Gears of War Review

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Gears of War Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Epic Games

Platforms: Xbox 360 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox 360

When humanity discovered the potent, energetic and highly radioactive liquid dubbed "Imulsion," the planet Sera became a trove of energy for the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG). The future of Sera seemed golden until "Emergence Day," when creatures now known as "Locust" emerged from the depths of Sera, slaughtering human settlements on the planet's surface. 14 years after Emergence Day, the war is still raging, and the future of Sera looks grim. That's when Marcus Fenix, a COG soldier, is freed from four years in prison to join a suicidal squad on a hopeless mission.

Kyle Ackerman

Gears of WarIf a game combines extended periods of time between checkpoint saves and plenty of "gotcha" surprises that kill me and force me back to the last checkpoint, I'm not gonna have a good time. That's pretty straightforward. There's no satisfaction – let alone fun – in slogging through an extended and challenging firefight only to be surprised by a triggered event and forced to replay the whole thing. Worse yet, if you make me fight through a long battle or make a long run, only to be one-shot killed by a torque bow during cut-scene dialog, I'm going to be pissed. Gears of War isn't a perfect game, but it could have been a game I enjoyed were it not for the checkpoint system. With better placement of checkpoints or a "quick save" function, Gears of War could have been great.

How Deep is the Jell-O?

Gears of WarAdmittedly, that criticism applies to the single-player game. Gears of War also has multiplayer mayhem for those inclined to pit small teams of steroid-filled squads against one another. My other main criticism of Gears of War applies to both modes. Gears of War slows things down. It's a first-person shooter played neck-deep in Jell-O. The main gimmick in Gears of War is that it's a cover-based shooter. That means you duck behind a wall or a pillar, and pop out occasionally to shoot enemies, hopefully quickly enough to stop them from flanking you. But it's not really tactical or realistic. It's more like the boss battles in coin-operated arcade games of yore. Pop out and empty a clip, but make sure you duck before the Boomer shouts "Boom!" or the torque bow shot is loosed. Even then, hope that an elbow or the tip of your weapon isn't sticking out in harm's way.

Traditional first-person shooters are fast-paced affairs where protagonists zoom at super-human speeds, bouncing and jumping while unleashing an arsenal of death on an army of dumber-than-rocks foes. There are also tactical shooters that encourage teamwork (whether with an AI or a human squad), careful approaches and a more realistic engagement of the enemy. Gears of War slows things down to the crawl of a tactical game, but without the rewarding feel of executing a clever plan. So many of the single-player levels feel more like puzzle levels than like a shooter. I don't just mean the parts where you have to navigate through a city filled with deadly darkness. Despite the cover that is seemingly everywhere, most battles have a particular point that is most defensible. Find it, and the battle is soon over. Miss it, and play that battle over... and over... and over.

I Know We're Not Here to Sell Cookies. You've Said it Before.

Gears of WarGears of War started to lose me when I had to play a particular urban battle over and over before I realized that at the end of the event, I just had to shoot a single point to trigger a scripted event. Designers, that's what checkpoints are for! While I played to the end, I was done with the game by the time I reached the pumping station battle when I had to repeat a long run and conversation several times before learning where all the enemies with the new deadly weapon were located. Bad checkpoint design completely breaks the flow of a game and can change victory into frustrating defeat in no time. The absolute low point for me was the final boss battle. It required flawless execution to time shots and move while avoiding dark spots, but the game kept trying to glue me to cover, getting me killed by disobeying my intent. When a game inadvertently thwarts me by trying to aid me, that's even more frustrating. Simply put, I finished the game feeling frustrated and relieved, not disappointed that it was over.

Granted, the campaign is more fun as a co-operative experience. Played that way, if you are grievously wounded, you just need your companion to revive you. But Gears of War isn't fun as a single-player experience. Really. It's not. Even as a co-operative experience, it's a slow-paced "gotcha!"-fest where you don't have to restart nearly as often. The multiplayer is tolerable, but it feels more plodding than tactical. It's decidedly the sort where those who know the map best, win. It didn't grip me.

Playing Gears of War is like watching an ancient, sepia-toned film of a dark future and then watching that segment repeatedly in slow motion.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on November 21, 2006 1:42 PM.

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