Gears of War is a third person cover-based shooter which later influenced many other games. The levels in Gears Of War are broken into five acts, with each taking place in different environments. Each of these are split into chapters which transition without any loading.
During the course of the game, barely any story is actually told, leaving shallow characters that you don't feel attached to. The game starts off with Marcus being freed from a prison, which is over-run with Locusts; an alien race which is a threat to humanity. You won't find out the reason he is in prison ...unless you take a look in the manual. Marcus defied orders in order to attempt to save his father. He failed and was sentenced to 40 years in the Jacinto Maximum Security Penitentiary.
You can carry 3 weapons and a limited amount of grenades. You don't have full control on which weapons to swap out though. For example, I wanted to swap my pistol for a sniper, but the game insisted I drop my shotgun, which seems a strange substitution to me. There's the standard set of weapons like a pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, plus some more interesting weapons like the Torque Bow which is like a grenade launcher, and the Hammer of Dawn. This weapon is more of a gimmick and can only be used in certain areas. Once charged, it deals a high amount of damage, and is used on tougher enemies where standard weapons can't harm them.
The best aspect about the weapons is the reload system. You can wait for Marcus to reload normally, or you can attempt the active reload. If you press RB in the sweet-spot, you reload faster and do extra damage with your new clip. Miss the sweet-spot and your gun jams, causing a much slower reload. This adds a bit of skill and makes you think fast in the heat of the battle if it's worth the risk.
The cover system is something you will be utilising a lot. Pressing A will make Marcus crouch and back against a surface. From here you can pull away, or nip between cover. You can pop-out and shoot, or stay in cover and blind fire. Most surfaces are destructible, so hiding behind a pillar too long is a bad idea. Holding A will roadie run; a crouched sprint which has the visual effect of the camera shaking as it follows. Tapping A whilst moving can also dive. The reliance on the A button to control many actions can get frustrating since you may want to snap to cover but instead may take a dive, causing more exposure and leading to your death.
Hiding behind cover allows you to regenerate your health. Your damage is indicated by a cog that appears in the centre of the screen, going from light red to dark to indicate the severity. Death is usually depicted by the player or enemy being gibbed; their body is reduced to chunks in a dramatic but gruesome fate.
You would think team-work would be essential in a game like this. You can give out orders to attack, cease fire, or regroup, but it's barely any control. The majority of the time, my AI controlled team-mates responded in negative comments, stating they cannot do that. The AI are usually active in engaging the enemy, but they do like to run in front of your firing line, or maybe commit a bit too much. If a team-mate is downed, you can go over to revive them which usually means putting yourself in danger. This mechanic seemed fairly inconsistent because sometimes they would just get up without you being near them. Also, if you are hurt, then you die rather than been put in a downed state like your team-mates.
Sometimes, you will have a squad of 3 but you will often split up during the missions, even when it doesn't seem logical to do so. Sometimes when you split up, you do get the choice to take the left or right path, but it probably doesn't make too much difference.
The visual design of your allies are muscular soldiers with bulky grey armour, and the enemies you are fighting are bulky grey humanoids with grey armour. This causes a lot of problems because you will often gun your own team-mates or conversely not shoot an enemy. Occasionally, the enemies like walking up to you then utilising their chainsaw for an instant kill. Since they casually walk over, it's quite easy to glance at them and assume they are on your side. It would have been better design to give your team-mates a more distinctive uniform rather than the dull grey camouflage to blend into the grey environments.
The level design is often misleading, making you run into dead ends. Doors that you are meant to kick down aren't obvious which makes the problem worse. This wouldn't be too bad if your team-mates led the way, but they often stand around and will ignore your orders to regroup.
The slow walk while Marcus is communicating on the radio is quite annoying. I think it should be slightly faster, or be a dedicated cut-scene. The slow walk is used in other situations too, like in the mine where the floor panels give way and you can fall to the tunnel below. But then you have to climb up and do it all again. It's so painstakingly tedious.
In Act 2, you are introduced to the Kryll which are a crow-like species. When you first meet them, they can kill you even before the game explains that they hate the light, leaving you bewildered to what has happened. A lot of areas are debatable if they should be safe or not; leading to cheap deaths. Plus, Dom isn't smart enough to avoid the dark. The Kryll deal instant death, rather than a knock-down, so Dom's death will mean you have to restart the check-point.
It seems like there's at least one frustrating part in each chapter due to misleading aspects or a spike in difficulty. Whenever there is a change in game-play mechanics like with the Kryll, or the Berserker that are immune to conventional weapons; the AI doesn't seem to understand too well. It's no surprise that the final boss becomes a nuisance; he uses Kryll as a form of attack and defence! As usual, Dom constantly suicides, and you may experience the boss becoming stuck on objects or not even attempting to attack.
Overall, Gears of War is not user friendly, the AI let's you down and causes frustration in several places. The graphics are good albeit very dull. It's meant to be an epic series, but lacks in story too. The core mechanics mean it is a decent cover based shooter but it definitely isn't deserving of the high praise it did receive.