‘Gears of War’ — first impressions


Within gamer circles, “Gears of War” was approaching the kind of supernatural hype hoops fans had for LeBron James before he broke into the NBA. Like Bron, fans never really questioned whether “Gears” was going to be good — it was just a matter of how good. Like King James, we had been hearing about the supposed greatness of “Gears” for a while — in this case, about a year.

So, how good is it? After a full day and night of playing it at the Arena Lounge, I can sum up my first-day feeling in five words …

Wow. This game’s for real.

Rarely — and I mean “struck-by-lightning rarely” — does a game live up to massive amounts of pre-release hype. A good point was brought up on the Wednesday AGI about that. The hype for “Gears” didn’t come from the designers, really. We didn’t get any two-page magazine ads telling us how much a game was going to “kick our ass,” nor did were we bombarded with self-promoting soundbites. At least I didn’t witness anything like that — I just got the vibe that Epic was making something they were proud of, and that we as gamers would really enjoy. And enjoying it I am.

All right, onto the game. Warning … I mention a few creatures and weapons, so if those count as spoilers, then perhaps you should stop now, or at least tread VERY carefully.

I think perhaps most stunning part of the game has been the visuals. I haven’t seen any other game on the 360 approach the level of detail you’ll see in everything from the landscapes you fight in to the little grooves on the armor of the soldiers. This is after seeing screens, trailers, art and reading features about the game for a year — and I was still impressed by the eye candy. Even the blood that splatters on the game camera seems to have its own visual life. Sick, but impressive at the same time.

Equally pleasing to me was the framerate. A lot of games look outstanding with cinema screens, or if no one’s really moving. “Gears” manages to maintain its visual integrity AND move at a brisk pace. That was a big question for me at the beginning … how is the action going to flow? And I also remember thinking when looking at the screens — “if the game moves as well as it looks, then we’re onto something.” Well, we’re onto something.

Of course, gameplay is the glue that holds all game elements together, so let’s discuss that. The control scheme hovers very closely near “pick-up-and-play” territory, at least for veteran gamers. I needed minimal-to-no training at all before I was taking cover, diving out the way of grenades and using my chainsaw on the enemy. Almost every button has a function, but it felt oddly natural to me, to the point where I didn’t even really think about what I was doing — I just did it. That’s actually a pretty valuable battle skill.

Both the A and X buttons serve multiple purposes. The “A” button deals mostly with mobility tasks — diving, taking cover, and running when you hold it down. By the way, I really enjoy the “Saving Private Ryan”-esque jiggling camera action whenever you run. A clever, gritty touch. The “X” button is the object interaction button — you kick a lot of doors with it, as well as push movable objects and hit some switches.

I’ve heard some complaints about the multipurposing of the buttons, and I could see why that would be a problem. If a new gun is right under a switch, you might have a second or two or frustration, picking up said gun just to “move” it out of the way. Instead of running, you might accidentally take cover near a rock or something and get slaughtered by a creature coming at you.

However, there are some advantages. The run-and-cover move is a lot more effective — simply power-run into a wall or fallen rock and you’ll brace against it automatically. Pretty invaluable when you’re getting shot at. Plus, simplistic control schemes, in my opinion, allow the player to focus more on the game and their intuitive battle skills.

Another thing I like the “look” button, which adds an on-demand cinematic “zoom” whenever you use it. When the look icon pops up, you can zoom in on injured squadmates, key items and places of interest on the fly. This was a big help when I ran into something called the Berzerker, which bashed me into bloody chunks about seven times in a row before I figured out I couldn’t fight it. I had to lure this beast outside of a tomb, and the only way I could do that was to get it to chase me, Juggernaut style, through a series of breakable doors. That was pretty nerve-wracking. Until I got outside.

I’m a big fan of the weapons. They’re different and unusually designed, but not flashy-looking. We all know about the assault rifle with the built-in chainsaw, which leads to possibly one of the most satisfying melee attacks in gamer history. I won’t describe it — you really have to see it for yourself. To quote the mighty Gamer Andy — “Blood. Everywhere.”

Other intriguing weapons were the Torque Bow, which uses exploding arrows that can stick to the enemy. Perhaps the sickest one is the Hammer of Dawn, which is what I used against the Berzerker when I went outside –because outside, there are satellites. With lasers.

The Hammer fires a simple red beam that essentially tells a satellite where to fry a target with a REALLY POWERFUL space laser. This means you have to hold the red beam on the target as long as you can. I remember having to take out a few underground Sarlacc-style monsters with this thing. Definitely a “kneel before Zod” weapon.

Oh, I just looked at the time. I wanted to talk more about vehicles and others bits of innovative gameplay, as well as some more creatures. If I don’t get to talk about it on AGI, I’ll resume where I left off here.

‘Til then, chainsaws up.

  • Reggie

    Getting used to the controls was the hardest thing for me in the beginning, it just felt wonky but once I got the hang of it and started thinking of the game as for what it was instead of your typical FPS, everything fell into place. The cover system really works well here and multiplayer is a blast. Have to try co-op sometime just to jump into a game and see how well it does.

    It’s too bad my 360 is heading out for repairs, though… Argh!!!