Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Gears of War review; am I late to the party again?

To those who don't know, Gears of War is likely going to be the first game to visually quench the Next Generation thirst. Even those poverty-stricken gamers that have yet to procure a HDTV will still be impressed with the graphics in the lowly 480i/p. The level of detail is impressive, and honestly puts most PC games to shame.

This is where Nintendo fanboys will interject and incessantly repeat like a broken record, "It's not about graphics, it's about gameplay!"

Not to break any devout Nintendo fan hearts, but GoW's gameplay comes through as well. While Gears doesn't necessarily shine at bring new elements genre, it does succeed at being a "greatest hits" collection of the good stuff. Whether you want to venture through the campaign or just frag opponents on Xbox Live, Gears can satiate the need with a minimal learning curve for those who've played FPS games.

Experienced fraggers will notice they cannot play this game like a standard fare FPS. In order to add some strategy to this shooter, Epic was sure to make the old "run and gun" Halo techniques fall flat on their face. Without cover, your character becomes mince-meat within seconds. Thankfully, the cover system allows for ballistic retaliation around corners and over walls. Blind-firing is even an option, and is more useful than it may seem, especially in multiplayer.

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The controls are somewhat impressive as well. The developers managed to successfully cram all of the cover mechanics into the "A" button. There are instances where you may take cover when you didn't want to, but some practice near eliminates that problem. FPS-regulars will have a short head-spin while they adjust to the reload button being a bumper instead of the "X" button.

Once accustomed to the controls, GoW's is best to be taken head on with a friend. While the Gears' AI is better than a lot of games of this ilk, it's still not as competent as a human you can talk to. Even though you can issue squad commands to your AI partners, the feature is essentially useless. It is too easy to get involved in your own killing sprees to be concerned about your artificial team mates.

Although Gears is a good game, its campaign is painfully short. Just when I gained confidence in my abilities in the ended semi-dramatically. It seems like they went at lengths to avoid repetitive battles, but they could have safely thrown a few more in there. There's only one corpser fight, which actually disappointed me. The kill-you-almost-instantly-bats-that-hate-light were a cool idea (unapologetically stolen from Pitch Black), but the level they appear in could have been 5-10 minutes longer.

Then again, I seem to remember CliffyB mention he missed games that you could complete in one sitting. I believe he referenced old-school Nintendo games such as Mario Bros, Contra, or Metroid. This is definitely one of those beat-in-a-day games; after quickly learning the ins and outs of the levels the game will only take a few hours to beat. This could be viewed as good or bad, depending on whether you like to rush through a game or take your time. The short-enough-to-beat-in-one-sitting idea has merit, but the sweet spot for length doesn't feel like it was found. I think there should have been at least 8 acts instead of the paltry 6.

The story has a good foundation, but the game never seems to take advantage of it's possibilities. In the later levels, events start occurring with no clear explanation, which is rather annoying. One minute, your escaping the protagonist's mansion, the next your jumping on some train for some unknown reason. Thankfully, the shoot-outs are entertaining enough to make up for the storytelling's pitfalls.

Obviously, this leaves the replay value up to multiplayer. While taking on XBL fraggers via chainsaw is probably more amusing than it should be with this game, the lack of in-depth match customization and PC-style matchmaking leaves for at least some disappointment. Those into ranked games may be disappointed that they can't party up directly with friends before facing the competition. However, once set up, matches go fairly smooth except for the occasional team-can't-hear-each-other bug and some questionable hit detection. There is still plenty of hours of time that can be absorbed in Gears, so don't get me wrong. The point is it could have been better, especially for a game touted as "this years Halo."

Does the game live up to the over-hype? It's a matter of point of view, but GoW is still no Halo replacement in my final opinion. With the "needs improvement" matchmaking and spotty hit-detection, I feel that GoW reign on Xbox Live could be short lived unless Epic releases some patches to fix the various issues.

However, the campaign is worth experiencing at least twice, and the final boss on insane will give you a run for your money. Even if occassionally frustrating, the multiplayer manages to still swallow attention, leaving for plenty of "just one more game..." delusional self-promises. While not perfect, Gears of War is still a must-buy game for the Xbox 360 this year.

  • The graphics are unrivaled in the console market, and beat out many PC games

  • Campaign levels aren't repetitive at all (unlike Halo 1)

  • The chainsaw gun is way more fun than it should be

  • Campaign is disturbingly short

  • Hit detection is spotty, and more aggravating than the standard fare

  • Multiplayer lacks the matchmaking and customization of Halo 2

Note: Some may wonder why its taken this long for me to post a review on this game. I actually received my review copy just a few days ago. Thanks goes to to m80 for providing it!


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