Gears Of War PDF Print E-mail
Written by bobdog   
Tuesday, 19 February 2008 09:02
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Gears Of War
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Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft
No Demo Available
Official Site
Average Price (at review publication time) = US$45

ESRB Mature 17 + (Blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
European PEGI Adult 18+ (Blood and gore, depiction of intense violence)

Due to the generosity of the Foxhole’s Grey Mouser, I was able to experience the PC version of Gears of War (GOW). The game has, of course, won numerous awards on the Xbox, as well as selling more than 4.5 million copies. It only recently came out for PC, with some modifications designed to take advantage of the PC’s greater graphics superiority.

The game is made by Epic Games, the same company and folks that brought us Unreal and Unreal Tournament. It does contain some similar elements, but the two defining elements are the third-person (vs. first-person) view and the consolization of buttons and gameplay. I’ll touch on both of these in a bit.

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Can’t This Thing Go Any Faster? We Just Got Passed by a Street Sweeper!

The hardware specs on GOW are pretty high, so don’t expect this to run on every machine. The box states you need the following: Windows Vista/XP; 2.4GHz Intel/2.0 GHz AMD; 1 GB RAM; 12 GB free disk space; and NVidia GeForce 6600/ATI X700. What it doesn’t mention is that if you want the game to remember your latest checkpoint, you have to sign in to Microsoft Live. I deeply resent this, as this is just one more invasion into my privacy. And just as I was ready to finish my last playthrough, it had wiped out ALL my data and checkpoint saves!!! Fortunately, I was able to start at the next and final chapter, but seriously, that majorly sucked!

I ran the game at 1600x1200 on my AMD 3200 (32-bit) with 2GB RAM and an NVidia 7600 GS. For the most part, I was able to play with everything at High (but not Ultra High) values, although a couple of areas forced me to downsize to 1280x1-24 to get through scenes that needed a little more finesse and control of my character. Overall I was pleased with how my system ran the game, and most features are scaleable enough to allow systems lower than mine to play it.

Also, interestingly, you can play this game co-op if you so desire! Go through Live and either of you can host the game and play as the two main characters. Good idea, Epic!

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I Heard a Little Story and It Goes Like Dis

GOW has no opening intro cutscene to tell you what has happened and why you’re in jail, so I was actually disappointed in that respect. I dug up the guide from the game box, and learned the following: 14 years ago, the Locust Horde gathered under every major city and launched a surprise attack, on what has since been designated “Emergence Day.”

Your character, Marcus Fenix (Stop it – stop it now!! Where the heck did this name come from??), went AWOL from a battle to go save his father, and was then charged with dereliction of duty and sentenced to 40 years in the pen, which is where the game starts. Your buddy Dominic has busted you out against the better judgment of his platoon leader, and now it’s time for payback.

Questions arise aplenty. Where did the Horde come from? Are they mutated worms and insects (as the game seems to imply) that have been lying dormant for millennia in the earth’s crust? Are they radioactive cockroaches who finally decided to prove their superiority? Or did they come from afar? And if so, how did they get to earth undetected in recent centuries? None of these are answered, so I guess we’ll have to wait for GOW 2 (and you know it’s coming, with the cash register ringing to the tune of $250 MILLION!!!).

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Hey Ma!! Where’s the Joystick on My Keyboard?

Yes, unfortunately GOW is a blasted port of an Xbox game, but generally, it’s pretty good at translating joypad actions to the keyboard and mouse. The designers have of course had to simplify things for the Xbox crowd, which thus makes it more difficult to those of us with working crania, but, nothing to do about it.

My main complaint is that one button does your special moves, including running, mantling objects, rolling and getting into/out of cover. For those of us who have practiced for years to run and duck with two separate buttons, this takes a significant amount of getting used to. It does look cool, but leads to many frustrating battles since you are locked into one position and sometimes can’t unlock yourself from wherever you are taking cover at the time.

You also can control some squadmates, but I found the commands limited. Time and again, your idiot squad would go out and kill themselves because you can’t tell them to hold position. You can bring them back to you, but then they just rush off again into enemy fire. Idiots.

To assist you, you’ll sometimes be prompted to “view” certain objects, such as wormholes, your squadmates, or areas of interest in the general surroundings or on enemy weaknesses. This is a sort of “hint” system if you get stuck on what to do next.

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Get Rock-Hard Abs and No One Will Kick Dirt in Your Face Again!!

This game is hard, and by hard, I mean “kick you in the teeth with a steel-toed boot” kind of hard. I consider myself an experienced shooter and gamer, and generally play everything at the mid-level. Well, in this case, I went down to the lowest notch (Casual – you play an occasional shooter) and I still died. A lot. And by “a lot”, I mean, about every 45 seconds! And when you get to the big enemy cutscenes, expect to play it over for dozens of times until you get it right. I admit, I couldn’t finish the final boss scene after 40+ attempts. And with no “god” mode, the only way I got to see the final cutscene was to go to YouTube.

That’s right – there are no quick saves in this game – just console checkpoints. Generally, they are not so far apart that you have to redo everything, but still, I would love to have control of my destiny – not some computer program. And the error I mentioned up top to lose all my checkpoints?? Unforgivable. If there hadn’t been the last chapter open, I would have quit in disgust right there.

