Contains: Strong Bloody Violence and Threat
Gears of War is a tactical-based, military sci-fi third-person shooter that focuses on the troops of Delta Squad as they fight a desperate, last ditch attempt to save the remaining human inhabitants of the fictional planet Sera from a relentless and virtually unstoppable subterranean enemy known as the Locust Horde.
The planet lies in ruin - cities crumbling, man's greatest works fallen. Humanity is cornered, nowhere to run. The Locust Horde has risen, and they won't stop coming. They won't stop killing. The coalition is desperate for soldiers, and the sick, the wounded, and the imprisoned are all what remain. An inmate named Marcus Fenix, who was charged with dereliction of duty and sentenced to 40 years in a maximum security penitentiary, is now charged with keeping humanity alive. And he can take comfort in 2 facts: The human race isn't extinct (yet), and he won't be alone in this nightmare from below that demands heroes to come from within.
The story is good entertainment to go along with, and the protagonist and squad that accompany him and his hard-fought efforts are good value for what the story doesn't quite achieve. It could have done with fleshing out, since the game begins with nothing to explain what has happened, or why. Aside from a small section detailing the protagonist, his imprisonment, and the premise of the story in the manual, little is told in cutscenes to give you understanding to the events nightmarishly unfolding briskly and catastrophically around you.
Marcus Fenix is far from being a handsome protagonist, but his weapon of choice to wield against the Locust hordes can certainly be classed as sexy in the barbaric sense. The Lancer assault rifle is the standard issue, frontline weapon for you and your equally bulky-built comrades, and has an integrated, carbide-tipped, variable-torque Chainsaw Bayonet (yes, you read correctly - a chainsaw!). And with it, within melee distance, you can activate this barbaric attachment and dish out a high-RPM death. You won't get many opportunities to use this as enemies are adamant at not letting you get close, but the rare time a chance arises to unleash its power is a moment you won't forget as it cuts down enemies with inaccurate, grisly pleasure, splitting them apart in a grotesque display of blood and guts that splatters the screen and smothers the floor. Using this unique bayonet is just as satisfying as filling Locust with the bullets in the Lancer's large chamber. Enemies are tough, and a lot of blood will pour off them before they finally lie still in their own pool, and it will take accuracy and patience before you can proceed forward on your objective. But the gunplay is extremely gratifying, and the shooting mechanics feel just right, giving each of your arsenal of sci-fi equipment and weapons a touch of raw power to match its weighty appearance. At the core of this military shooter though, is cover-based tactics rather than run-and-gun affairs. You'll be taking cover frequently, and for long periods of time, but none of these stationary acts are wasted because of the realistic impact that conveys each animation of taking sudden refuge behind a wall or a fallen concrete column. Bullets ricochet close to your head, with chunks flying off that mentally make you contemplate if this wooden structure or weakly reinforced concrete block is safe for the duration of your stay there, and sometimes blind fire is the best way to ensure you'll live to fight another day. Enemies are aggressive, and even try flanking manoeuvres at times in the hopes to expose you from your temporary hiding spot, and each time you poke your head out you'll be tempted to pull it back in immediately for fear you won't get it back so cleanly. The controls perform well, giving you precise control over how you want to act whilst avoiding incoming fire from your alien assailants behind some form of improvised cover or environmental travesty, and the contextual manoeuvre or action indicator that appears on screen when you attempt to change position or stance is a benefit to appreciate as each procedure you stick with could be your last. When you do reveal your physique from cover, you'll want to make every shot you fire count, and the hit detection is great, emphasising the fun shooting mechanics to a degree higher than you first perceived them.
A cool facet to the gameplay is the simple act of reloading weapons. By default, you reload the gun at a natural speed, but there's a bar under the weapon, and careful timing can prove rewarding. As you hit reload, a line sweeps along the metre, and if you hit it in the grey zone, your gun will reload quicker; if you nail it in the small white area then part of that clip of ammunition will have a slight increase in damage for a limited time, but if you mistime when you press and get the line in the large black zone that comprises most of the bar, then your gun will jam and take longer to reload than if you didn't consider pressing reload again in the first place. It's a neat risk-vs.-reward feature that doesn't take long to pull off perfect reloads time and time again, but in the heat of combat and becoming overwhelmed and outnumbered from cover, the tension can run unbearably high and cause you to screw up under pressure.
