Sunday, August 2, 2009

Gears of War Series

Series: Gears of War

System: Xbox 360

Release Date: 2006 & 2008

The Gears of War series is the most recent original third person shooter on the console market. I am no expert on video games, and I sure has hell haven’t played every game in existence. I do know, however, that I haven’t had this much fun with a cover based shooter since Winback on the N64.

The fist Gears of War game felt like a demo to me, but I did have the opportunity to play both games back to back. There is a two year gap between titles, and a lot of kinks can be worked out during that time.

The original introduces the basic gameplay mechanics. As an all star member of the Coalition of Ordered Governments or COG you can duck behind cover, blind fire, and of course reload. The A button does all the dashes and special movement. This gets a bit awkward when you want to maneuver through an area. I found myself dashing when I wanted to get under cover and vice versa. Players have to keep a sharp eye on the HUD to ensure they are about to perform the desired move. While under cover players can blind fire with the RT, or perform a more accurate shot by aiming with the LT. The blind fire is effective against close or charging enemies, and generally keeps you safe behind cover. Reloading is given a sexy twist in Gears of War. With a properly timed “active” reload players can reload faster and/or receive a temporary damage boost. These gameplay mechanics are rounded out by more basic shooter elements that generate intense fire fights throughout the game.

COG soldiers carry four weapons at a time—primary, secondary, pistol, and grenades. Many of the weapons are very unique and fun. The Hammer of Dawn is mankind’s most powerful weapon. The device feeds a single to a satellite that produces a powerful beam incinerating anything in its path. Another great weapon is the Torque Bow. The bow fires arrows with timed explosives. When the string is pulled far enough back it can stick into enemies for a one shot kill. Last but not least is the Lancer. This is your basic assault rifle with a chainsaw bayonet that can pull off a devastating and enthralling instant kill. There are also plenty of other solid weapons that take on the traditional roles—sniper, shotgun, magnum, frag grenade, etc—and in Gears of War 2 there is a mini gun, flamethrower, and mortar launcher.

For the majority of the game players will be moving between cover and killing enemies. There are, however, a few segments when you have to man a turret or operate a vehicle. In the first game these segments are annoying at best. The most blatant offender forces players to alternate between moving and attacking. I felt like I was playing Resident Evil with an APC. Also most turret events are predictably unoriginal. This isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t significantly add to the overall experience. Luckily the sequel makes up for the originals lackluster performance.

One of the first events in Gears of War 2 involves escorting an Assault Derrick to a strategic position. You are riding on one of many as part of a large invasion force. Throughout the event you will have to avoid incoming mortars, fend off enemy borders, and destroy hostile vehicles. None of the vehicle/turret events in Gears 1 had this epic scale. By the end of Gears 2 you are literally using the enemy’s weapon against them. Players will get to control the giant Brumak for a very satisfying conclusion to an awesome game.

So, is there a plot to complement this fantastic gameplay? Surprisingly yes! The human race is locked in a devastating war with a species called the Locus. This sci-fi enemy isn’t your typical space invader. They actually come from the depth of the earth. Apparently they have existed beneath the earth’s crust for centuries, and they have a passionate hatred for humans. The first game takes place fourteen years after Emergence Day when the Locus first appeared. Mankind is getting desperate for troops so they release the protagonist Marcus Fenix from prison. He joins up with Delta Squad, and his old friend Dominic Santiago. Together they fight for the survival of mankind while attempting to bring about an end to the war—usually by blowing up a lot of bad guys.
The Gears franchise is what I consider a mindless action adventure with just enough plot to keep things going. There isn’t anything new in regards to story telling, but everything is done well. Key dramatic events are peppered between the action producing an excellent pace for the game. I was pretty shocked by Tai’s suicide, and the love story with Dominic seemed real thanks to great voice acting. It is nice to see this level of detail in the plot of an action shooter.

Speaking of details, have I mentioned the fantastic multiplayer? Gears 2 (I didn’t bother with Gears 1 MP) features ten player combat in seven different modes. My experience with each mode is limited, but I have a blast every time I play. Each game type puts a unique twist on the traditional rules. Submission, for example, is a capture the flag game that uses a bot as the flag. Players have to down the AI, and drag him back to their base for points. If competitive multiplayer isn’t your cup of tea, then try out the two co-op modes. Players can team up together to face the various challenges of the main game or take their chances at Horde mode. The later is a round event that sends wave after wave of Locus at up to five players. There is an outstanding fifty rounds in Horde mode that gradually become more and more ridiculous—even on easy.

Gears of War is one of those franchises that will be sticking around for a while. Epic once again has created an impressive blockbuster experience, but should we expect any less from the creators of Unreal? Satisfying gameplay, solid plot, and additive multiplayer scores the Gears of War series an impressive 5 out of 5. If, however, you had to pick between Gears 1 and 2, then go with the later. Gears 2 has everything that Gears 1 has and more.

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