When the Xbox 360 was officially debuted during E3 2005, a huge game was announced that had Microsoft ready to count the cash and gamers clamoring to play it. Gears of War, Epic's baby, was exclusive to Xbox 360 and going to really show what the system can do. We almost had to wait an entire year to see the game on the system but the wait has been worth it because finally the Xbox 360 has its killer application to sell systems, and it couldn't have come at a better time with Wii and PS3 firmly in the minds of gamers.
Gears of War takes place in the far future where once again humans are under attack from alien forces. You play as Marcus Fenix, a tough soldier who has been in jail for the past twenty years for committing a crime, or as you learn further into the story, being framed. Marcus is busted out to assist in the war effort and as expected becomes a key component to beating the alien forces, generally because that's the character you play. The story itself is very cliche and disappointing but the rest of the game more than makes up for it.
In an interesting attempt to change to the usual first person Epic formula, the game is played from a third person perspective which gives you a view of the badass soldier the whole time you're playing, but there are more reasons than that as to why the view works so well. A lot of the gameplay revolves around finding cover. In fact at the core level the game is moving from wall to wall, peeking out to shoot aliens and moving on. It sounds very repetitive and boring but somehow Epic has managed to keep those feelings from creeping in with an intense storyline, excellent cinematic work and a serving of violence to help things along.
The game is just so fun to play. In fact it's by far one of the most enjoyable games we have played for a long time. It's not the violence or gore; it's just that the pure unadulterated shooting that doesn't try to be something it's not. The fact the game plays so smoothly and is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish helps with this but all the elements have come together incredibly well and as we said earlier, this is the game that will sell consoles. The game also immerses you incredibly well with the transition from cinematic to gameplay instant and smooth.
There are a few difficulties to choose from and if you've played a shooter before steer well away from "casual" because it's just too easy, allowing you to play the game in a 'run and gun' way - a manner GoW is not meant to be played. The alien enemies can take Fenix and his team out very quickly if they get a few clean shots off which makes cover a premium. Somehow Epic has managed to make the environments look incredibly good, with the proviso in mind that they had to provide enough areas to cover the troops. There is also a wide variety of enemies to tackle including some truly memorable boss fights.
The game is quite linear in its structure and there really is only one way to go but that's to be expected from a third person shooter. How you get to point B is set in stone, how you defeat the enemies is not with the number of weapons and cover available. It is possible to play the game many times and use different strategies each time. This really is the game that brings the return of big guns and big environments. You will have air support from space craft sometimes, and you will be in awe at the detail of some luscious environments the battles take place in with limited destructible elements.
Visually the game is stunning. You really need a HDTV to see this game the way it should be played but even at the lower resolution its better than anything on the console so far. The characters do look like they were ripped straight out of UT 2007 and we wouldn't be surprised to see that game make it to Xbox 360 and for these characters to appear as un-lockable. Sound effects are well done with flawless lip synching, and strong, gruff voices used to voice the characters which really enhances the story.
Gears of War is finally showing what the Xbox 360 can do. It has taken a year but this really is the first game to shine on the Xbox 360. The game does have its problems, but the fact remains that even with these in mind, it is an unbelievable gaming experience that will have you gripped from start to finish.