Gears of War Review

Gears of War is the best shooter yet for the Xbox 360 and one of the best all year on any system. It will even make Xbox 360 owners stop counting the days until the release of Halo 3 … well, for a little while at least. In short, the game is great so if you like shooters do yourself a favor and go right out and buy it. If you’re curious as to why it is so good, then put down your car keys for a couple of minutes and read on…

Let’s start out with the story so we can put the action into context. It will also allow us to go ahead and get the game’s weakest point out of the way right from the start. In Gears of War you play Marcus Fenix, a disgraced soldier of the Coalition of Organized Governments (or COG … get it? Cog? Gears of War?) relegated to rotting in a dingy prison cell. During his incarceration things go to heck in a handbasket in the outside world as a horde of alien killers (the Locust) who make their way around underground and emerge from holes to ravage the surface world. With cities lying in ruin and the world crumbling around them, the COG forces need all the help they can get, even from the likes of you. So one of your old squadmates comes a knocking, breaks you out of your cell, and puts you to work killing Locust. The game leaves a lot of questions unanswered about Fenix’s background, the COG, the war, the Locust, and just about everything else you can think of. A little time spent in setting up the background story would have gone a long way towards fleshing out the game’s world and immersing you into it and you can’t help but be a little disappointed that the developers didn’t do this.

Fenix and friends.
OK, enough about story, on to the action. Gears of War is a third-person shooter, but it’s not your typical run-and-gun style game. The key to success and survival in Gears of War is the effective use of cover because you’ll quickly be brought down in a hail of gunfire if you get caught out in the open (especially by one of the Troika heavy machine guns). The game gives you every opportunity to use cover, beginning with the levels strewn with rocks, columns, and concrete slabs. In fact if you happen upon an open area littered with chunks of debris then you better take cover quickly because you can bet that you’re about to face a Locust assault. An additional aid to those looking to effectively use cover is the game’s context-sensitive control system. You can use the A button and directional stick to take cover, roll between cover spots, hop over to the next cover position, and more. The system works well and is easy to use and you’ll using cover like it was second nature in no time. You can also lean around or over obstacles when firing which has the dual advantage of giving you an aimed shot and keeping you relatively safe at the same time. When things are really hot you can even hold up your weapon and blind fire from behind cover, although you’ll hit about as much as you’d expect using this method of fire.

The weaponry in the game tends towards your traditional collection of military hardware such as shotguns and automatic weapons, although there are a couple of weapons worth noting. The Torque Bow fires explosive arrows and is a lot of fun to use and the Hammer of Dawn has you working as a target lock for a satellite that drops a high-powered energy beam down from orbit (only works outdoors, of course). One of the coolest weapons comes in the form of an accessory for your standard assault rifle. The rifle comes equipped with a chainsaw that can be engaged when things get pretty tight. Decisively taking down an enemy with the chainsaw before he has a chance to react evokes a certain brutal sense of satisfaction. The weapons in Gears of War use an “active reload” system that rewards you for good timing but penalizes you if you’re off. Basically if you hit a button just as your clip empties then you’ll be able to swap a new one in on the fly. If you mis-time it, then your gun will jam and you’ll lose extra precious seconds before you can fire again. If you’d rather not gamble, you can always take the time to reload in the conventional way.