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Gears of War – Review

Brad Gallaway's picture

Gears of War art 

Receiving huge hype and easily ranked as one of the highest-profile titles of 2006, the Gears of War assault machine was successful in generating buzz, selling millions of copies and taking the lead in Microsoft's holiday charge. It certainly became the new reason to own a 360 according to most sources, but was it all that it could have been? I think it depends on perspective.

In my view, Gears provides an unsatisfactory experience for the solo player-- something I classify as an unforgivable sin. However, in spite of being less than impressed with what I usually regard as the most important aspect, I'm going to agree with the majority and call it a success. Why? More than the retail numbers, more than the stunning graphics, and yes, even more than the messy chainsaw melee kill, I'll remember Gears of War as the game that brought co-op back.

First and foremost, players' initial impression of Gears of War will likely be awe at the magnificent visuals. Although too much of the game exists in various shades of gray, there's no question that the amount of electronic opulence on display is currently second to none. Without overstating the case, it impresses in every area from the major elements all the way down to the fine details, but once past its formidable appearance there really isn't a lot to it.

Gears of War Screenshot

A third-person shooter with heavy emphasis on taking cover, Gears' play style is very familiar and instantly accessible. Although labeled "stop and pop" as opposed to the traditional "run and gun", there isn't much here that hasn't been seen in other games. However, it's worth noting that the intelligent control layout makes it effortless to get into the action and rapidly absorb the nearly-nonexistent learning curve.

Sadly, in contrast to the cleverness displayed in its welcoming mechanics, the story mode feels flat and unimaginative. Utterly failing to create memorable characters or an engaging tale, logic and narrative continuity don't exist in the Gears universe. Lead designer Cliff Bleszinski has stated in interviews that he didn't want to weigh the game down and overwhelm players with too much story, but Gears' plot is laughable, and barely capable of stringing the impressive-looking set pieces together. With such anemic effort in this area, it feels almost as though Gears of War is less a complete game and more a solid technical framework within which to place one.

Other aspects of the adventure are also surprisingly weak, like the small number of enemy types, limited interaction and mobility within environments, and transparent pre-scripted segments that hearken back to games from generations past. As just one example, I was stuck at a door, unable to unlock it. I had somehow managed to make my way past the invisible "trigger point" meant to unleash a surprise enemy, and since I hadn't killed that particular enemy, I couldn't move forward. Once the enemy was dead, the door unlocked... and I scoffed. Oh, and there are minecarts. Nextgen design philosophy, this is not.

Although I wasn't impressed by the campaign mode, what I was impressed by was the ability to go through said campaign mode with a friend over Microsoft's Live service. Having the opportunity to crack Mystery Science Theater-style jokes in between giving directions and covering my teammate's six gave me a reason to keep coming back when the absurd plot and straightforward action weren't enough.

 Gears of War Screenshot

Plenty of other games have online multiplayer, but I'm a player who needs a goal; an objective or a reason to keep pushing forward against all odds. Although I've saved the world and even several universes by myself many times over, the chance to take on an entire adventure with another living, breathing person added the unique kind of excitement and addiction that's been missing from console games for far too long.

One of my favorite moments from the game was being perched comfortably behind cover and taking potshots at a lethal enemy gun emplacement. I had practically no chance of getting a headshot on the Locust soldier manning it, so I kept myself busy by being a target and making sure the heavy cannon was aimed at me. At the same time, my brother was slowly working his way towards the gunner, hopping behind fallen pillars and crumbling blocks, keeping out of sight while I talked him through it. It was a thing of beauty to watch him from a distance, slowly creeping... when the Locust exploded into a shower of unidentifiable parts with both my brother and I untouched, it was icing on the cake.

This co-op feature was extremely welcome and exciting enough to make me forgive Gears of War for its various trespasses. I couldn't help but celebrate the appearance of a full-length multiplayer option that didn't involve repetitively gunning down strangers in the kind of standardized fragfest that's become all too common in the last few years. (That fragfest is also in there for those who want it, but it kept my attention for less than an afternoon.)

