Gears of War was a good game; in fact, it was good at a lot of things. The controls were good, the graphics were good (for its time), the level design was good, and so were the guns. But therein lies the problem: the game was just good and it never really excelled toward being great in most aspects. For almost everything GoW did well, I saw many ways it could have done better. With that being said, the game was good enough to make playing the sequel worth my time at some point in the near future, as I hope to see if Gears of War 2 fixes the problems that were presented in the inaugural entry. In the end, I enjoyed Gears of War, and although I probably won’t be revisiting the campaign solo anytime soon, I walk away glad that I took the time to take in this experience.
The storyline follows Marcus Fenix and his small band of allies as they fight back against the Locust. The Locust are a group of alien species that want to kill the humans. They burrow out from underground, and so it becomes our task to destroy their spiderweb of tunnels, thus destroying their infrastructure. We must retrieve a bomb and detonate it, and the five levels in Gears of War (called Acts) take us through the journey from the moment Dom breaks Marcus out of jail straight to the moment when we accomplish the task.
One of the few things GoW honestly excels at is the character development. In so many shooter games, your AI companions are just pawns; some are nameless, faceless Marines (like most Halo characters), but others are just flat characters that are there to die. You feel no emotions for them because they’re not fleshed out. This is not so in Gears of War. Marcus is a gruff individual who seems to be born a leader; he’s focused on getting the job done. Dom is pretty quiet most of the time, and he cracks jokes every once in a while. Baird is a whiny crybaby; he doesn’t like the food, he gets scared when too many Locust are around, he complains that he smells like poop, (when they go through the sewers) and he always seems to have something to gripe about. Finally, Cole–better known as The Cole Train–is my favorite character. With an ego as large as he is, Cole lays down the law and lets all the Locust know just how good he is. At the same time, he does so with enough humor to come off as funny and light-hearted; not a stuck up jerk.
Because the characters are well rounded, sitting through the paper-thin storyline isn’t so tedious. I mean, as far as plot goes, there really isn’t one. I know I was put in jail for being a traitor, and I know Dom is an old friend of mine, but that’s it. From there, it’s a run-of-the-mill, generic plot. Basically, there’s just enough there to explain why you’re going someplace new and doing certain things. On the other hand, I enjoyed listening to the banter between the four soldiers, so sitting through the cutscenes was worthwhile after all. From somebody who’s pretty story oriented, I was very dissapointed, and this was probably the lowest point of GoW for me.
Slightly less crappy (but not by much) was the weapon selection. For a shooter, there really isn’t a lot of variety. There’s a machine gun with a chainsaw, a burst weapon for longer distances, a sniper, an explosive bow, a satellite-guided laser, and a grenade launcher… yet there are three different pistols for some reason, which I have yet to figure out. In any case, with under 10 weapons to choose from, (and only the chainsaw and the burst weapon being the main, easy-to-find ones for most of the game) it gets a bit tiring.
Okay, with my complaints out of the way, let’s get to the things that Gears of War is good at; remember, good, but not great. The cover system was pretty good. I was able to snap to cover on pretty much any object I wanted to. I really liked how I could also click over to a nearby vehicle, wall, or other object, and Marcus would cleanly snap to the new location. It’s quite slick and stealthy, if you ask me; I found myself shooting from cover nearly all the time, and it felt amazing most of the time. Unfortunately, every few minutes I would find that I wouldn’t snap where I wanted to, or I would jump out of cover rather than sliding to a new location. This didn’t happen often enough to mar my experience, but it happened often enough to warrant being mentioned; I’m not sure if it’s a feature with the function itself, or if it’s a problem with not clicking the stick exactly in the way they want you to.
The weapon wheel takes a little getting used to, but it’s easy to master after the first hour or so. Your main weapons are accessed with the left and right arrows on the d-pad, and grenades are up, while the pistol is down. A (mostly useless) squad commanding feature is mapped to one bumper, reloading to another. The rest of the buttons are pretty typical and easy to grasp. I liked the feature mapped to the reloading button. Upon reloading, you have the option to click it again during the reload when it nears a little tick-mark on the loading bar. Hit it in time, and your reload time is cut drastically. Hit it at the wrong time, and Marcus has to deal with a jammed weapon, so reloading takes longer. If you’re right on the money, your rounds for that clip get a damage boost. It’s a nice risk/reward scenario, and I often found that the outcome of a battle depended on how I reloaded; reload quickly, the battle is over quickly. Reload slowly, and an enemy might have the time to jump over your cover and punch you in the face.
