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Gears of War – Xbox 360

Gears of War – Xbox 360

Gears-of-War-Xbox-360-CoverPlatform: Xbox 360

Developer: Epic Games

Publisher: Microsoft

Release Date (NA): November 7, 2006

Genre: Third-Person Shooter, Action

Nerd Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Reviewed by NerdBerry

Released almost exactly 1 year into the life of the Xbox 360, Gears of War was considered by most to be the best-released game of the 7th generation. Receiving universal praise for its stunning visuals, sleek presentation, and crisp sound, Gears of War was an immense achievement for a small and then somewhat unknown gaming company, Epic Games. Some folks might remember Epic Games for the creation, and success, of the Unreal Tournament games, a first-person shooter series known for its competitive multiplayer feats. The Unreal games all feature Epic Game’s Unreal Engine that powers the games. This engine is still available for licensing from other developers, and multiple engines were built and created based off of this formula, Unreal Engine 3 being the specific one used to power Gears of War. Considering the massive hype around the Gears of War series as a whole, I was very surprised to find this game for only $2.49 (December 9, 2013) at GameStop. Considering I didn’t own it but had played it many times in the past, I felt compelled to pick up all of the Gears of War games and create a series of reviews for them. Let’s dive into Gears of War 1 and see what it has to offer before we jump into the maniacally popular Gears of War 2 and 3.

The Planet lies in ruin – cities crumbling, man’s greatest works fallen. Humanity is cornered, nowhere to run. The Locust Horde has risen, and they won’t stop coming. They won’t stop killing. The Coalition is desperate for soldiers. The sick, the wounded, the imprisoned are all that remain. An inmate named Marcus Fenix, once left to die, is now charged with keeping humanity alive. He can take comfort in but one fact: The human race isn’t extinct. Yet.

During the 79-year long Pendulum Wars, a political faction emerged known as the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG). Fighting for the COG are hundreds of soldiers, known as gears. The COG discovered that the only way to ultimately save the human civilization was for everyone to retreat to the Jacinto Plateau, the only place the Locusts couldn’t access. Giving only a short evacuation time, the COG used a special weapon known as the Hammer of Dawn to level cities and kill off most of the Locusts.

COG

This Delta squad, led by Dom and Marcus, are on a hunt to recover the Resonator, a device that will map out the underground Locust Horde infrastructure, giving the COG intel as to how to destroy the Locusts. Once mapped out, they will detonate the Lightmass Bomb and ultimately destroy the Locust Horde altogether… or do they?

Gears_of_war1With heavy doses of cinematics interspersed throughout the entire game, the story will unfold the further we advance. We already know that we are playing as Marcus Fenix or Dominic Santiago, 2 soldiers on whom the nation turned their back. And that’s exactly why I love this story right from the get-go. We’re not dealing with some insanely talented Navy Seal team or a group of strong-armed Army Rangers. Marcus Fenix is saving the world as a badass ex-COG soldier with a troubled past. Left to rot in jail, he is given a chance at redemption along with other inmates. They must battle their way through the destroyed planet of Sera to be forgiven for their misdeeds that put them in the Brigg.

The single player campaign mode kicks off right away with a short cinematic, but this is hardly anything to be considered an “introduction”, as playing the game actually introduces the story. Starting 14 years after E-Day (Emergence day, the day the Locust Horde began their attack), Marcus and Dom begin their descent into this shattered world in an effort to save the people who have shunned them. One of the best and most appreciated features I’ve EVER seen is right at the beginning where you are given an in-game option of starting the battle or going into training. Fans of the series who wish to replay the game will be crapping their MMORPG bedpans knowing that they don’t have to go through the slow and often tedious training periods. But for the Gears of War virgins out there, they might wish to take some time to get a feel for the controls. In 2006 when Gears of War first hit the shelves, dual joystick controls and right trigger gun firing were close-to-standard, so training might not be necessary at all. As for me, I’m a fucking renegade so I never train.

