smokemare's Gears of War (Limited Collector's Edition) (Xbox 360) review

Now available va digital distribution - still a classic!

 I noticed this is available via digital distribution now.  I have just finished revisiting this title and thought now would be a good time to share my views on it.  

Difficulty
 
This was the first title I actually played through on the XBOX 360,  I completed it on 'Casual' over two years ago if  recall - and then didn't revisit it until a few weeks ago, to try to play through on 'Hardcore'.  
 
Now the first thing that struck me is even on Casual I didn't find this an easy game to beat.  Partly because I was unfamiliar with 'cover shooter’ mechanics at the time, and partly because I was more used to playing shooters with a mouse and keyboard.

Returning to this game on Hardcore, with a set of  ‘well trained thumbs’.  I expected to fare better, and I did – but ‘Hardcore’ was not a walk in the park that I expected it to be.  I found this to the point of feeling; that I don’t really want to play through ‘Insane’ any time in the near future.  I think Gears 2 has four settings, Casual, Normal, Hardcore and Insane.  So perhaps Casual = easy, Hardcore = difficult, and Insane = VERY difficult, in which case it appears Gears 1 is missing a difficulty level.

Missing Chapters

It’s also missing some content.  Extra chapters between Act 4 and 5 were added to the PC version, and having read about them, I still find it a bit disappointing they haven’t been added.  It’s not that the game’s campaign is that short, it’s just that you feel you’re missing out when you know there are levels unavailable for you to play.

Overview

Gears of War is based on an earth-like planet called ‘Serra’ a futuristic version of Earth.  The basic premise of the game is that the ‘Locust’ who live underground come out from under the surface to attack humanity.  Why they are doing this is slowly revealed over the course of the series, and the writers try to feed you information and twists slowly to keep the plot exciting.  The plot for Gears 1 itself is fairly uncomplicated.  It’s interesting though, makes sense, and gives you a sense of purpose.

Characters

The members of Delta Squad are varied enough.  Likeable, and well written and acted.  There’s little actual time during the campaign for in depth character development  When this does happen – such as when Marcus and Dom go off to find a junker, and you learn about Cole’s former career and Baird’s attitude to him for talking to stranded about it – it helps give the characters context.  

Gameplay

Gears is often cited as the game which popularised ‘cover shooters’ a sub-genre with a focus on using tactics and good use of cover to succeed over twitchy, reaction based gameplay.  This makes it a good game for anyone who is new to gamepad play to start with.  

The controls can take a little getting used to, there’s quite a lot to learn, mainly in the terms of how to control how your man moves through cover.  The computer AI is fairly mixed, sometimes the enemies can act frustratingly cleverly, and other times they seem to be willing to sacrifice themselves in order to distract you from their comrades.  This may be an intended game mechanic that reflects the ‘death or glory’ attitude of Locust.   

Most of the Locust offer generally a good challenge, without being overly frustrating.  Berserkers, invulnerable to normal weapons – tend to play more like a puzzle than a tactical shooter.  The Locust that will cause you the most frustration though are Boomers and Theron Guards with Torque Bow’s.  These guys have an effective, one shot, one kill attack..  A direct hit from either will kill you instantly.  It’s possible to be killed in one shot by a Locust Sniper on some difficulties, but this seems rare.  The mechanic you have to avoid this are subtle and not so subtle warnings to stay in cover.  In the case of a Boomer, they shout ‘Boom!’ before firing, warning you to make sure you are safe, with Torque Bow wielding Theron Guards you have to look out for the glow of their bow – meaning they are charging for a shot.  If they are charging they will have to fire after a short time even if there is no target – then pause to reload.  This can be frustrating at times, but  think the developers have intended it to be, forcing the player to be mindful of being in good cover.

As well as popping out to aim, it’s possible to blind fire and blind throw grenades.  This is a very useful tactic and using it helps keep the combat fresh and interesting.

There is also a section where you drive a Junker with a UV Cannon on it – and have to drive through the ruined city and fend off Kryl, which makes an interesting diversion from the main game and is atmospheric and plays well.

Squad Control

As squad commander you can order your men to be aggressive, defensive and to regroup at your position.  This again keeps the combat fresh and interesting, and is a useful tool when attempting some of the more challenging sections of the game where you have four squad members at your disposal – for example when you are attempting to storm the pumping station in the mine.  If a squad member is downed, it’s possible to help him to his feet if he hasn’t received too much damage, there is no such luxury for you though, if Marcus is killed – it’s load save point time.  It’s often worth doing this, particularly if they’ve gone down early in a fight.  If it’s near the end then don’t bother, they will automatically recover at the end of an encounter.

Weapons

Your choice of weapons is fairly varied with pistols, machine guns, a sniper rifle, the explosive Boom Shot and Torque Bow’s and frag grenades.  When you tend to end up feeling is that most of the weapons feel under-powered.  Certainly playing on Hardcore you get the impression the Locust are far tougher than you and your men.  A highlight of the weapons is the Chainsaw bayonet, which used discretely can end an encounter very quickly, unfortunately later in the game Locust seem to arm themselves with these weapons, making melee more dangerous.

Setting and level design

The world is atmospheric and interesting.  The levels can seem a little linear – but the developers have put sections in which force you to choose a particular route.  Often with the second player – or AI taking the other route, so every play through could be slightly different and you are presented with the illusion of freedom of choice at several points, even though all differing paths will converge soon anyway.  

The part where you have to get through the city at night, avoiding the dark – or you get instantly killed by Kryll is very atmospheric, and introduces a good game mechanic.

Summing up

I haven’t scored multi-player on Gears 1, I haven’t played it.  I love the setting, I love the campaign, I found this to be a really well crafted game.  Huge attention to detail has been given to all aspects of Gears 1, the graphics, the voce acting, the levels, the story.  In short if you haven’t played it yet, do yourself a favour and download it.  It doesn’t feel old in anyway, and for the unfamiliar player will seem like a game as fresh as the next one.

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