• In Gears of War cover is your best friend, its your lover, its your mother and if you want to live longer than 10 seconds it is the most essential part in surviving the world of Gears of War. Microsoft Game Studios and Epic partnered to bring us the most hyped game on the Xbox 360 to date. This game was advertised long before we even got our hands on the Xbox 360 Console in Europe and we have chomped at the bit ever since to live in the shoes of Marcus Fenix as we attempt to mo down the Locust Horde. But is Gears of War really as good as what has been stated? HELL YES is the short answer to this… but for our full breakdown as to why, will require your attention for that bit longer.

    The main character in the game is one hugely muscled Marcus Fenix. Marcus was part of the Coalition of Organised Government or COG for short and has been imprisoned for failing to carry out orders. Now his planet not unlike our Earth has come under attack from the Locust Horde. Breaking through the planets surface, where humanity had been oblivious to their presence, the Horde within a matter of days have slaughtered millions of humans, on their rampage for total domination and the extinction of mankind. Marcus rescued from prison is convinced by his partner in crime Dom to come back to the COG unit with the plan to stop the Locust in their tracks. Now whilst this is a story line we have seen time and time again in various forms… you really do have to admit that we are all suckers for these, one man against all odds, and we love playing the part of the Hero… so holding onto my joypad I sat back watching the disk tray slide back in, feeling as excited as a six year old in a sweet shop with a fiver to spend.

    Your Gears of War experience starts from choosing from two difficulties (a further insane difficulty will unlock once you have completed the game in hardcore) with your main partner in the game Dom busting you out of your prison cell, throwing your armour at you and telling you to get your arse in gear (no pun intended) as the Locust Horde are about to overrun the prison facility. This is your tutorial into how GoW works, and Dom will prompt you to choose from two paths… one acting more like a tutorial and explaining a lot more to you… whilst also leading you down an easier path with the other throwing you right into the lions den with instant combat. GoW is played in the third person perspective and works perfectly in this mode. You will also notice straight away that no matter where you are there will always be some form of cover and as highlighted in my opening, taking advantage of this cover will make the difference between surviving or dying. The control set-up has also been worked in way to take advantage of the environment and game mechanics and the ‘A’ button is your one for all or at least most button. Pressing A briefly, flips your character around in a dive manoeuvre and tied together with the left thumbstick gives you total freedom as to the direction of the dive, including being able to dive backwards. Pressing ‘A’ near any piece of cover will force your character to that cover and allows you to lean out and lay down fire. When in cover if you press your thumbstick in a number of directions you will notice screen prompts to how you can move from that cover which will including flipping from cover to cover, jumping over a low piece of cover to simply diving away from the cover. Finally holding ‘A’ will force your character into what is referred to as the roadie run and your character will crouch down and give it legs with a rather nice blur effect appearing which simulates the speed element. This allows you to move quickly from cover to cover and with practice you will be running, sliding and bounding from place to place like a real pro.

    Gears of War

    Staying with controls, the ‘Y’ face button will always push the camera to the nearest area of interest, which at times if you find yourself slightly lost will help. The ‘X’ button is your action button and used for the likes of pressing a button, to reviving a downed teammate, through to kicking down a door. Your ‘B’ button is your melee attack button and works with all weapons, with the Lancer and its under-slung chainsaw being most players favourite. Get close enough with the Lancer and you can hit and hold ‘B’ to activate the chainsaw and literally cut your enemy in two. As mentioned the melee function works with all weapons, and the other fun piece to mess around with here, is the ability to melee someone with a grenade, which will result in you sticking the grenade to them before they go BOOM. ‘Right Trigger’ is your primary fire button and ‘Left Trigger’ used for Grenade tossing. The ‘Left Shoulder’ button when pressed will highlight your team with an arrow giving a rough indication as to where they are. Finally and I have to say one neat mechanic at that… The ‘Right Shoulder’ button is used to reload your weapons. This works on a timing principle rewarding you for getting it right and leaving you at risk for getting it wrong. Hitting ‘RB’ will start a power meter and you will notice this bar is made up of clear portions, a very small white area, and a grey area. As mentioned if you hit ‘RB’ this will start a bar moving across from left to right and if you manage to stop the bar in the white portion this is classed as a perfect reload and gives you a damage bonus for that clip… stop the bar in the grey portion and you are still okay but receive no bonus and does not get classed as perfect. Stop the bar in either clear area and you will jam your gun, which given the intensity of this game is not the best course of action or one you want to continually repeat. The reload system is very neat, very easy to master, but you will find yourself jamming your gun when under pressure and under fire.

    Whilst the way the game is played and how the controls are set-up may appear confusing and come across with the view point, you have a lot to learn… the opening level will have you moving and firing from cover like a real pro within a mere mater of minutes, with you just be sitting back and appreciating just how damn fine this game looks and plays.

