Gears of War, the game that started everything! Gears of War was released in 2006 and stood as one of the most compelling reasons to purchase an Xbox 360. Gears of War received rave reviews and has a metacritic score of 94 out of 100. Gears of War won numerous awards in 2006 including IGN's "Best Overall Multiplayer Experience" award, Gamespy's "Best Console Multiplayer" award, and Gamepsot's "Game of the Year" award. Gears of War also sold over 3 millions copies within 10 weeks of release and was the very first Xbox or Xbox 360 game to rank in Japan's top 10 sellers.
To this day the original Gears of War is referred to by many as the best in the Gears of War series and is still played online by many. Now it's 2013, almost 7 years later, and the fourth Gears of War game is just one week away. For many, the free Gears of War code that comes with the purchase of Gears of War Judgment will introduce them to a somewhat new experience and for other's a tasty bite of nostalgia candy. Will taking a ride on this old roller coaster feel too jagged and dated to enjoy or has Gears of War seen enough structure and polish to fair well in the test of time? I intend to answer that question in my Gears of War 2013 Review!
Gears of War's graphics are no longer a spectacle in most cases, but there are a couple levels that still stand as visually appealing. The game's frame rate is often times horrendous and the game sees frequent texture pop in, especially in the cutscenes.
The Campaign's plot takes place 14 years after the Locust first invaded the surface of planet Sera. The game starts off with Marcus Fenix being pardoned from prison. Marcus Fenix is quickly thrown into the Locust vs Human battle and he becomes acquainted to a few new faces, such as the smart mouth brainiac, Baird and the ex superstar athlete, Cole. Throughout the game little info as to who these characters are is given, and as a result it's hard to make any human connection. Throughout the Campaign the main objective is to find intel on the Locust tunnels so that the COG can launch a devastating attack on the Locust Horde. The story doesn't do much in providing an emotional reason to move forward. You don't yet know the motives of the Locust and much of the dialog is brief non informative tough guy small talk.
Throughout the Campaign you will see plenty of action and death. The variety of enemy types is relatively minimal though, the most prominent of which being the wretches a four legged dog type creature that can climb on walls and pummel you with fearsome melee attacks. The most exciting of the enemy encounters are the boss type battles. There are a few battles that were intense and thrilling thanks to the well, yet relatively simplistic level design and scale of the enemies you encounter. Overall the level design is straight forward, nothing too clever to experience, often times it's just a matter of "Hey, flank over there!" kind of deal.
There are a few moments in the Campaign where you have to make your way around a turret called the "Troika" and these can be a bit weird. Sometimes the enemy piloting the Troika will make awkward movements illustrating a sense of confusion. Sometimes even when a clear shot to the Trioka pilot is given, you are still unable to inflict damage.
Awkward movements are seen frequently throughout as the person sized humanoid enemy AI are not only capable of doing things the player can't, but they often times get confused in the process. For the most part the enemy AI is competent, and they usually do what they are supposed to do. A rather large drawback from the Campaign especially if playing on the harder difficulties are the checkpoints...often times you will have to listen to dialog and watch cutscenes over again because the checkpoints are usually placed right before them. having to relisten to the same lines and being tempted to skip cutscenes over and over again becomes a nuisance.
The Campaign does experience some decent pacing, not only are the objectives unique compared to one another, but they can lead to a variety of action. There is an interesting and tense vehicle level, a level in which the main goal is to stay out of the darkness, and even a clunky level where you ride in a mining cart. The Campaign does have you see a variety of locales each of which have a style distinct to Gears of War..the design even to this day creates an interesting atmosphere. Overall the Campaign is easily enjoyable with good pacing, tight gameplay, and a bit of variety..but the Campaign is very short and lacks in story.
Gears of War Campaign is accompanied by a good soundtrack and immersing sound effects. Strangely though, the Lancer and Hammerburst sound the exact same which is odd considering the huge difference in manufacturer.