Call me a jaded critic, a wet blanket, or anything else, but I'm not going to be dazzled into submission by stunning visuals and overlook a core game design that doesn't impress—but I do give credit where credit is due. My hat is off to Epic for bringing back a completely engaging style of play that hasn't been in vogue (or even possible) for quite some time. Its significance is not lost on me, and I'm hoping with both fingers crossed that the opening co-op salvo Gears of War unleashed is merely the start of a continuing trend. Rating: 8 out of 10

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360  
Developer(s): Epic Games  
Key Creator(s): Cliff Bleszinski  
Publisher: Microsoft  
Genre(s): Shooting  
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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I would have to agree...

Very true... when I first saw elements of the game, I had high hopes. Even the commercial had me thinking (hoping) that this might be a somewhat different shooter since the commercial had this slight melancholy tinge. But after I started the game, boy was I wrong. I HATED the design of the main character... er, main cardboard cutout, and the story, well, the review pretty much tells it as it is. And the game play... ugh... it takes more than a futuristic chainsaw to cover up some of the old gameplay mechanics. At the very beginning I ran past a switch to open a door at the end of small bridge. When I realized that there must be a switch, I then learned that when you flipped the switch, the door only stayed open for a few seconds... on the third time around I was just thinking, 'this lameness does not bode well.' I was surprised then that the game received such outstanding reviews. It surely deserved them in some areas but clearly not in others... especially in terms of dialog, characterization and storytelling... which were just so... childish. Anyway, thanks for a realistic and honest review.

Eh?

I find myself mystified by the regularly repeated notion in this review that co-op has somehow been dead. It's not nearly as common as I would like it to be, to be sure, and it's true that online co-operative is mostly manifested in the form of MMOs these days, but gone? No indeed. I have a dozen or more titles myself of which my friend(s) and I regularly partake, and there are others that we have passed up for various reasons. I don't know, maybe it's co-operative in shooters that's supposedly been missing? But look, Doom 3 (on Xbox, anyway), the Ghost Recon games, the Rainbow Six games, SWAT: Global Strike Team, TimeSplitters (2 and Future Perfect, can't speak as to the first one) etc, etc. Co-op through the campaigns? Well, that's a little tougher to find, but not much, really. So I'm confused.

Thanks for the comment.

Thanks for the comment.

i abbreviated my comments for the sake of the review, but i'm not much of an MMO or FPS player and not really a fan of military-themed games like R6, etc... so having an adventure/action game where two players could be onscreen at the same time on a console brought back memories of the old days when that type of play was fairly common, talking NES-era, and so on.

granted, Gears wasn't the first to bring co-op back, but it was the first to make a significant stab at bringing the style and flavor (non-MMO, non-FPS, non-military... sort of, non-PC, non-deathmatch) that i've personally been missing. the last few generations have been very lean for co-op campaign options and it's great to see that developers are hopefully beginning to revisit the style with the new hardware.

Disagreement

True, the co-op is a centerpiece to the whole package but I thought the single player held its own quite admirably. I don't play many shooters but I found Epic's approach to the genre to be much like Resident Evil 4's reworking of its game play. There's enough of a "jump in and shoot" factor combined with strategic "stop and pop" that makes this game shine. Perhaps it's my infrequent visitation rights with console shooters that draws me in but overall I'd agree with the higher scores given on Metacritic etc.; where's the video game Bible that says mine carts, shallow plot (and characters), or checkpoints are therefore "sin?" For all the full course meals of games available these days, why can't we find some games on the desert menu as well?

malkav11 wtf are you talking about?

CO-OP games are not easy to come by these days. Especially games that feature the entire single player campaign through co-op that are additionally incredible experiences. Malkav you don't know wtf you're talking about.

Regarding the review my policy is simple. If the score in question is more then 2 standard deviations from the press mean score... then it is not very valid... you sir are an outlier, good thing you are not reviewing at a more prominent review site.

