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Gears of War
Showcased way back at E3 2004 as a tech demo for the Unreal 3 engine, Gears of War (GoW) has managed to garner quit a bit of attention for itself. As time passed by, Epic kept throwing tit-bits of the game at us, till E3 2005 this year when they showcased nearly the entire first level and *boom*; the hype machine is thrown into over drive.
After numerous demonstrations and videos, we all get that the game looks orgasmic, but visuals alone don’t make a great game right? In order to be the killer app the 360 has been hungering for since a year, it would have to have to pack an equally enthralling and exciting gameplay element. Thankfully, Epic doesn’t disappoint and believe it or not, this game is so good, not only will it persuade you to go in for the Xbox 360, but it may also make you shell out some more for that shiny HDTV so you can appreciate the game in all its graphical glory. Move over Master Chief; we have a new killer app in town.
Since we carried a preview of the game a while back, I won’t go into depth as far as the storyline is concerned, but here’s a small head up for those who’ve come in late.
Gears of War (GoW) takes place in the near future on a planet called Sera where humans have finally learnt to live in peace and harmony. Amidst all this peaceful existence, a powerful energy source called Imulsion was discovered and through a process called the Lightmass Process; this substance could directly be converted to energy. Everything’s going hunky-dory until planets that do not possess this energy, wage war with Sera and thus begins the Pendulum wars. In the middle of all this warfare, a nightmarish race called the Locusts emerges from the bowels of the planet to annihilate mankind; and that is where you’ll come in.
GoW is essentially a tactical shooter with a couple of survival-horror elements thrown in to provide a certain amount of respite from all the relentless action. The game takes the "tactical shooter" bit pretty seriously so don’t expect to just waltz into the middle of a firefight a-la Rambo; you’ll die like a dog in a matter of seconds; taking cover is the name of the game here. Nearly every level has been designed in such a way, you can move from cover to cover, without exposing yourself fully. In case you find yourself pinned down, you could save your hide momentarily with some blind fire, but the rest of the time, I suggest zooming in (in an over the shoulder view a-la Sam Fisher) to get a clearer perspective on all the action.
To simplify matters, the developers have assigned a lot of context sensitive actions to the 'A' button so everything from running to taking cover to moving from cover to cover can be accomplished by the touch of this button. There is beauty in simplicity after all.
If for some reason, an enemy manages to get too close for comfort, you could always saw him in half with a chainsaw attached to your machine gun in one of the most brutal and extremely satisfying death sequences I’ve seen in a long time (there were times when I wished I could saw every enemy in the game). While doing so, the entire screen starts shaking as a testament to the gore-gasmic violence and your vision is temporarily blurred by the sprays of blood emitting from your enemy’s body.
But don’t take what I said literally (the sawing every enemy in the game bit) as this mechanic can only be used on the basic grunts. As the game progresses, you’ll encounter tougher and bigger enemies and will probably have to use a certain amount of strategy against them. For example, a couple of levels into the game, you’ll be up against the Krill, weird bat like flying creatures who can only attack you in the dark (cough *Pitch Black* cough), so the only way you’re going to survive their onslaught is by lighting up your route before you move forward. Combine that with enemies attacking your from nearly every side and you’ve got one intense mother******* level. Enemy AI in this game is pretty good and will keep you on your toes for most of the time, but there were even times when I caught a grunt or two just standing in the middle of an intense firefight doing... well nothing, and its times like these that put a fork in things. Don’t worry too much though; such occurrences are few and far apart.
At the end of certain levels, you’ll be treated to boss fights (there aren’t a whole lot of those in the game surprisingly) and even though they may be as dominating and intimidating as those from Painkiller or the more recent Shadow of the Colossus, they aren’t that tough to dispatch off, once you figure out their weak points. A lot of these boss fights are simplified if they take place in the open as you can call upon the services of the Hammer of Dawn, a devastating weapon that allows you to call in for a laser attack, courtesy of an orbiting satellite. Speaking of weapons, this game packs in a healthy (yet standard) arsenal like rifles, pistols, shotguns etc, but like me, if you’re a gore hound, you’ll find yourself sticking to the shotgun a lot, since one well timed shot from this bad boy can result in an awesome confetti of blood and guts. If you’re visually impaired and your shot doesn’t finish an enemy off, and you find him kneeling down, bleeding away to glory, you could always put him out of his misery by stomping on his head and crushing it under your boot; a lot more satisfying that a bullet to the brain.
Reloading—something that’s an extremely common element in action games—has been given an extra touch in GoW. While reloading your weapon, you’ll have the chance to speed up the entire process by pressing the reload button once again as the reload marker moves into a sweet spot; screw this up and your gun gets jammed for a couple of seconds. Not only will this help you out in the single player campaign, but it’ll save valuable seconds in an intense multiplayer session.
Unfortunately, we’ve not got down to renewing our Xbox Live membership as a result of which we couldn’t try the game’s awesome Multiplayer aspect out. Just so you know, the game offers a healthy MP component like deathmatch, team deathmatch etc, and to top it all off, it even allows you to play through the entire single player campaign via split screen or Xbox Live; in fact the game’s doing so well for itself, it’s even managed to overtake Halo 2 as the most widely played game on Xbox Live (pretty impressive feat huh?)
Visually, GoW is by far one of the best games I’ve probably seen in my entire life. Epic has done a brilliant job in bringing the grimy, gritty, once beautiful, but now destroyed world of Sera to life with the Unreal 3 engine, and a very commendable feat is the fact that the game’s frame-rate stays constant even during the most intense firefights (surprisingly there were a couple of stutters during cut scenes). Mere words and screens cannot do this game justice; play it to believe it. Complimenting the game’s visuals is an equally awesome orchestral score that kicks in during most firefights. Weapons, enemy grunts, screams and screeches sound awesome, although the Gears themselves sound a bit cocky and a lot of the dialog sounds like it was primarily geared to satisfy angsty 15 year olds. The game’s interface is pretty cool too and isn’t cluttered with thousands of elements like most action games. In fact, there isn’t any sort of health bar in the game, so you really don’t know how much damage Marcus has taken until a bloody Gears of War logo appears on screen. At that moment, all you have to do is find cover, chill for a while till your health recharges, and jump right back into the action once again.
Now even though I’ve praised this game no end, it still has a few flaws—like a lackluster story, retarded dialogs, linear gameplay and not to mention, it’s painfully short, but all this doesn’t stop GoW from becoming a game every action buff must own. It’s lived up to the monumental hype created by Epic and Microsoft and has comfortably stepped into the shoes of the 360’s Killer App... for now!