The other “hard” part about this game is the gore and language. This is a Mature game and you are playing a tough-as-nails Marine getting his butt whipped by bugs. How do you think you’d feel? This is not a Dr. Phil moment – the only thing to do is get out there and get stomping!

I do have to give major props to design of the characters, who are some bad-looking dudes. Your character Marcus is all scarred up and not very pretty. But the best is the “Cole Train” – one bad mamma-jamma dude with biceps like fire hydrants. Plus, he’s funny as hell.

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Want to See My Gun Collection?

Your Gear has four arms slots, of which one is dedicated to grenades, and one to sniping; the other two are generally for a machine gun or a shot gun, but can be interchanged with various guns that you’ll find along the way. One of these is the Hammer of Dawn, which allows satellites to send down a fusion beam and fry whatever is targeted. This little beauty of course can only be used in certain locations due to satellite coverage. You’ll know when you need it because you’ll find them on about a dozen corpses on the way.

The designers have opted not to give you a targeting reticule unless you zoom in, which means you are blindly firing from the hip most of the time, as the zoom is only good on far-off critters. However, you can also “blind” fire from cover, meaning you can aim your weapon over your cover source to hit incoming targets. That is way cool.

Also, the grenade can be “zoomed” to tell exactly how and where it will land. I found this cool as well. And if you get in the mix with some buggies, you can use the melee chainsaw on one of your guns to slice through the opposition. Get it? “Slice” through the … never mind.

Finally, the game integrates an “active reload”, where if you hit the sweet spot on a bar, you’ll reload your weapon quicker and gain additional power and accuracy for the next round of shots. If not, you get an “Aw, c’mon!” comment and have to wait it out.

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I’ve Got 2 Moths, 3 Beetles and an Ant – How About You?

Speaking of the “bugs”, there’s an interesting collection of them, and some are invulnerable to regular small arms fire. Generally, the soldiers are insectified versions of enemies we’ve seen a gazillion times before: grunts, “hounds”, explosives experts, etc.

Some standouts include the Berserker, a blind female bug that hunts by sound and smell. She’ll crash through doors and pillars to seek you out and can only be killed by multiple shots from the Hammer of Dawn. In one level you’ll face a huge ant/spider. Using the “hint” system mentioned earlier, you’ll see where you need to hit it to move it back to a platform, and then how to destroy the platform.

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I’m Doing My Level Best Here, Sir!

I haven’t discussed this yet, because I wanted to save the best for last. The levels have been designed primarily by Cliffy B, THE guy when it comes to awesome Unreal level design. There is an amazing believability factor when seeing the levels in the flesh, and rather than have loading screens between everything, you flow easily from one scene into another. One element you’ll quickly notice is that the graphics seem to have a sepia tone to them, rather than lots of vibrant colors. I’m sure this was an important gameplay decision – to introduce a gritty world where hope is a dead word and the fruits of decay have taken over.

The initial levels take you through a decrepit, destroyed city, with decaying trash heaps, ruined cars and realistic run-down buildings. Once through the City, you enter what I believe are some of the most creative levels I’ve ever experienced – the night-time scenes. These levels introduce the Kryll as a flying threat that attacks anything in the dark. Ergo, you’ll have to walk in the light to avoid being immediately eviscerated by these critters. You can use this to your advantage somewhat against incoming soldier bugs, who are considered free game by the Kryll if they wander in the dark.

You’ll eventually get a vehicle, which although I didn’t think it was amazing, it was okay. The interesting concept for this is that you have power either for the engine, or for the ultraviolet gun, which is the only defense against the Kryll. It made for an intense ride.

You’ll then pick up some buddies and head to an abandoned mine, of which the best feature was a split minecart ride, with your buddies shooting out enemies from across the map and each of you intersecting one another. You’ll slog deeper into the heart of the mine and face some interesting new enemies before laying out a weapon that will “end the war!!” Um, sure. Except we have a couple more chapters to go, so….

You head back to the City to Marcus’ old stomping grounds to retrieve something. Unfortunately, this is where my checkpoints cut out on me, so I have no idea what happened after the first half. However in the 5th and final chapter, you come to a raised bridge that you must get working again. You’ll make your way through the city and old parking garages to the electric company, where you must take on the Bubrak (or something) … it’s way big. The final scenes have you boarding a train and making your way to the front, where the final boss battle takes place.

So overall, we’ve played these types of levels before, but never have they been so immersively believable. You really feel like you’re in an old trashed-out city and that you haven’t a hope in the world of surviving the next five minutes, let alone making a dent against the Locust Horde.

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Been Tryin' to Get Down – to the Heart of the Matter

So, it all comes down to this: Gears of War is an ambitious title from Epic Games that manages to introduce some interesting new ideas and gameplay tactics. It does show its console roots strongly in its limited movement options and checkpoint save system, yet it has been optimized for PC play. (Except for the HUGE checkpoint error I had that wiped out all my play! Grrrr!)

I liked GOW, quite a bit, but felt it could have executed some key things a little more strongly for the PC audience. The difficulty factor was higher than normal, one-button play made many battles more challenging than necessary, and the third-person view made it hard to target enemies. However these “faults” were more than offset by elements such as the night-time Kryll attacks, the Berserker scenes, and co-op play opportunities.

Originally I had planned to give this game a 4.25 out of 5, but after experiencing some major malfunctions with my save games, lowered it correspondingly to a 4.0 out of 5, still a good game worth trying out.

Gears Of War

Game Rated 8/10

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