Are you insane Smood? Why

Are you insane Smood? Why are you visiting a site if you are not searching for the opinion of another gamer? If you come here expecting the same score to be given out as everyone else's, than why do you bother seeking anyone's opinion? It's a democracy (well, I think the UK is at least), and not everyone has to conform to the media's opininon.

Oh, and by the way, most decent FPS' DO have co-op modes (at least in my limited experience). Problem is though that they don't really reach the standard offered by, say, Gears of War. Gears just feels like every shootout is designed to involve a team, and not a bunch of A.I.s.

And finally, in response to this review...being a devout Gears fan, I would have to say I'm not totally in agreement with your argument (I have yet to play co-op, but am still having a blast on single player), but I have to agree with the gist of the review. I think the hype is deserved (to a certain extent), but maybe not everyone has the same appreciation of the stereotype characters, unclear plot (which I did enjoy more once I found out what the hell I was doing) and chainsaw guns.

GEARS REVIEW

YOU CAN T PLEASE EVERYONE APPARENTLY, STILL ALMOST 3 YEARS RUNNING THE GAME STILL SELLS FOR $60 AND IS RATED THE BEST XBOX GAME EVER. THE FACT THAT YOU STILL FIND SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE GAME IS FUNNY BECAUSE YOU JUST FALL INTO THE CATEGORY OF PEOPLE CALLED "HATERS" WHO NEVER WANNA SEE SOMETHING LIKED BY EVERYONE, INSTEAD YOU HAVE TO FIND ANYTHING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT-JUST AS LONG AS THERES SOMETHING.

Good Review

Having just finished the game, I very much agree with this review. The co-op surpassed every other co-op I've played for many years because while there have been other co-ops availible, this one seemed well built for it. And I did have some troubles on single player (enemies not appearing when they should on the first level, Dom getting killed over and over by bats, glitching off the train) that a human sidekick helped me to avoid. Thank you as well for mentioning the minecart. I felt like I was playing Donkey Kong. Not to mention riding on a train's been done a zillion times, as well as creatures dwelling beneath the surface, jumping into helicopters at the last second, big scary dudes charging you when you move, staying in the light so as not to be attacked...The final boss was also a bit of a dissappointment-the whole time I was blasting away with my machine gun I thought he was a mini-boss, and then he just died and the game ended. Despite all these unsavory elements, I found this to be a satisfying game, and I look forward to a more dynamic plot in the next installment, with something other than bloodlust to keep my big musclely character trudging onward.

strange...

I have to say i find this review odd... not that you didnt like the game as much as most seem to... i mean, i myself find many games to be grossly over-rated. I have, for most of my gaming life, been a single-player-only kinda guy. I feel the button pressing (which, really, how many buttons did you press in its entirety? 3 maybe?) is something that games will always have. its not like there was forced "key-card" collecting or back-tracking to artificially draw out game time. as for the "been there done that" effect you seem to be suffering from, it isnt that other games have had cover mechanics, its how well epic has implemented them.

as for the multi player

I never used xbox live on my origional xbox, other than halo now and then at a friends house. This is the game that changed that for me. the multiplayer alone is reason enough to buy this game. there is no other game that delivers the tension that this game offers. 4 on 4 with no respawns is amazing, forcing players to act as a team and think tactically, something that most games are lacking, including supposed tactical games such as Rainbow six. In no other game have i truely felt accomplished for getting one kill. you really have to fight for what you get and there are consequences for just rushing in. you really have to protect yourself and teamates. nothing compares, in gaming, to the intensity and tension of being the only one left on your team with 2 to 4 left on the other and playing a truely epic game of cat and mouse... at least to me

Finally playing this, and...

1, Epic's learned a lot between this and Bulletstorm about how to make fun single-player. In this, it's...ok. The excellent graphics and animations -- the game still looks pretty good five years later! -- make the gameplay seem better than it is, I think.

2, Man, that is some terrible checkpoint placement. I hope the person responsible didn't get their bonus that year.

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