y expectations for Gears of War were quite high coming into this review. Every time I got time with the game over the past year, I couldn’t help but find myself smiling with glee and dreaming of it often in the days that followed. So, to put it lightly, I expected the finished product to not only deliver a ton of water-cooler moments, but also one of the most intense roller-coaster rides in video games.
In many ways, Gears delivers. The graphics, which feature complex textures on just about every surface, are quite a sight to behold. There are times when animations don’t quite match up or when the cutscenes don’t run as silky smooth as I’d like them to, but overall the minor glitches are acceptable.
Play control in duck-and-cover control schemes has typically been shaky at best, and I’m pleased to report that Gears nails this to a tee. Sure, there are times when you stick to columns that you wanted to navigate around, but without failure these can be attributed to user error over game mechanics.
Gears’ enemy and team intelligence is also very well-executed. When you look at all the overall parts, it seems like the single-player simply can’t miss.
Unfortunately, the campaign mode does manage to falter in a couple of areas – most notably the story. The lead role of Marcus Fenix as a tough-as-nails grunt who speaks like a Predator-era Jesse “The Body” Ventura is almost too much. While his over-the-top dudespeak is somewhat entertaining, it’s mostly groan-inducing. Many lines are just plain bad, as is most of the story – simply because it never really goes anywhere. It’s just a series of events that are tied to the Locust Horde invasion and your team’s trial by fire. This is a real shame, as there are some good elements in Gears’ story line; it just doesn’t do anything with them.
The misfires continue in other areas as well. Most of the giant, oh-god-I’ve-been-waiting-for-this-the-entire-game moments are less than spectacular. The Hammer of Dawn, a weapon that calls in a laser strike from an orbiting satellite, should be the most awesome weapon I have ever seen. Instead, it’s a simple stream of light that delivers next to no payoff when it rains its payload of death from above. Most of the boss battles are similarly disappointing, with simple solutions that rarely challenge the player to use the skills you learn during most of the game.
Now I must point out that most of these gripes, while annoying, are most certainly minor (but need to be clarified because you know you wanted Gears to be a 10). Most of the game, which is spent basking in the duck-and-cover mechanic, is pure genius. Hiding and moving from point to point as you blast through the game’s well-designed and executed encounters is extremely enjoyable.
There are two standout pieces of the game that really make it click. Instead of the standard reload, Gears offers an active reload system that lets you double click the reload button along a standard golf swing-esque meter. Time it right and your reload time shrinks. Miss it, and your on-screen character will curse, the reload will jam, and the time it takes to get back into the action will be significantly longer. The second is the chainsaw bayonet. Getting up close and personal to deliver this finisher is satisfying on so many levels.
The game’s enjoyment doubles when you play it co-op with a friend (which can be done through split-screen, a local network, or through Xbox Live). This is one of the best co-op games I have played, especially when you crank the difficulty past Casual and up into the Hardcore and Insane levels. Working with your buddy to flank and outwit the enemy is a blast. Plus, there are many points in the missions where you get to split up and work together to conquer the various challenges.
The final piece to the Gear’s puzzle is the online multiplayer, which is where this game really shines. Sadly, there are only three fairly similar game types, but working together and trying to out-maneuver your opponents is one of the game’s greatest charms, and in multiplayer matches the intensity certainly steps it up a notch.
Gears of War is, without a doubt, the must-play Xbox 360 title of 2006. I have some minor qualms with the single-player game, but as a co-op or multiplayer game it’s a treat unlike any other. The gameplay is fresh, and the graphics are simply stunning.