Gears Of War Review
Gears of War box art
System: X360 Review Rating Legend
Dev: Epic Games 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Microsoft 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Released: Nov 2006 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 - 8 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
Review by Patrick 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
CliffyB and company deliver on their promise and give 360 owners something to cheer about this holiday season.
by Patrick Evans

As one of the most anticipated games of 2006 heading into this year’s shopping season, Gears of War has been carefully scrutinized at every appearance it’s ever made. As Emergence Day came closer and closer, the question that ran through my head was not whether or not it would be a great game, but just how great it would actually be. Though not a perfect effort from Epic Games, Gears of War is a visceral assault on the senses that will leave you jolted and desperate for more. If Halo 3 is to achieve the success that it’s hype will undoubtedly build (as the greatest 360 game on the system), then Bungie better get to work because the bar has been notched a few feet higher.

Evaluating Gears begins with the obvious, which would be the astounding presentation of the entire title. Gears of War puts on one hell of a show in its campaign mode with intense action-filled cut scenes and the most beautiful graphics ever on a console system. Early on, after Marcus Fenix is busted out of prison by his old comrade Dominic, the Delta Squad lands to receive its next set of orders and falls under enemy fire. The scene shifts to the entire squad hunched behind a set of sandbag bunkers, returning fire in any way they can. While we see the three guys firing away and screaming out enemy positions, the squad leader is receiving an on-site briefing on their mission and objectives. The response to this scene is difficult to describe, but a comparison to the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan would be entirely accurate.

Gears of War screenshot

Placing you firmly into the shoes of Marcus Fenix is priority number one in Gears, and the title does no wrong in accomplishing this feat. Everything that has been put into this game, from the cover system to the roadie run, is meant to place you right alongside the other Gears soldiers in their struggle against the Locust Horde. The camera angle, for instance, sits right over the shoulder of Fenix instead directly behind his head as many other Third-Person titles. By holding A and performing the roadie run, the camera shifts to behind the character low to the ground, much like a scene from COPS or a similar show. More importantly than the pure aesthetics is the functionality of this view, or lack thereof; roadie running reduces your vision severely, much like it would if you were desperately sprinting for cover in a firefight.

Gears of War screenshot

As important as the visuals are in making Gears of War a truly special experience, the sound effects and music do their fair-share of lifting in this regards as well. The music of Gears is what you would expect of a title such as this, but the thunderous guns drowning out the screams of your enemies or the cries for help from your allies is what elevates this title above the rest. Playing this game in anything less than 5.1 Digital surround sound is plain ludicrous. Even better is the banter from the squadmates that will crack a smile on your face before that next wave of Locusts fall upon you. One scene in particular that made us chuckle was during the squad’s decent through an abandoned factory. As you and Dominic stroll above ground, your friends trudge through the sewers beneath to meet you. Quick jabs and remarks provide excellent comic relief amongst the chaos. John Di Maggio (the voice of Bender from Futurama) deserves special mention for his excellence as the voice of Marcus Fenix. Gruff and weary, but loyal to his squad mates and the cause, Marcus is the perfect hero for a game as gritty as this.

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Again, since we first heard about Gears of War, we’ve heard that the cover system will be the centerpiece of combat. If you pop out and try to Rambo the game at any time, you will die a fool’s death. We’ve seen a covering system like this before, most notably in Kill.Switch from a few years back. The difference here is the dangerous Artificial Intelligence that fires with surprising accuracy and flanks without mercy, especially on the higher difficulty levels. Enemies absorb an astounding amount of fire before falling as well, so firefights that see your team outnumbered on higher difficulty levels are daunting and frantic.

Gears of War screenshot

The cover system, for the most part, works like a charm. To slam your back against a wall or barricade for cover, all you have to do is press the A button and the stick towards the wall. “SWAT turning,” or a quick hop from one cover spot to another nearby, is as simple as pressing the A button and holding the analog stick in the correct direction. About 90 percent of the time, you will praise the design of this system for its ease of use and innovation. That other 10 percent, however, you will be yelling at your television because your character does something that you didn’t want him to. The best example of this is rolling into a wall instead of planting yourself behind it for cover. Both involve tapping the A and holding a direction, but it all depends on your timing on the A button. Sometimes you’ll get it, sometimes you won’t. Forcing all of your controls onto the A button as they have is certain to create a teeny bit of trouble for any game. Also, requiring players to slam into shorter cover pieces before climbing over them is a pain as well. It may not seem like a lot of time, but losing a half-second or more in getting to the next cover spot is just more time that your character is exposed to enemy fire. After an adjustment period and awareness for these minor deficiencies, players will certainly overlook these minor deficiencies.

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