When I say they might come to punch you in the face, I mean it. One good whack can kill you on the medium difficulty. There are two difficulties available at first: Casual and Hardcore. Beat Hardcore, and you unlock Insane. On Hardcore, a couple Troika rounds (mounted turret) will kill you. Likewise, one sniper round will eliminate you, and there are a host of other quick ways to die. Sometimes this annoyed me because it came off as cheap, but then I thought about it, and it really wasn’t cheap. Unlike some games where I’ll come around a corner and instantly get sniped by an AI with perfect aim, I actually made mistakes in GoW that warranted death. Whenever a Troika would kill me, it’s because I tried my luck and stayed out of cover too long. If I got sniped, it was because I stood in one place for too long, which I shouldn’t have done, because the snipers were usually pretty visible. Of course, there were a few instances where I just sat there thinking “really… really?” For example, a horde of maniacal Wretches would overpower me, or maybe I wouldn’t snap to the right bit of cover and one of the larger enemies would take the opportunity to throw a fatal blow at me. These instances happened occasionally, but usually, I died because of my own stupidity.
The level design in GoW was pretty good as well; each Act took me to a different venue that provided a nice change in scenery. At one point, I was in a huge mineshaft. At another time, I was traipsing through an abandoned city during the dead of night. At another point, I was storming the Fenix Estate. Basically, I liked that I wasn’t just looking at the same thing over and over and over again. Furthermore, I really liked the second level in particular, which took place in the dark. Step into the darkness, and the Kryll will swoop down from the sky and shred you. Blow up the propane tanks to create light and move from place to place. It was like a puzzle, and it wasn’t as tedious as it may sound. Truly, it was enjoyable. But, just as with most other aspects of Gears of War, there was an improvement to be made. The color scheme was horrendous. I’ve never seen more white, gray, brown, and sickly green in one game in my entire life. It was terrible.
As for the enemies, I couldn’t help but draw so many comparisons to Halo (and this extends to other aspects of GoW as well, but that’s for a different day). The Wretches were basically Grunts, the Theron Guards were bessentially Elites. Bererkers were like Hunters, and the main GoW pawns were very similar to Halo Brutes. Don’t get me wrong, thsi isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it takes a different strategy to defeat each opponent type. It just disappointed me that the two games were so incredibly similar in that aspect.
I do want to take a moment and expand upon the Berserkers, however. There are three Berserkers in the campaign, I think. There may have been four, but I can’t be sure off the top of my head. Every time I saw a Berserker, I knew I was in for a puzzle. You see, they can’t be killed by normal weapons, so you have to do something else to kill them. Maybe you use your environment to your advantage, or maybe you just have to get some good timing. I don’t want to give it away, for anyone who hasn’t played GoW yet, but I looked forward to the Berserker sections because each one was unique and they made me think about how I was going to succeed while I was at such a disadvantage.
Finally, I must comment on the boss battles. Each level ended with a boss battle or grand, amazing ending of some sort, and none of them felt gimmicky. All were difficult, and all made me feel like a total boss after completion. For example, the first level ended with my first run-in with a Berserker. The final level made me face the main antagonist, who required a decent amount of planning and skill to defeat. I don’t want to give a lot away, but you’ll have to think about your past experiences and use what you’ve learned in order to beat this guy; you don’t just shoot him until he dies, and there’s not just some cheap way to drop something on his head or trap him in a room or anything. I liked that there was a legitimate way to beat him that focused on the content of the game to that point; it come across as well thought out.
So, there you have it: my GoW review. As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed my time with the game, and I’ll definitely play the sequel. Although Gears is good, it isn’t great, and it has areas it can improve on. Nonetheless, it’s a title that a 360 owner shouldn’t skip out on, and I can see why it would have been a hot commodity at release. If you’ve enjoyed this review or you’ve found it helpful, please leave a like or a follow. Check out the LP channels in my “Links” tab if you’d like, and I’ll see you later.
P.S. The music was nothing to note; it was basically nonexistent, and I didn’t comment on it in the review because I didn’t think a decent soundtrack would have really added much to the experience anyway.
P.S.S. I’ve decided to play Portal first from the list of the four I mentioned. I just ordered the Orange Box bundle on eBay since Portal was never released standalone for the 360. While I wait for it to ship, I’ll be starting my playthrough of Outlast, and by the time this post is up, I’ll have already started.