Chainsaws are awesome.
Sony once claimed that the next generation wouldn't begin until they said so; they couldn't have been more wrong. Released shortly before the PlayStation 3 and Wii, Gears of War took the gaming industry by storm and anyone with an Xbox 360 knew that there was no other place to be at the time. Gears of War was the first game that truly let everyone know that the next generation was here, and it was here to stay.
Gears of War is a third-person over the shoulder shooter, that follows four absolutely hulking badass dudes through a completely destroyed world as they fight off the Locust Horde. The Locust are an alien race that has managed to take over nearly the entire world after their appearance on Emergence Day - the day in which the Locust had risen from the ground to inflict a mass-scale war on the entirety of humanity. While Gears of War's story remains relatively simple and low-key for most of the game, it's designed well enough to give you enough of a reason to fight wave after wave of the Locust menace.
Taking design cues from highly successful games from the last generation, Gears of War implements an over the shoulder camera angle as well as a highly intuitive cover system. While most of the core game mechanics featured in Gears of War are nothing new, they have never before been executed to this level of perfection. The cover system in Gears of War is highly essential to your survival, and If you don't have something like a slab of concrete slapped between you and the enemy, then you're doing something wrong. Fortunately the cover system in Gears of War is deceptively simple, but at the same time has quite a few different options available. You simply press the A button when you're near cover and your character will automatically attach himself to it. You can then use the left analog stick to move left and right so long as the cover permits. While under the protection of cover you can do several things, you can pop out to take some shots; you can blind fire around a corner; and you can even do an evasive maneuver to shift to another nearby slab of cover. It strikes a nice balance between ease of use and providing you with enough options to get the job done while staying alive.
The cover system in Gears of War is absolutely essential due to the little amount of damage that you can take. Gears of War includes the now industry standard regenerating health system, but you actually don't even have a health bar that is actually visible. The more damage you take, the more visible a red omen sign will appear in the center of your screen. The fuller it gets, the closer you are to death, so putting your head down and hiding back behind cover after taking a few shots is essential to let your health recharge if you've taken damage. There are a few options available to you outside of cover, you can fire your weapons without aiming properly but they are highly inaccurate, and there is no aiming reticle whatsoever. You can also do an evasive roll as well as the "roadie run" which uses spectacular camera work as well as a slight speed increase to instill a feeling of intensity. The roadie run is useful because you are less susceptible to fire, but it is also impossible to fire your weapons while doing it.
You'll spend the majority of Gears of War in a group with three other soldiers, and occasionally you'll split up into groups of two. No matter how many members you have with you, these guys will provide back up and support throughout the entire campaign. Unfortunately they are not always entirely reliable and can occasionally lead to some frustrating elements due to stupid AI behaviour. They are usually competent, but you will occasionally have to babysit them during certain sections which can be frustrating. Thankfully when someone is shot down they are not actually dead and can be revived, so if you run up to a teammate and press the X button you can bring him back into the fight. Unfortunately this only works for human players in co-op mode, so if you're flying solo when you get shot down, you're dead. Your AI comrades also cannot revive one another which is frustrating, to say the least, especially when you're pinned down and one of your teammates is standing right beside another who has been shot down. While the AI will fight alongside you and will help you take out enemies every now and then, they do a much better job of simply distracting the enemy soldiers, rather than actually killing them. You have access to a very rudimentary command system where you can give them orders to either attack, cease fire, or regroup, but it seems that in almost every case where using these commands were actually desirable they would simply respond with "negative" which rendered them all but useless. Thankfully for the majority of the game your AI partners are competent enough that any complaints against their behaviour are mostly minor annoyances rather than significant gameplay issues.
Due to the way in which Gears of War was designed however, it leads the game to being one of the absolute greatest (if not the best) co-op gameplay experiences around. The entirety of Gears of War is designed with co-op in mind, which makes it an absolute blast to play through with a friend, and while the entire game can be played through by yourself, it's almost essential to have a human partner on the highest difficulty setting. Not only can you revive one another if you go down, but you can also coordinate attack strategies and plans which are simply not possible to execute with the AI controlled characters, since they tend to do their own thing most of the time. Needless to say, you are not missing any content from the campaign by playing co-op (nothing is cut out of co-op) so if you have the option then take it, because Gears of War is a rare case where the core game is actually made even better by playing it with another person. The co-op system is also incredibly well designed because you can have another human player join you no matter how far you've made it through the game, and you can even continue to play the same campaign by yourself at a later time.
