advance hype but the end result is a title that delivers on its promise. Gears of War's nearly flawless implementation, brilliantly rendered design and innovative play mechanics are incredible, making it one of the best shooting titles released to date on any next generation platform.

Grade: A

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