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Hands On: Gears of War

Developer: Epic Games | Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Players: 1+ Player Game | Genre: Action

Release Date: 11/07/06

GoW3.jpgObviously one of the biggest titles of the year is Gears of War – and frankly not another word needs to be written about it, not even reviews, and it will sell enough to be a success. Based on the strength of what has been shown previously, as well as the pedigree of developer Epic, Gears of War has a massively high standard to reach and it appears that the game by all accounts is reaching it.

There’s plenty of story to be told throughout the game, a soldier having gone AWOL (absent without leave) is back and is fighting his own demons as well as the enemy and the other figures in authority. Plenty of antihero cliché to be sure, but at least some effort is being put in to create an interesting and compelling protagonist rather than have things generic, which is infinitely worse.

While the story may or may not be solid (we haven’t been able to get a hold of the game for long enough to evaluate the script) the gameplay is very much nailed down. The feel of a firefight and the chaos of battle, even on a smaller scale as it is here, is represented well. There are plenty of items to duck behind, and you can be sure that the enemy knows that. Not only will they be taking advantage of cover, they know that you’re doing the same thing.

Cover is paramount in Gears of War. There are no shields and health packs, and very little HUD. A run and gun, duck and cover style of play will serve very well. As a matter of fact, the “A” button not only serves this purpose (approach an object, press the button, and you’re using cover), but also is used to jump out from cover as well. While moving, pressing the same button will have players crouch and perform a dodge style evasive run.

It’s not all about avoidance though – this isn’t a stealth game. Players will need to have a good trigger finger as well. There are plenty of enemies to encounter and they absolutely need to be taken out. A blind fire can be used from behind cover, as well as while out in the open. Pulling on the left trigger will bring up a targeting reticule which helps to provide more accuracy, but does limit the field of vision.

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At times enemies will come out of nests, or emergence holes which need to be cleared. The inspiration is very much from Gauntlet, but since this isn’t an arcade game, there isn’t the endless spawning over and over. There is a set number that will come out, and then if the hole isn’t plugged up more enemies will come out.

Grenades are used to create an explosion to fill in the holes, and sometimes the player will need to do it or the game’s allied AI will take care of the job. After selecting the grenade, pulling on the left trigger will bring up a visual for the player that represents the trajectory of the grenade. If a good angle or target can be reached, then letting go of the trigger will put the grenade away for future use. Pressing the right trigger will let the grenade be deployed.

Selecting the grenade is done by pressing up on the D-pad. The pistol is selected by pressing down, and the two available rifles by pressing left or right. It’s a fairly intuitive method of selection that takes about 3 seconds to get used to, much like reloading. While the weapons can “automatically” reload (the character does it when the clip is completely empty), players can reload at any time by pressing the right shoulder button. There is a timing mechanism to the reloads where a meter will appear as the reloading takes place, and within this bar is a “sweet spot” where pressing the button again will make the bullets (for a short amount of time) deal more damage. The flip side of this is that done improperly, it is going to be possible to have the weapon jam for a moment.

I’ll not go into how good the visuals or audio in the game are, but those with high-end systems will be very satisfied. This is a game that was designed to give the Xbox 360 a workout. It may be too early in the console’s lifecycle to tell if the hardware is being pushed, but it is very obvious that Gears of War is a very “next-generation game that takes advantage of the console’s power.

Of course the chainsaw is still present, where instead of just using a melee attack (such as striking an enemy with the butt of the rifle) pressing the “B” button will activate the bayonette that could chop down trees – if there were any left in the world.

Pressing the “Y” button will point players in the right direction by either showing the location of where to be going as well as pointing out things that the players should be paying attention to, such as locations of enemies. This eliminates the need for an arrow icon to unrealistically and magically appear in mid-air. The player’s character will automatically look where it needs to when the button is pressed, a much better solution than having the camera move away from the player and removing that in-game sense of immersion.

One more thing that the single player game will offer are some cog icons that will be spray painted throughout various levels. These are tied to achievements to find and unlock, rather than affecting the game. Players will see the spray painted icon (skull within the cog – in red) which will alert players that somewhere in the area will be an achievement to unlock – but they will be well hidden.

All told, Gears of War will provide a great dose of action, and I was very hard pressed to tear myself away from the game. It’s good, and fun. Not much else to say really.

By Daniel "Monk" Pel... - 11/02/06
ESRB Details: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language

Screenshots for Hands On: Gears of War

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