An important aspect to note throughout shooting is that you aren't alone. Your team-mates handle themselves really well most of the time: They take up plausible cover positions, don't need reviving too often, and even get their fair of kills if they beat you to finishing targets off. They aren't a liability, and so even if they do hit the deck from taking too much damage, you don't have to rush in risking your own life, but instead finish off the remaining enemies and then see your downed ally automatically get back on his feet once the fight has ended and a checkpoint reached. The 'take cover and return fire' tone that resonates within the core gameplay is excellent to establish a sense of war within tactically-encouraged levels, and although the squad commands are largely useless, the tension is dramatically amped up when set pieces change up for some interesting battles. A night-time scenario reveals a form of Locust that are summoned by the moon and the retreat of the sun, and if caught out of the artificial light sources that are scattered well throughout this exciting level, then you'll be swarmed almost instantly and will suffer a quick but ferocious death. The idea is to keep in the light and away from the shadows, and some cleverly executed sequences create quantities of tension that run high in the midst of battle against ordinary soldier-like Locust, where you have to keep the darkness at bay at all costs or suffer a gory fate while tactically being on your toes to keep to cover and fight just like in previous scenarios during the day. Levels like these are tightly fused with regular gameplay, intermittently creeping in seamlessly without interrupting the pace.
For the time of release, there is no doubt Gears of War reset the bar for what consoles can produce visually, and even now the graphics stand the test of time and are still impressive. The cutscenes don't quite run smoothly and showcase a framerate that stutters on occasions, but this is a nitpicky negative point to pluck out of a game released nearly 5 years ago. Environments are varied and are the primary execution point for the portions of action that intensify admirably, and the detail is adequate enough to provide some unsettling gruesome imagery and unnerving scenes that involve some of the more feral Locust enemies that rely on tearing apart you and your squad up close as opposed to placing as much distance between you as possible to ensure no harm come to them.
If you didn't realise already, Gears of War is a very bloody game, and the blood splattering sound effects that are introduced when grenades explode enemies entirely, or shotgun blasts force Locusts into multiple pieces are gratifying audio inventions that mould your believability in much the same way you become convinced by the militarised cover-based elements of gameplay. Even a relatively unused asset to your arsenal that is basically a revolver packs a meaty punch and provides fountains of blood in similar lashings of visceral entertainment that the gory gameplay guarantees. But above the blood spurting noises, is the evident soundtrack that reflects the strength in many areas throughout the game, and what you will hear is some amazing music that captures the right mood within the atmosphere created and dramatises action segments brilliantly to ensure your mind can't escape the hostile, apocalyptic universe of Gears of War.
There are 5 acts which will take you approximately 7 hours to complete, and while the ending is more frustrating than you'd hope thanks to a very difficult boss that is overly demanding in single player mode, and a couple of awkward moments occur because of the health system and grenade tossing, these noticeable flaws are mostly trivial in a game that raised the bar for cover-based shooting and technically advanced graphics. The solid action is mixed up with some classic segments of gameplay that thrive off the sci-fi setting where possibilities to draw upon are endless, and having a few team-mates that are capable of looking after themselves as you battle many mean-looking Locusts is a great way of enforcing the tactical style of gunplay. The strong audio and killer sound effects complete the backbone of this great third-person shooter, and despite some frustrations, Gears of War proved an outstanding technical achievement for the time and will leave you with high expectations in the following sequels that will undoubtedly improve on the bases of this exciting game.
Story - 3/5
Characters - 3/5
Gameplay - 4/5
Graphics - 4/5
Sound - 5/5
Controls - 4/5
Atmosphere - 3/5
Enemy AI - 3/5
Length - 2/5
Replay Value - 3/5
OVERALL SUMMARY - 8.5/10
Good Points: Solid cover-based shooting action, Standard assault rifle has a chainsaw bayonet, Squad mates are intelligent and worth having by your side, Impressive graphics for the time, Exciting soundtrack, Satisfying blood splattering sound effects, Good variety of environments open up some tense and creative set pieces, Mean-looking enemies that put up a tough fight.
Bad Points: Grenades aren't easy to aim and leave you vulnerable, Frustrating last boss fight, Pointless squad commands.