    Once out of the prison facility you form up with Delta Squad and given the task of locating Alpha Squad and a weapon they have which is to be used to destroy the Locust Horde once and for all. A team of two becomes a team of four and whilst your team AI is pretty slick, they are still dumb bots that only get themselves killed a zillion times over and well best serve as a diversion for you to flank the enemy. My advice here is to get the job done before attempting any rescues of a downed team-mate, the beauty of just getting the job done will bring your team back to full health as if by magic without you ever having to risk your own neck, there will of course be occasions where you cannot do this as certain points in the game only result in a restart if you let Dom die. The campaign itself is not that long, but has enough difficulty to pace you through the game rather than being able to sprint finish to the end. You will play through destroyed city locations, underground facilities and even take on the Locust on their own turf, which is underground. The final level albeit a tad short is a doozy and takes place on a moving train providing the tightest gun battles of all with limited space to where you can hide or take cover. You will also take on a number of bosses ranging from a blind female Locust known as a Beserker, through to a huge crab like creature all the way through to the main man or as I should say main Locust leader himself with the General.

    Of course and to what is essential to your survival the weapons in GoW are pretty damn fine. You will begin your quest with a trusty side arm pistol and to what is the Locust assault rifle. Later on you will receive your Lancer which as mentioned before is the standard COG assault rifle coupled with an under-slung chainsaw… other weapons include grenades, a rocket launcher, hammer of dawn; which produces a laser strike from the heavens, a shotgun, Locust pistol and the standard sniper rifle complete the list. All of the weapons feel and behave in a very meaty fashion providing lots of satisfaction in “getting your gun off”. The noise that comes from activating your chainsaw is particularly satisfying and even better in action coating your screen in blood and guts.

    Before moving into LIVE it is worth a mention that the full campaign can be played on your own, over LIVE or over split screen, play with a co-op partner taking on the role of Dom. Playing with a friend is by far the best option as you have additional, lets call it “smart AI” helping you out and given some of the situations you will be in, essential too for your survival. A friend can jump in and help you out at any given point and as you unlock achievements they will also receive the same rewards.

    It is very safe to see that GoW has been built as a LIVE hit, and having already mentioned co-op play as one aspect of this, GoW takes this a step further with 3 playable LIVE modes and those modes played over ten superb maps. Multiplayer support comes in the form of up to eight players, with Ranked and Un-Ranked games to choose from. If you choose a ranked match then you will not be able to invite or play with your friends, although this system is already being exploited in a host creating a ranked match and then asking his/her friends to find him through the optimatch settings. Un-Ranked can be played with public players or as a full eight man private match… this is the one you will use in the main to get your friends together and well just have a damn good session. The maps in LIVE are perfectly sized for a four versus four situation and although slight details become changed… the maps are designed with no real advantage for either teams with identical spawns just sat at each end of the playing field. This is a very nice to see as I have been LIVE for a very long time and had gotten very tired of playing games where the spawn spot was important to winning or losing. The weapons you toy with during the campaign make their way into LIVE with the addition of you always starting with a smoke grenade… and it has to be said that the Hammer of Dawn will become far more useful in LIVE than it ever does during your campaign play. Communication more than anything is the key to winning in LIVE so if you opt for a pure ranked experience then pray to God you get a good team, as sticking together is the second most important feature. GoW on LIVE is superb and is certainly no bolt on after thought, there are problems on LIVE but I will get to those shortly.

    A killer and winning feature to GoW is the looks and feel. This is certainly what playing a HD game is all about… every single piece of GoW graphically looks phenomenal, from the characters through to your chapter locations. All things almost look true to real life, and the quality here is unbelievable… and most certainly a definite excuse for anyone thinking of getting a HD TV to get one now. Audio is perfect from the gung-ho banter from the characters through to the awesome weapon sounds… ending with the music score that is perfect against the style of game. I simply cannot fault anything here… I have played a lot of games on the Xbox 360 and this is most certainly the best I have seen to date.

    Problems, problems, problems… All games seem to contain them, we wish they didn’t but then perfection is a very hard thing to achieve. GoW is certainly not perfect it’s close to the mark… but not quite there. Firstly during play in the campaign there are points where you have used your chainsaw to suddenly find you are rooted to the spot… which can only be rectified with a last checkpoint reload and becomes painful at times. Secondly on LIVE searching for a ranked game seems simple enough but then you spend more times being told the server is full only to have it appear on the list again when you try to re-connect. This again is proving painful as ranked matches are a must for the LIVE achievements in this game, and during one evenings play, I managed to join two hosts out of about twenty something attempts. The becoming stuck in one spot also applies itself to LIVE and leaves you stranded just waiting for death with the final LIVE issue having an effect on people’s headsets. People you know you can play LIVE with and have your usual banter now come into your games not able to say diddly-squat, I don’t believe this is a networking issue as at times you have full chat with them in the lobby but lose them in the game itself, and becomes hard work given the key to winning is usually being able to direct someone or have them direct you to where the action is. The problems are there with GoW but it is pretty flawless in its design… I had encountered lag once playing with an American host but generally the game runs with no slow down what so ever and if you get past the little bugs that do effect the game produce one amazing gaming experience.

    In summing up GoW has been a long time coming, but I think most people would reflect and agree that the time taken for us to actually get this game has been well used and we truly have one amazing game to get down and dirty with. GoW is therefore a must buy and certainly deserves its place in your gaming collection on the Xbox 360.

    Score: 10/10

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