At first glance, it’s so simple: a third person shooter where you have to shoot anything that moves in order to survive the apocalypse. However, Epic has managed to transform a simple theme into a thrilling experience that makes you think the fight for survival has gone real. One of the most hyped games of previous gen, Gears of War, came from Microsoft and Epic on 2005 to bring us, finally, something new.
More of a technical framework than story-oriented, the game begins with ex-soldier Marcus Phoenix, the main character, being freed from prison by his loyal friend, Dom, so he can assist the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) by joining Delta Squad in order to find Alpha Squad who are supposed to delivery a mass bomb that can kill the entire Locust species (the bad guys). After some tutorial stuff and going out to the real, chaotic world, you can’t help gazing at the great details of the buildings in ruins that tell you that a serious war is going on. You get to see during the entire game cities falling down, humanoid monsters coming out of the ground and there’s also music that turns out to be appropriate for every single place no matter the objective. Even if graphics have improved even more in the recent years, all this together still makes you feel how the atmosphere really suits the theme of survival.
Something else that made Gears of War stand out was its characters. All of them are very thick guys with enough strength to run and kick ass with a huge armor filled with guns. Every single one of them had a very well detailed not only in their image, but also in their dialogue. Everyone has his own lines matched with their personality but still nicely adapted to what you would expect from soldiers with a “let’s rock” attitude.
And, since it’s still a shooter, to talk about the gameplay, we have to talk about the guns. The main (and probably the coolest) weapon of the whole game is the Chainsaw Lancer. What makes it awesome is the fact that it is a gun and a chainsaw. A small carelessness from the enemy and you can sneak all your way to deliver a fascinating, bloody melee attack on him. But careful because if you expose yourself too much you might be the one who gets a well expected death. Next in line we’ve got the Hammer of Dawn which works via satellite to deliver huge damage to even the strongest enemies. It is too powerful so, of course, the chances to get one and use it are limited. Apart from that, most of the weapons are some of the basic ones you would get from a shooter. You get a shotgun, a sniper rifle, grenades and some others to complete the task.
The locust themselves are, apparently, very intelligent beings since they have their own army. They are not just some monster creatures with a desire for blood, they are willing to fight the humans in their own game. This means they’ve also got their own weapons crafted by themselves. Rifles, Grenade Launchers, sniper rifles and the Torque Bow, which is my favorite of the whole game, that acts as a crossbow with explosive arrows strong enough to penetrate the gear’s armor and explode right in their intestines. Kind of interesting to see how other life beings play with guns against you.
But the guns are not the things that will make you survive, though, but the cover. The whole game was made in a way that makes you rely on cover and it is very well done, too. Almost everything you see, from the buildings to burned cars can be used for it and the control mechanics also makes it feel natural since very early on the game. Even if you don’t want to apply the rule you will learn the hard way because if you stay exposed even for a short time you will receive serious damage. A nice tactic so the game doesn’t feel one sided. However, perhaps the only downside about how the cover was implemented is the fact that you have to face directly the spot you want to use. This is sometimes frustrating because if you are flanking, you have to be very quick to stop running, turn your character around and then press A to hide. Do you think the locust are going to lose that opportunity to blow up your head?
The gameplay mechanics are very well developed, too. Every button is well distributed so you don’t get lost finding out which one does what. Taking cover is exactly the same button for running so that struggling to find where to hide becomes easier and the “use” and “melee” buttons never interfere with anything else. The reloading trigger also comes with its own mini reward if you press it again at the right time while reloading which gives you a little damage boost, a pretty satisfying feeling that you master your own weapons. The only button that isn’t truly necessary is the Y button. It lets you give orders to your squad like engage, take cover or fall back. Sounds handy, but the truth is they all perfectly know what to do and how to do it that you immediately forget about the fact that you have some authority over the squad.
Once you are on the battlefield, you have the chance to show if you have really learnt how to use the controller. It takes a little time to get used to how to fight because, honestly, everything is too fast. There are all the time plenty of enemies everywhere and you don’t have time to try to aim any of them because, apparently, they have a very good eye to spot you and shoot you every time you try to do the same. Once you master this, you will love the feeling of delivering headshots and even humiliating the locust after they have fallen to their knees by stepping on their head. In case you haven’t noticed it to this point, the game is a little bloody.
One thing that is worth notice, though, is the fact that this game didn’t focus very much on the story. I must say I don’t think that was a good idea based on what the game delivers. Many of the cutsences infer that many things had happened before the events of GoW, but nothing is explicitly said, not even a proper background story for Marcus, or the squad, or anything, which leaves us as nothing more than mere spectators of someone else’s conversation instead of letting us be part of the story.
However, that did not represent a real problem for Gears of War to deliver a good experience. The coolest thing about the campaign mode is that another real life person can be your companion. Once you try it, you will realize why this game is so focused on co-op. The strategies become endless when you have somebody else around to talk to and it’s the best way you can feel connected to your squad because, even without a proper plot, at the same time, it has an emotional feeling around the main characters. You know have the responsibility to decide whether to take some more ammo or leave it for your partner. And if he dies, you have the obligation to go and revive him before it’s too late, or it will be a game over for both of you. Always wanted to sacrifice yourself for your partner that has always been by your side? This game made it right.
The solo campaign also has its own charm, but the bad thing about it is that, if you try to complete the game on the highest difficulty, your whole squad becomes useless, dying almost every time they pop their head out from cover, forcing you to beat the mission by yourself. And this happens more with Dom. Its is clear that Dom was absolutely made for a second player so both of you had more challenge (Marcus also receives more damage). The problem comes when you realize they decided to let him be even more useless than the rest of the squad when you are in single-player mode. You can always revive them if you have the time to go to their spot, but having to do it every single time is so risky you might rather end up dead, hence, not fun. At least they revive by themselves when the mission ends.
All in all, Gears of War resulted in a technical masterpiece back in 2005. The environment, the characters, the dialogue, the music, the gameplay mechanics, everything together still feels so real. The only thing missing is an actual plot, something that motivates and pushes you towards your goal a little more than just killing everything that moves, or at least explains a little more what is going on. Nonetheless, thanks to, literally, everything else, you wouldn’t get an overwhelming shooter game like other games that lack story, but rather a very good, funny experience. And the fact that Epic put a lot of effort in making a co-op campaign where both players feel the need to rely on each other to survive is something to thank. I’m quite sure that the endless fun and gorgeous visuals surely convinced a lot of people to buy an Xbox 360. It definitely worked for me.
Rating: 8 – Definitely worth it