Gears of War
Welcome to the most hyped game of the year. For months now we have been treated to the excess verbiage the games industry is happy to use on games that have, at every appearance, seemed worthy of accolades. Very few industries experience the pre-emptive nature of a product in the way the games industry does and to some extent this removes the surprise factor from 99% of the industries output. So with multiple viewings, screenshots and video analysis under it's belt, Gears of War is finally available for purchase, but has it been spoiled by the acres of media coverage?
The simple answer is no. Gears of War is a game that has to be played to fully understand the experience. After a few brief Menu screens and a small cut scene, the first real look at the small branching option, available in certain sections of the game, appears in the form 'Training' or 'Combat'. It made me chuckle, who in their right mind is going to choose Training over being thrown into the action? Locked and loaded on the hardest difficulty setting available first time around, my character Marcus Fenix waded into the Locust hoarde ... and promptly died. Did anyone mention Training? Whilst not as quick as all that, I did suffer severe life failure early into the game when believing I was Rambo reincarnated. First rule of Gears of War is - keep your head down. Second rule of Gears of War is - you get the idea. What Epic has achieved is a succinct balance between the size of your ammo clip, the accuracy of the enemy and the amount of fresh air above your shoulders. Stand in the open too long and inevitably you'll have to reload, by which time it's more than likely your character is pushing up daises.
To take this concept one step further, aside from seeking cover on a regular basis, you have to control the speed with which you reload your weapon via a bar that you need to click on within a certain area. Too fast and your gun jams, too slow and the enemy gets their licks in. It isn't a massively innovative addition but it does add depth to the action and can apply some serious pressure in tricky situations. Ammo is a limited commodity in Gears of War. There are a sparse few packs littered around the play area, often found directly after a big fight in which you really could have done with them, and the dead Locust bodies occasionally give up some extra, but conservation is a habit best learned early. By shooting only when you have a clear shot, standing in harm's way only when necessary and hoarding weapons like Gollum did the One ring, progress can be made at a fair clip.
This is the first problem of Gears of War though, despite the balance of the gameplay and the gorgeousness of the graphics, it isn't the longest game. There are some fun two players modes and you can play through the Campaign in two player co-op, but the Campaign mode is short. Given the cost of computer games as a hobby today and the increased capacity of the discs that store the games, longevity and as a result value for money should be a central issue for developers when making a game. Fifty pounds, euros or dollars is a lot of money to invest for less than ten hours entertainment and unfortunately Gears of War clocks in under that barrier. A second complaint is the game's highly linear nature that can't be escaped despite the occasional branching option or interesting variation on certain mission templates. It is an on-the-rails shooter with - surprise - a lot of shooting.
Naturally, like the genre itself, Gears of War will divide gaming fans - those who like exploration, a great deal of variety and a more relaxed approach to combat won't find that here. Instead Gears of War is a good looking, teak tough, quick blast of suitably intelligent and varied action to keep gamers enthralled. It doesn’t last as long as it should nor is it the ground-breaking killer app that some would have you believe. But it is a step forward for the next generation, showing great potential for the future and aptly marks the Xbox 360’s first birthday.
9 out of 10
Review by Owen Jones © 2006