Gears of War Sets the Standard

Gears of War set new standards for action-based third-person shooting games. Similar control schemes would remain, such as the dual joysticks mentioned earlier, but some other unique features would pave the way for future gaming developers to use as a blueprint for their own games. There have been other games before Gears of War that featured cinematic storytelling to help the story progress and to give it the feel of an interactive action movie, but none have mastered it like the Gears of War series, and it all started GOW 1-2with the first game. Between fights, our heroes trudge along from location to location, often still battling with their own demons and personal lives until appropriately being interrupted by the Locust Horde to begin yet another fight. These cinematic elements would become a sort of standard for future games such as The Last of Us or the Uncharted series.

Other gaming features that Gears of War introduced and/or made popular are: speed reload feature, the feel of firing a real gun, single-tap duck-and-cover system, and action button prompts.

  • SPEED RELOAD: The ammunition speed reload feature is a great way to add a level of advanced gameplay for those who want it. Note that the right bumper (RB) is the standard reload button. While reloading your gun, you will notice a meter in the top right below your ammunition count. A cursor will begin to slide up the meter, essentially counting the amount of time it will take to begin a reload and complete a reload. In the middle of the meter is a small box, and if you press RB when the sliding cursor is in the box, you will reload your gun almost instantly. If you mistime it and accidentally press RB before or after the box, your gun will jam and it will actually take longer to reload. Timing this speed-reload can be the difference between life and death.
  • REAL FEEL: In times past, gamers could aim their weapon and fire ‘til the cows came home, but Gears of War offers much more. In Gears of War, your gun will bounce around and begin to move upwards from repeated recoil action. This realistic effect is a unique feel and I can’t say that I’ve ever noticed such realism in any game before this one. Furthermore, there is a nice “blind fire” feature where your player can fire around corners and over bunkers without looking. There will be times when an enemy is hiding on the other side of the same bunker as you, and popping up will mean near-certain death. Blind fire will most definitely kill the enemy and preserve your existence on planet Sera. But keep in mind, blind fire tends to be most useful in up-close encounters and almost always a waste of ammunition in long range battles.

Gears-of-War-1-

  • DUCK-AND-COVER: Instantly you will either hate the single-tap button duck-and-cover feature or you will love it. Regardless, you will eventually have it integrated into your gameplan and one day you will appreciate it and accept it for how it is. This single button duck-and-cover system would become a mainstay in the Gears of War series, helping each successive game in the franchise feel much like the ones before it, but more refined and better utilized. At first, it’s a bit of a pain to master. YES, press the button and you dive behind a small wall where you can hide from enemy fire. That doesn’t sound like it’s too much of a pain, does it? But getting off the bunker isn’t always as easy. And sometimes you’ll want to do one thing and the button will make you do something else, like hide behind the wrong bunker, OR it will have you facing the wrong way. Toy with the buttons at the beginning of the game and you’ll get a feel for it. Within very little time you’ll have it all figured out.
  • PROMPTS: Granted, there have been a large number of previous games to use the feature of prompting which buttons to Parappa_320wpress. PaRappa the Rapper maybe did it first! So Gears of War definitely isn’t the first game. But not being the first does not mean you can’t set the standard. Throughout the entire game (and series), you will often see a colored button pop up on the screen – standard colors like a YELLOW “Y” or a BLUE “X”, just like the colors of the controller button. Often there is a discrete picture next to the button, defining what that action will do.
    • Many times, when Y is prompted and held down, the camera will shift directions (via Marcus’s viewpoint) and watch a scene of action happening. For example, on one particular occasion, I was prompted to press and hold Y, so I did. My view switched to watching a helicopter flying across the screen from left to right and then smashing into a huge brick building. I quickly learned that if I wanted to be fully immersed into Gears of War, I should definitely press the Y button when prompted so that I can fully appreciate the special effects and grandiose action for which Epic Games has so kindly laid out for us. Another feature of the Y button is to help Marcus quickly locate Dom or his other teammates. This comes in handy in certain battle situations as occasionally your amigos will help lead you in the right direction.
    • Other prompts include picking up ammo, guns, dog tags etc via the X button. Occasionally you will be so distracted by the heat of battle that you won’t see something below you, so a button prompt to pick up a gun or weapon whenever you walk across it is very much appreciated. Games have been doing this for a long time: Goldeneye 007 for Nintendo 64 and Halo, to name a couple. But again, Gears of War took some standard gameplay elements and made them stand out. The X button is also a general all-around action button, used to kick down doors and perform other various tasks. Without the prompt, however, the X button serves no function.

