TOKYO--Earlier today, while taking a welcome break from the madness that is the Tokyo Game Show, we met with representatives from Microsoft and Epic Games and checked out the latest build of Gears of War. We weren't allowed to get our hands on the game on this occasion, but we did get to watch a member of the development team play for around 20 minutes as he talked us through some noteworthy features of the story mode.
In Gears of War you'll assume the role of a soldier named Marcus Fenix who has just been released from prison after being branded as a traitor. Humanity is losing a bloody war against the locusts, and it appears that, regardless of the fact that some of your fellow soldiers don't like you much, you're their only hope. Our demo got under way with an in-engine cutscene that showed Fenix and his close friend Dom Santiago flying over a ruined city in the back of a helicopter. Their destination was a place called Embry Square, where they were to meet with a general named Hoffman, who has a real grudge against you.
The assembled characters were in mid-conversation when they came under attack from a small group of locusts, and they scrambled for cover and took care of the enemies using the same "stop and pop" tactics that you'll be encouraged to employ in the game. Fenix's mission as the movie transitioned into gameplay was to locate (or at least determine the fate of) a missing squad that hadn't been heard from in some time. You'll be fighting alongside a few squadmates of your own in this portion of the game, but because you're not the squad leader, you won't be able to give them any orders and will occasionally be required to do what you're told.
We were told that one of the recurring themes in Gears of War is "destroyed beauty," which was certainly an accurate description for the architecturally rich city in ruins in which the demo was set. The ruins afford plenty of places to take cover, of course, but that's really a double-edged sword because the locusts are quite adept at moving in and out of it. Locusts also have the ability to come up through the ground via "emergence holes"--we saw a couple of these enemy-spawning tunnels throughout the course of the demo and watched as Fenix tossed frag grenades into them to close them up. Grenades, which you'll aim using a fairly conventional arc targeting system, are one of four arms types that you can carry about your person at all times, along with a pistol, and two larger (two-handed) weapons.
Gears of War is played from a Resident Evil 4-style over-the-shoulder perspective, and one of the things that the game does extremely well is have the camera shake in relation to what you're doing. When you're running with your head down, for example, the camera sways from left to right almost as if it's being carried by a wartime photographer who's following you around, and when you slam yourself up against a wall to take cover, the sudden jerk of the camera makes you feel like there was some kind if impact.
Much of what we saw during today's demo didn't tell us anything new about the game, partly because we were fortunate enough to actually play the game at the Electronic Entertainment Expo earlier this year. There were a few new pieces of information that are worthy of mention, though. For starters, you'll be able to revive fallen comrades in the single-player game if you reach them quickly enough, but they won't be able to revive you. In cooperative mode (two players assume the roles of Marcus and Dom), you and your friend will be able to revive each other, but anytime you both go down you'll be sent back to the last checkpoint. We can also confirm that you can play Gears of War cooperatively either on two systems or using a horizontal split-screen, though it's not yet known whether or not two players will be able to participate in online four-on-four games using a single console.
It's difficult to say whether or not Gears of War looks any more polished than it did at E3 earlier this year, largely because it was already looking so good then. The character models and environments held up to even the closest scrutiny today, though, and we're pretty sure that there was more blood spattering onto the screen whenever the much-loved chainsaw bayonet was put to use. We'd also never seen the dismembered limbs of enemies being kicked around on the ground before, which was a nice touch.
Epic Games claims that Gears of War should take most players at least 10 hours to play through on the default difficulty setting, which doesn't seem like such a bad deal given how promising the game's multiplayer content is looking. Expect more information on Gears of War from next week's X06 event in Barcelona, where we'll be meeting with lead designer Cliff Bleszinski and checking out both story mode and multiplayer features.