Each and every Xbox 360 owner tells me I need to play three games; Halo 3, Gears of War 2 and Call of Duty: World at War. Unfortunately, I have no natural ability at First Person Shooters and therefore try and avoid them like the plague. Yet with so many games in the last few years gaining critical acclaim through first person vision, I guess I’m going to have to bite the bullet and try some of these out. First on my list is the Gears of War franchise, so although I know this is pretty late… here are my thoughts on it.
Straight from the opening cinematic, you can tell this has every element needed for a male testosterone fest. Strange, dark creatures prowl above you with drool trailing from their open mouths, as a man with Space Marine armour walks through the door with a machine gun larger than my right arm. They talk in low, gruff tones and the dialogue is short and snappy. Everything screams action. You take on the persona of Marcus Fenix, a former COG (Coalition of Ordered Governments) soldier who is freed from prison to help protect the planet Sera.
The plot is strangely minimal, leaving a lot of the context about Sera’s disrepair to the imagination of the gamer. From what I can tell, the alien race known as the Locust inhabited the planet before the humans arrived, and therefore were pretty angry about them settling into their home. Since then many wars have raged and the humans are now fighting on the back foot. It’s up to Fenix and the rest of Delta Squad to not only escape from Locust territory with their lives, but find a way to regain control. We only see small hints of Fenix’s past, very small clues to Dom finding his wife and even less on how the Locust came about. Playing through the campaign is incredibly fulfilling but you feel that it’s only a tiny snippet of what’s really going on. Epic Games have created a very engrossing universe here, but I feel that it’s going to take many sequels to really explore it. Without diving into too many spoilers, I was a little disappointed that the ending was so abrupt and confused by how simplistic the resolution was.Gears of War came out in 2006, but graphically it still looks astounding. Every chapter offers fresh and exciting environments, crafted with a lot of depth, texture and detail. While playing through the career you will be fighting through underground factories, old manor houses and even huge greenhouses. Thankfully there are no time limits or incentive to rush through the levels, so you can take as long as you need to explore the world of Gears; and trust me, it’s worth it. Driving rain and flowing rivers have impressive water physics and cover takes realistic destructible damage. At High Definition this game performs even better, making it a great title to show off the quality of your HD setup.
First Person Shooters rely heavily on their tight controls and intelligent enemies. If the weaponry is too light or it takes hundreds of clips to bring down an opponent, players can get tired very quickly. Luckily, Gears of War offers a fantastic array of fantasy guns to get to grips with. For example, the Lancer Assault Rifle has a gruesome chainsaw attached to the front, allowing you to run at an enemy and hold B to unleash a satisfying cinematic kill. The design of the Torque Bow and Hammer of Dawn really shine in the campaign, especially in the inventive boss battles that require you to think on your feet. The cover system snaps well too, making it simple to dodge bullets and alternate behind various walls of defence. Unlike many FPS’ on the last generation of consoles, simply running in with guns blazing will get you no-where. Locust are deadly on all the difficulty settings and capable of bringing your health down with just a few rounds. They’re also varied, using a range of weapons as unique as the COG soldiers. You’re going to find yourself naturally switching from one rifle to another, taking advantage of the different Locust weaknesses depending on the situation.The ‘active reload’ feature is also interesting. A small bar in the top right corner will reload your gun automatically, but by hitting LB you can cut it short. Do so in the grey area and your weapon will reload faster. Hit the tiny white area and not only will the magazine instantly load, but you’ll be able to shoot with increased damage. The drawback? Miss by moments and the gun jams, leaving you open to critical enemy fire. It’s a risk, but easy to pick up and feels great when mastered.
The Delta team frequently split up to take different paths, so to take full advantage of each chapter you’ll need a friend in co-op. I highly recommend playing Gears of War this way, particularly in split screen as it offers a great sense of comradeship. Being able to revive each other solves constant deaths (and therefore having to restart missions) and beating the various chapter bosses together is a wealth of fun.
The online mode is average, offering a decent selection of match types that have been done on nearly every FPS before it. There is no experience system or obvious leader boards, but the control scheme works well enough that you can still enjoy playing. Once you’ve exhausted the campaign, it’s positive to know there are always better Locust/ COG players online; even three years down the line.
The music is appropriately cinematic, really giving it that feel that you’re in the middle of an epic war movie. The cut scenes are rendered effectively and have crisp voice acting to give every character depth. If you don’t love the “Cole-train” by the end of Gears of War, something’s obviously wrong with you. It runs very smoothly too, as I’ve never noticed the frame rate drop during any of the gorgeous set pieces.
Even after a few years, Gears of War holds up well. From the way the camera drops and shakes as you run, to the incredible blood splatters from a chainsaw death; this title screams action. As long as you’re not expecting an engaging story like Bioshock, this is one First Person Shooter you should definitely try.