A Band of Cellmates: The Story

GearsofWar1

The acting in Gears of War is decent. That might be an overstatement but it is still enjoyable, and the story goes across without a hitch. The voiceovers are solid and actually seem to match each character’s physical attributes, something many games have fouled up in the past. The acting is actually meant to be a little campy and cheesy, which adds to the overall experience.

While I sit here and praise the story of some bad apples getting a shot at redemption, (and I truly believe it’s a good story), I feel there could have been a little more setup and character building. I didn’t feel like I got to know Dom or Marcus as well as I would have liked. For anybody who has seen Schindler’s List (one of the best movies ever made), Oskar Schindler (played by the inimitable Liam Neeson) spent the first half (or longer) of the movie as basically a bad guy. He has no remorse or feelings of any sort towards the Jews, but later he redeems himself in ways that I can’t explain without spoiling the movie. Being a 3-hour movie, there was plenty of time for character building, and you really grow attached to all of the characters, especially Oskar. That is the sort of emotion I wanted and expected here in Gears of War, but didn’t get. AND, Gears of War takes much more than 3 hours to complete.

Gears_of_War_1Granted, I doubt the developers ever intended to make a man cry, so I didn’t expect that much. But I wanted to feel a little more emotion in the story. Maybe a sort of brotherhood akin to Saving Private Ryan, (yet another great Steven Spielberg movie) but it’s just not there. Don’t let that fool you, however. There is still plenty of story, and it progresses very nicely. The battles are spaced out perfectly for someone like me (I’m loaded with ADHD and can’t sit still too long). As the story continues to dive deeper, the battles become more intense and furious, ultimately leading to a final showdown that will have you on the edge of your seat, and possibly standing in the middle of the living room pacing back and forth with anger and impatience. But the end result is worth the struggles. An open-ended story devised to wrap up Gears of War, yet still pave the way for Gears of War 2 and 3. While average at best, the story in Gears of War is still as strong as they come for a game like this.

Meat and Bones: The Gameplay

While the story is great at times, weak at times, and overall average, the meat of Gears of War lies in the gameplay. This game could have had a story of ex-boy-band members with guns hunting down their thieving record company executives and it still would have played masterfully, but with much gayer overtones laced with frosted-tipped hair. Instead, we’re given a dark and gritty alien science fiction story in a post-apocalyptic world. Aliens have taken over and it’s up to you to save everyone. The controls are intuitive and are tuned very well with extremely responsive button controls. This is not a button-masher, as every gears_of_war 1move you make is with a purpose to destroy the enemy while saving your own ass as well as your mates.’ The main battle scheme involves finding cover, taking precise aim, and killing aliens.

It’s a difficult task trying to explain what makes a game so great in the fewest words possible. I will attempt, however, to sum it all up into one word: Development. The developers spent a lot of money and time to ensure a quality game was put out. There are so many companies trying to cash in on the hot fad, but Epic Games wanted to create something a little different. Something unique and geared towards anyone. There are three difficulty settings: casual, hardcore, and insane. Casual is designed so that anybody can pick up the sticks and get dirty killing some serious alien scum. Hardcore is designed for the elite OR for the person who already beat it on casual. And Insane is, well, insane. Development on Gears of War may have cost millions but there is no doubt they made their money back tenfold.

Included in the solidarity of Gears of War’s gameplay is the absolutely brilliant artificial intelligence. Somehow, Epic Games was able to create some of the most advanced enemy sprite actions I had ever seen up to that point. One example is you may have an enemy locked dead to rights and when he pops out from behind that bunker you are going to mow him down at the neck. He pops out, and you start blasting him. He goes into hiding again. You know he’s going to pop out again, so you’re waiting in the same spot, except this time he crouches out and starts pumping you full of lead. This, among many other traits, is an example of the detail given to each tiny facet of gameplay. But it’s not all perfect. I have noticed many times that when I die and have to repeat a battle scene, the enemies seem to follow the same patterns time after time. Still, despite these patterns, the A.I. is something special for its time.

