Next-gen finally arrived
Gears Of War is a 3rd-Person Action/Horror game, with genuinely groundbreaking graphics, as well as the most cinematic game design seen for a long time. The game's protagonist, Marcus Fenix, finds himself broken out of prison (having spent some time there for alleged treason) and immediately resumes fighting the ferocious Locust Horde. A vicious army of creatures from below the Earth's crust (or 'Sera' 's, the name of the planet) , hell bent on the destruction of all things Human.
With your old friend Dominic at your side throughout most of the game's five chapters, you'll battle through beautiful yet decimated cities. Moonlit back streets, mansion estates and moving trains provide great battlegrounds, as you dive, run and duck in and out of abundant cover(using the A button). The mechanic of having to actively seek a place to hide may seem a little less than macho, but the ability to blind fire, jump from cover to cover, and perhaps earn your foe a close encounter with a chainsaw bayonet (oh yes, a chainsaw on the end of your gun) sure make for some of the most intense gaming-action ever witness onscreen.
Your arsenal consists of the aforementioned "Lancer" with it's chainsaw bayonet and rapid fire. In fact this weapon'll probably be your best friend through the game (aside from Dom). Rocket-launchers, shotguns, handguns and a "Torque-Bow", a bow with explosive tipped arrows, and sticky grenades make for some great weapons. Also the "Hammer Of Dawn", a satellite guided laser, proves to be very satisfying to score a kill with. Each weapon looks, sounds and even feels satisfying in every way. Although how could we expect any less from veteran games designer, Epic.
You'll meet other soldiers, known as "Gears" along the way, including the typical action movie smart-ass Baird, and the simply great Cole 'train'. They'll help you fight through the Horde and provide genuinely helpful cover. Although at times they make rather stupid AI decisions to stand up in front of fire, these miscalculations are few and far between. The overall result feels fine, you'll command your team to an extent, attack, stay back, stick together, but usually it's just good to have the company.
Another key game play mechanic to mention is the "active-reload". Perhaps one of the more creative aspects of the game, you'll find yourself able to speed up a gun's reload time. Say you've run low on ammo and want to reload, simply press a button, however, press that same button again while a bar in the top right of the screen lines up with another bar, and you can instantly reload. Faster than usual, with some extra boost to your bullets. A real bonus if you need to make every shot count (and you will on the insane setting.) However, this manoeuvre is a gamble, with a heavy price. If you miss your active reload window, you'll jam the gun, and take even longer to reload than usual. More than enough time for a Locust to hop over the wall and introduce you to his brand new chain saw accessory.
The graphics in this game are astounding, you've really not seen things like this before. I'm sure high end PC owners will scoff, but for console enthusiasts, graphics like this are new. Not just cliché graphic designs we hear about every day like "the water looks nicer" and "realistic tree & leaf physics" but the sheer detail of this game shows how much work has gone into making it feel right.
The cinematic soundtrack sets the tone, with recurring themes and motives which help the whole game feel more like a film. That and the camera angle which sweeps in and out with the player so smoothly, Hollywood should hang it's head in shame. The vocal acting does just the job, and although a bit "typical" at times, what can you expect from massive space-marine-esk soldiers? "Bring It On Baby!"
Without giving too much away about the single player campaign, we'll move onto online play. The game's rather basic looking menu provides one of the more fun inclusions - co-op mode. Either online or off, you'll be able to play the whole game with a friend, with them playing as Fenix's right hand man Dominic. Although on the same system this can be fun, over Xbox Live is where it's really at. Meeting up with someone new and making your way through the levels with a new friend is one of the best experiences Xbox live can offer, if not it's reason to be. You'll meet the odd idiot but hey, it's Xbox live right?
Then there's the Ranked, Public and Private multiplayer. These take the form of team death matches, pitting four Gears against four Locusts. Neither team's characters possess any special abilities, but it is nice to hear their personalities fleshed out by wise cracks on the Gear's side, and loyalty to the Queen (that's the Locust's Queen) on the Locust side.
"War zone" is your typical death match with players fighting to the death in teams, "Execution" is the same again except you either have to instantly kill your enemy with a close up melee of sorts, or blow them up with one the game's more explosive weapons. "Assassination" sees one player as the hand-gun-only toting V.I.P who is to be protected by the other team players, while they seek to kill off the opponent’s own V.I.P.
You'll have to choose beforehand however whether you want to play a "Ranked" match, against strangers and for points. Or a Public match, against people you know and... well... you don't get points :) What ever you fancy at the time. There's also the option to host a Private match, which is unranked also, but it's unlisted so you can invite whoever you want without random people joining.
Overall the single player campaign is a hugely enjoyable experience, and sets you up to take the fight online. Once there you'll be one of the many people who managed to knock the mighty Halo 2 from Xbox Live's most played games list. This is a Next-Gen title in pretty much every way.