Monday, January 23, 2012

Gears of War - The Invasion Has Begun

Soon after Christmas had ended, I decided to use money I had been saving over a few months to purchase the Gears of War Xbox 360. While the console did come with Gears of War 3, I felt it would be best to play the other games first in order to help the story. After borrowing the first game from a friend, I can now proudly introduce Gears of War as this blog's first ever Xbox 360 review. As a game developed by Epic Games in 2006, Gears of War is still enjoyable today, though I did find some things off about it.

The first thing to address is the story. If you don't read the manual or idle at the Title Screen for a few seconds, the game drops you into conflict with little to no explanation as to what led up to it. The best explanation given is that the Locust have been invading the planet Sera since an event known as Emergence Day, which led to the government using a Scorched Earth tactic on every invaded city. The continuing invasion leads in turn to the main character Marcus Fenix getting released from prison; he was in there in the first place for disobeying orders. After being taken out, he rejoins his fellow Gears soldiers in the Delta unit of COG (Coalition of Ordered Governments) to aid in wiping out the Locust threat.

And that's about it. The story is really more of a series of events tied to the invasion and what Delta Squad does about it. I didn't find myself engaged in it too much because of this, since their efforts don't really amount to much in the long run. Still, even if the plot doesn't go anywhere, it was interesting anyway and I kind of want to see what happens next in the overall storyline. The characters are also interesting to interact with, but I still couldn't find myself getting emotionally attached to them.

The gameplay mechanics on the other hand are fantastic. The emphasis on getting to cover during a firefight is aided by an excellent system that allowed me to do what I wanted with ease and allow good tactical precision. Occasionally I would stick myself to an object I wanted to navigate around, but it was more my fault than anything. I also liked the Active Reload system, where the player can double tap the reload button on a meter similarly to a sports game in an attempt to reload faster. Hitting the button at the right time will give a much faster reload time, with a perfectly timed press offering extra damage. Miss however, and your gun will jam and delay the timing more than if you didn't do anything at all. Once I got the hang of it, it made my tactics a lot faster to implement.

Encounter design is done very well too, with deaths attributed more to the fault of the player and checkpoints placed mostly in right areas. What also helps is that the overall AI is smart enough to aid Fenix without getting in the way, as well as make it somewhat satisfying to overcome. I wish I could say the same for boss encounters, which for the most part weren't very challenging due to employing simple strategies to take them down. The final boss on the other hand felt a bit too overpowered due to all of the elements in place to make sure that beating him even on Casual is extremely difficult. The only way I was able to pass was to take advantage of a glitch where he stayed in one spot the whole battle. Incidentally, this was also the only major glitch I could detect from the game.

I also enjoyed wielding the various guns in the game, especially the iconic Lancer/Chainsaw Bayonet. Getting up close and personal to dispatch Locust with that weapon was always incredibly satisfying as blood showered everywhere and onto the camera. The other weapons handle very well and act accordingly, though the Hammer of Dawn, while awesome, has an admittedly underwhelming size for a laser beam that rains down from the sky.

On the technical side of things, I loved how detailed everything was down to the guns and environments, but especially so on the living objects. Sometimes when reloading a checkpoint though, the textures can visibly take a few seconds to fully appear. Voice acting was also good, even if the occasionally humorous dialogue falls flat some of the time. The music on the other hand was fantastic to listen to, with a great score that kept me playing until the end.

Overall, Gears of War was a very enjoyable experience that helped to justify owning an Xbox 360. Even when stumbling in some places, Epic Games created a solid campaign that I hope will be improved upon in Gears of War 2. If you're playing on a 360 for the first time like me, I would give this a good recommendation. Here's to the first of hopefully many 360 reviews to come.

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