You and Some Dudes

Versus mode is probably the most recognizable and uninspired battle mode, yet it is the sort of gaming style that became wildly popular, especially with full online capabilities. In versus mode you can play one-on-one with a friend locally (on the same Xbox 360), much like Goldeneye 007 or Halo. There is also the option to do a system-link where you hook up multiple Xbox 360s to multiple TVs, providing endless nerd boners for the Gears of War series fans to host serious LAN parties! Then there are the Xbox Live massive multiplayer battles much like the Call of Duty games, except a little less polished.

GOW LAN

The crème de la crème, at least in my eyes, is the co-op campaign mode, which can be played locally or via Xbox Live. This is much like the single-player campaign mode except you and a friend can bash in skulls together. Some level of teamwork is typically involved, although not always present. In a matter of minutes, you and a friend will be communicating with each other solely about in-game tactics, strategy, flanking enemies, and more. All talks of football or the newest Tom Cruise movie will be forgotten as you engage in a strong co-op campaign mode set to rival any other war game.

Conclusion

Epic Games wanted to make sure you had the highest quality gaming experience at your fingertips, and they delivered with style and intensity. A great marketing campaign really pushed this game into the mainstream and cleared out any chances of Gears of War fading into obscurity. Actually, there was no chance for it to fade as it took off almost instantly.

GOW1

With a unique blend of storytelling and visually stunning action sequences, Gears of War is about as fun as a war game can get. It has an uncanny ability to grow more and more interesting as the game goes on, but it does begin to feel a little tedious even if only so slightly in some areas of the game. When you reach this point of monotony, it might be a good time to take a break from the game for the night. It can also become seemingly impossible at times, and you will find yourself repeating the same battle scenes over and over and dying without knowing why!

gears-of-war-1

One of the major defining moments of your gaming status will happen only a couple hours into your first run. You will inevitably run out of ammunition and your team will, for whatever reason, not be as active in helping kill the enemy. You will notice that you’re a solid hundred yards away from the last alien dirtbag and there are nearly zero bunkers from your current spot to the enemies spot. You will muster up the courage to charge this alien head on, taking on a full barrage of bullets on the way, and you will use your chainsaw bayonet to grind tear through this alien’s face. Boom! You’ll feel legendary for the rest of your life based on that moment alone.

Gears of War took a solid recipe and added their own unique blend of spices. In this Xbox 360 cooking pot, we have your standard chili (war action game), except instead of your traditional blend of meats and spices, Epic Games chose to use all-organic, natural, free-roaming, grass-fed beef, straight from the most succulent parts of the cow. A dash of eye candy with some concrete controls yields a concoction spicy enough to win at almost any chili cook-off! Epic Games delivered the food, Nerd Bacon delivered the crispy crumbled bacon on top of that dollop of sour cream. I highly recommend Gears of War, and with 3 other releases, including a prequel, I strongly recommend getting involved in the entire series chronologically.

Oh, and did I mention that Epic Games houses their headquarters a few miles down the road from my house? Note that this review was in no way, shape, or form endorsed by Epic Games (unless they want to pay me for my kind words).

Nerd Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Reviewed by Nerdberry

Written by Nerdberry

Nerdberry


Nerdberry here. It’s about time I updated this badboy (been a loooong time). I’m currently loving time on my Xbox 360, as I destroy aliens left and right through the Gears of War games (man these games are good).

But that doesn’t mean I’ve lost my love for retro-gaming! My wife and I just bought a house (December, 2015) and we have a baby due ANY DAY NOW (my mini-nerdette-berry is 1 day late as of December 10th), so I haven’t fully unpacked the hundreds of cartridges that I own.

BACONEER ENGINEER EATIN’ STEER… AND PORK.

 
 

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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Transformers: War for Cybertron - Nerd Bacon

  2. Pingback: Duke Nukem Forever - Xbox 360 - Nerd Bacon Reviews

  3. FrozenMallet says:

    The best thing about Gears of War is the “Cole Train”. In a game about bad asses this guy is the baddest ass… or is it bad assyist… or is it… nope I’m sticking to bad assyiest.

     

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