Unfortunately one of the biggest issues that can be had with Gears of War is that it seems like the difficulty is not balanced very well. On casual it's simply just too easy, and on hardcore it can get insanely difficulty at times, especially by yourself. Most of these nuances with the difficulty are alleviated by playing co-op, but it seems like the game could have probably benefited from having another difficulty setting between casual and hardcore. Most anyone who has ever played a shooter will be able to get through hardcore, but expect there to be some really tough spots if you're going it alone.
The weaponry in Gears of War is absolutely fantastic, and the loadout design of the game is probably my favourite balance between realism and usability. Many people complain that games that let you carry as many weapons as you want are unrealistic, but at the same time others have also complained that games that limit your weapon selection are annoying and frustrating. Gears of War strikes an exceptionally well designed balance between these two options, allowing you to carry two main weapons at all times, one sidearm, and up to four grenades. All of these weapons are accessed via the d-pad which is a great system to use on the fly, as you will never find yourself fiddling around trying to get the right weapon out. It's such a great system though because if you want to use a sniper rifle without being gimped in close range combat you can, therefore there are quite a few options as to what kind of weapon loadout you can have. A lot of the weapons in Gears of War are just absolutely cool too, such as the Hammer of Dawn, which can only be used during specific outdoor areas, will paint a target who will then be blasted to oblivion by a huge satellite beam from the sky. Needless to say, the chainsaw bayonet has spawned into an obvious fan favourite, and the rifle it's attached to - the Lancer - will most likely end up being your go-to weapon for the vast majority of the campaign. Though I personally found that in many instances the Gnasher shotgun was my best friend in Gears of War.
Gears of War is an astounding technical achievement from a console standpoint. Sure games such as Half-Life 2 had already set the bar for what graphics are capable of a few years prior, but Gears of War is the first game that truly brought an absolutely mind-blowing graphical achievement to the Xbox 360. Gears of War looks phenomenal and is an absolute blast to play in high-definition and anyone who does so will have an incredibly visceral experience - Gears of War is an absolutely brutal game, and with the right set up it can be experienced in all its beautifully destroyed, and disgustingly gory glory. Character models are especially well rendered, Marcus Fenix and crew are just a bunch of huge, tough looking dudes, and the Locust designs are as equally large and even more terrifying. The environments while completely over-saturated in dull colours, consist of some incredible looking areas - especially the ones that take place underground. Unfortunately the frame rate takes a nosedive during some of the cutscenes but it's never anything too severe, but it's definitely noticeable. Thankfully the frame rate is consistently solid during the actual gameplay, so it amounts to nothing more than a minor complaint in what is an otherwise fantastic looking game.
Gears of War's sound design is absolutely insane. The musical score is for lack of a better term, superb. The soundtrack is absolutely booming, epic, and downright chilling at parts. The themes are absolutely memorable and the music is so good at some points that it actually makes the overall game better. Achieving something like that is not easy, so it's not hard to appreciate the absolute brilliance that went into the composition of this game's soundtrack. The sound effects are also exceptionally good, there's that eerie Gears of War motif that plays when you find COG tags, or that notoriously awesome sound that plays whenever you've cleared all the enemies in an area - Gears of War simply sounds awesome in all the right ways. The voice acting is solid, but none of the characters are ever developed beyond the basic requirements, but you'll still grow attached to their occasional bickering and humour. Gears of War's weapons all sound incredibly beastly and it's immensely satisfying to blast your enemies into oblivion whether you're frying them with the Hammer of Dawn; grinding them to bits with the chainsaw; or blowing them to pieces with the Boomshot.
The single-player campaign of Gears of War is so well designed that you're guaranteed to play through it at least twice, and possibly even more due to the addition of co-op, both online and off. There's also a multiplayer mode, and while the majority of the community has probably migrated to Gears of War 2, it's still there if you want to get your original 4 on 4 Gears of War on.
Gears of War is simply just an outstandingly produced action game experience. It features a memorable action-packed campaign with some incredibly tense moments, thrilling shootouts, memorable boss encounters, and just a downright awesome experience in every way you could want. Gears of War is the first game that truly took the current generation by storm and made it something awesome and memorable - something you just simply couldn't miss out on. No Xbox 360 game collection is complete without this absolutely fantastic, bloodthirsty, ridiculously awesome action game.