The weapons all feel forceful and with the gushing blood, popping skulls, and juicy dismemberment killing grubs is as satisfying as ever. The aspect of the gameplay that feels the most outdated is the cover system and movement. While the controls make it easy to pop in and out of cover, the fluidity and immediacy of the movement that we've become accustomed to in the recent years is absent. Hopping over cover for example, sees significant slowdown reminiscent of low gravity landings.
Campaign can be played cooperatively with one buddy and the experience is heightened rather than hindered by this feature. Replacing the companion AI for a live companion feels appropriate as the game seems designed with co-op in mind.
Gears of War also offers competitive multiplayer. There are 4 game modes, Execution, Warzone, Assassination, and Annex.
Execution and Warzone are both 4v4 single elimination game modes in which the objective is simply to kill the other team. The only difference between the two are the rules related to bleeding out. In Execution when downed you must be executed before being killed and if not executed within an given amount of time you may stand back up and continue fighting. Warzone is more straight forward as getting down only provides an opportunity to be revived by a teammate, but you can be shot to death before rescue. Execution and Warzone play out the best as most of the maps seemed to be designed with single elimination game modes in mind.
Annex is another 4 versus 4 game mode with an objective, the objective is to capture the rings and earn enough points to win the match. After each death you are able to respawn. Spawn times are determined by a timer. Dying can be a cruel punishment as the timer makes death feel like a time out.
Assassination is the last game mode and its pits two teams of 4 against each other with each team having a designated leader, I can't comment much on this game mode as I couldn't play the game mode online online due to the game's population.
The competitive multiplayer brings over much of the satisfaction of the Campaign. With all the gore, the fun cover system, and powerful weapons the multplayer can at times be more satisfying than the Campaign. Being able to do what you did in Campaign to real people is a devilish delight.
The biggest drawbacks from the multiplayer experience are the poorly balanced weapons, host settings, a bevvy of glitches, and mostly manual matchmaking. Instead of just searching in the game mode and playlist you want to play, you have to hand pick the host, wait for both the lobby to fill up and for the host to initiate the match. There is the advantage of being able to choose the connection that's best for you and the matches can vary in ruleset which does add some entertainment, but finding a match can become tedious.
Once in a match, connection and weapon balancing irritate the flow of the gameplay. Hosting a match gives you a very different experience as the immediacy of your shots registering with game put the Host at a big advantage. There also isn't any host migration so Host has all of the power in the matches in more than one sense.
The weapon that stands out the most to me and doesn't seem suitable for the game with it's current settings is the Longshot. The Longshot can down an opponent in one shot from virtually any distance on the map given you achieve a perfect active reload, this feels out of place because the weapon serves as a far easier approach than any other weapon. The characters are large, slow, and restricted in movement, hitting one shot is very easy. Getting downed multiple times from the same player using a Longshot can quickly become irritating.
Another large balancing issue is the melee. If successfully meleeing an opponent the opponent goes into a long stun, this stun usually inhibits the opponent long enough to do whatever you want, this leads to a tactic that is often times more effective than actually using the deadly weapons, even the shotgun, which specializes in close quarters combat. The melee even does such a significant chunk of damage that it's powerful enough to down an opponent even if the opponent is simply grazed.
Overall Gears of War's Co-op mode is great fun given you enjoy the style of the game and there is some fun to be had with the competitive multiplayer, the maps are designed well, and the gameplay and weapons are satisfying enough to make just about any mode fun. The lack of matchmaking, host migration, proper weapon balancing, and a bevvy of glitches bring down the quality of the competitive multiplayer quite a bit.
There is no doubt that the first Gears of War had a huge impact both in culture and the gaming industry. Gears of War created such a splash that ripples are still being created toady even beyond just the established franchise. While the game is now relatively simplistic, and much of the game's mechanics and technical design are no longer impressive, the game is still enjoyable to this day. Using Gears o War's big brutish characters to splash your enemies blood and guts over the floor still has a good sense of satisfaction. Even the competitive multiplayer offers something to enjoy because of the core that is Gears of War. With all things being said, Gears of War's age is immediately apparent throughout all aspects of the game, but I'm not sure if Chainsawing, Popping Skulls, and Gibbing with the Gnasher will ever be too old to enjoy. I give Gears of War a 4 out of 10.