52 Reviews

Gears of War

Jon Blyth closes down his higher brain functions and learns to love it

Let's pretend, for the first half of the review, that no-one here has played Gears of War. We'll put our fingers in our ears, count backwards from 10 and allow the hype and hoop-la to drift from our ears like a beautiful smoke effect. And... you're under.

So, Gears of War in one word: meaty. Even the sneering lips of the heroes manage to be muscular, and the dialogue stinks of five-day sweat. The weaponry is tactile, and the sound effects are like someone slapping rashers of bacon over your ears.

The gibs are stupid and make up for the desolate colour schemes of the planet. Not forgetting the stylised eruption of black blood - especially when you score a chainsaw kill - no game makes you feel like you're relentlessly punching a carcass quite as much as Gears of War.

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If you want to shoot shit and not get your tear ducts misty over some feminine emphasis on plot and characters, hello.

But shooting stuff, as wonderful as that always is, is exactly half of what Gears' single-player game is about. The rest is about taking cover. Cover isn't just a useful bonus here, it's a constant fundamental - it's bound by default to the biggest button on the keyboard for a reason.

You'll spend more than half the game in cover, and once you get used to the way the controls reflect that, it simply becomes the way you work.

HELMET, COLE
When your teammates get injured - one of the most irritating parts of the game - you're forced to break cover and heal them. As a device to vary the action, it's perfectly acceptable, perhaps even clever.

But as a human being I resent doing most of the killing, then getting told that if I don't heal some guy who had an AI failure and ran around beckoning bullets, it'll be game over.

On the subject of small gameplay devices, the active reload is another small but canny move. Take that bayonet gun - the last bullets make a warning click, and once it empties, a reload slider begins. Ignoring this will allow a moderate reload speed. Tapping reload at the right time can boost the speed, and hitting it spot-on will even give you a damage bonus. Try it and miss, and your weapon will briefly jam.

It's simple, but when the Locust forces are advancing, it's a real pain - melee combat can kill you very quickly, especially if you don't have your chainsaw revved. When you're sniping, the damage boost can cause a headshot to take down a rocket-launching boomer in one.

SQUAD BIKE
Squad AI can always be a worry. But in Gears, it's good enough to make it feel like you're fighting on a team against another team. Both sides flank and charge, and you're free to take a leading role or hang around at the back.

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But if you do that, bear in mind that your squad will probably get hurt, forcing you forward to heal them. There's the odd gaffe - the teammate spinning around on the spot, caught between two see-sawing priorities, and the Locust who took cover from my squadmate then hid from him while staring directly through me.

But I'm only saying this to show off how observant I am. They're very much the exception to the excellent rule. The squad commands you gain in Act 2, on the other hand, are fairly redundant and easily ignored. Suzy finished the game on the Xbox without even noticing them.

If you choose to try out the co-op mode (and you definitely should) a lot of the game design decisions that seem frivolous suddenly make perfect sense. Take the times when you decide on a certain path - they seem needless in single-player, but with
an online mate, they're a great way to break up the team and work together in different ways.

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