|Gears of War (2006)
Available for: Xbox 360
Having been a recent convert of the Xbox 360 for just a few months now, I can honestly say I truly love the console. This in itself is a bit of a feat, as I had no interest in the original Xbox whatsoever. It seemed like the only thing that was ever touted for the system was “Halo” and its sequel. So there I was, happy as a pig in shit as a Sony fanboy grooving with my PS2. Recently, though, I was wanting a new system, but not wanting to fork over premium dollars for Sony’s latest console, so the 360 was given a shot, and glory be if it ain’t a beauty. So much for being a fanboy.
Of course, there’s plenty of excitement and talk about “Halo 3” these days. After finally playing the original “Halo,” I found it okay but certainly not anything worth screaming about. What is worth screaming about, however, is “Gears of War,” a tactical shooter that’s all about teamwork. It completely destroys every FPS game that has ever been created so far, partially because it isn’t a FPS, but has all the right elements that make a great FPS, and then a whole lot of extra goodness on top that completely takes it out of that element and into its own stratosphere.
Players find themselves behind the guns of Marcus Fenix, a Coalition of Ordered Governments (“COG”) soldier on the planet Sera. Fenix had been imprisoned for defying orders and trying to rescue his father on Emergence Day, a date of turmoil in which the Locust Horde erupted from the ground and effectively destroyed much of the planet’s population. Fenix was imprisoned for his defiance. Now it’s 14 years later, and the Locust Horde have all but taken over. An old military friend busts Fenix out of jail, asking for his help. The game is on.
And what a game it is. Epic Games have produced the most visually stunning title the 360 has yet known. When Fenix is sprinting across the wasteland and the camera zooms up behind his heels and everything blurs just a little bit, it’s cinematic perfection. And this is in-game action, mind you. Explosions are amazingly detailed, with particles of dirt and debris looking perfectly realistic. And when the player first encounters the Kryll, a scary-as-hell flying creature that swarms on its prey in any unlit area, the sight of the predator filling the night sky is nothing short of breathtaking.
But “Gears of War” is not merely about running and gunning. It’s about utilizing your fellow buddies either in the single-player campaign mode or online. Finally, here’s a game where players actually get to like and actually find themselves caring about their fellow soldiers in the one-player mode. These guys aren’t the usual crop of disposable sidekicks. A real camaraderie is developed between Fenix and his crew, and this is played out very well in the cutscenes and in game when he is talking to them over the radios, as well as interacting with them during battle. “Gears of War” gives players full control of the crew, allowing Fenix to give commands to them so everyone arrives in one piece. Giving and following orders while playing on Xbox Live is also crucial to winning battles, bringing together players closer than they might usually be used to for a console shooter.
“Gears of War” is so packed with action, it’s hard to get into all the juicy details in a simple review. Suffice it to say there are plenty of different kinds of creepy aliens and monsters to blow away. There’s the aforementioned Kryll, who get their due in a fantastic driving segment of the game where Fenix steers an old junker of a vehicle through destroyed city streets and has to stop and blast the things out of the sky with a high powered UV light ray mounted on the roof. There are the Boomers, hulking masses of evil who actual like to say “BOOM” before tossing out high-powered grenades that will blow Fenix right out of his boots. Then there are the Wretches, the drones, and oh so much more. Plenty of evil variety, with each monster having its own strength and weakness.
Weapon-wise, the game doles out a good array of guns. There are frag grenades that Fenix will use often, either as a simple deterrent, or to close up emergence holes that the Locust explode forth from. Closing up these holes shortens battle times considerably, and sometimes this is indeed a good thing. There’s the torque bow, which is a Locust weapon. Cranking up the bow and firing an arrow into an enemy’s chest will reward the player by having the projectile explode inside the monster’s body. Groovy as hell. Oh, and then there’s the Hammer of Dawn, a fantastic weapon that can only be used in certain situations, mainly outside when satellites required to power it are online. Pressing the fire button while the weapon is equipped shoots a laser beam into the target. The sky then opens up and a powerful beam of light strikes the enemy and starts to incinerate it. Finally, there’s just the good old COG lancer assault rifle, the standard weapon with its chainsaw bayonet. Close quarters melee combat allows players to rev up the chainsaw and just dig right in to their enemies. Disgusting and fun all at once.
It’s very difficult to find any real faults with this game. Some may find the online game variations a bit lacking, and a few players have complained about the A button being mapped for too many actions, such as sprinting, jumping into cover, etc., but really that just makes the game easier to pick up and enjoy. It’s a minor obstruction, if anything, and easily worked around. It’s certainly not anything that knocks the game’s fun down by any significant amount. “Gears of War” is simply just a fantastic, beautiful game that for once lived up to all the hype heaped upon it. Whether or not “Halo 3” will be just as amazing has yet to be seen. Microsoft and Epic have just set a new bar, however, showing off the full potential of what the 360 can do and just how perfectly it can do it. Now go out and buy this one, if you haven’t already.