Let’s face it, right now it's Cliffy B's world and we are just fragging in it. Gears of War is proof of that and if you have any questions about that you probably haven't played the game yet. Since the game premiered at E3 two years ago the hype machine has been slowly ramping up to a near deafening roar. The real question was if the folks at Epic could live up to the hype and deliver on all of the promises made since development began.
The short answer is yes they have.
Gears of War is the best action game out for the Xbox 360 right now bar none. It's got great flow, near constant action, and very little "filler". Gears also features some of the best co-op and multi-player action ever pressed to plastic. The game isn't perfect but the flaws are more academics than game play related, but we'll get to that in a bit.
The game takes place on the Earth like planet of Sera where after years of peace the inhabitants have come to blows over Emulsion, a next generation power source. While the humans on the planet (Serans?) are busy fighting amongst themselves they don't realize that trouble is brewing beneath their feet and are taken completely by surprise when the Locust Horde emerges from underneath their feet and begin to wipe out humanity in droves. The humans band together and form the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) but find that they still can't beat back the Locust horde. Having just seen the Matrix the humans retreat to one small area of the planet where the Locusts can't reach them and then take out the rest of the planet from orbit. Unfortunately this doesn't really solve the problem and the Serans are now looking for another way to wipe out the Locusts and reclaim their planet.
This is of course where you step in. You control Marcus Fenrix (voiced by the same guy who provided the voice for Bender in the Futurama show), a COG soldier who was imprisoned for leaving his unit to defend his familys home during Emergence Day. With the government running out of troops Marcus is "re-enlisted" and it's up to you to chew bubble gum and kick Locust ass and you're all out of bubble gum.
Herein lies the big problem with Gears of War. The folks at Epic have created a solid back story for the game but they don't flesh it out at all during the game. There's no reason given as to why the Locust horde is attacking, there's no background on Marcus Fenrik or his family except that we know his father is a scientist, and there's no interaction with spooky female who narrates some of the cut scenes. I'm assuming she's the Locust Chief but her role in things isn't really fleshed out much (I'm guessing we'll fight her in one of the near certain sequels). Instead the game leads you by the nose through a linear set of missions as you try and to locate and set off a device which will destory all of the Locust tunnels and save the planet.
Half-Life 2 took a similar tact of having your progress through a fairly linear storyline with a loose plot framework but Valve put supplemental plot information into the game, you just had to look for it. All through out the game there were details about the seven hour war and details about how the aliens were suppressing the human reproductive cycle but those details like those are no where to be found in Gears of War. Does it really matter? Well to some it might matter but for me these questions really didn't arise until after I had completed the game as I was too busy finding cover and shutting down emergence holes.
Gears is a shooter with a bit of a twist in that if you try to run and gun through the game you're probably not going to make it through the second level. Instead you have to use the games cover system and work your way through the levels by locating cover and finding ways to flank the enemies. The game gives you plenty of cover and you'll need it as the AI in the game is very good. I played through the game on the casual difficulty level the first time and found that to be somewhat challenging. I'm now on my way back through the game on the hardcore and the jump in difficulty is significant as I'm still having problems getting through the second level of the game.
While you can play through the single player by yourself the best way to do it is with a friend as Gears of War has co-operative play baked in. All it takes to bring in a buddy is starting a game and then pulling up the Xbox Live friends list and then sending an Invite to whoever you want to frag with. While the AI for your teammates is good, it's not nearly as good as what you get with another person. I had a few times when the AI would do something incredibly stupid causing me to have to reload a level. The only downer of the co-op experience is that if someone leaves the game ends and you have to re-start from your last checkpoint. This sounds a lot worse than it is as the checkpoints are fairly well spaced out so you really don't loose much progress if your friend has to leave the game.
While you can pick apart any game there area few nits I had with the single player plot. Besides the Locust you battle another race of bat-like creatures that hate the dark. The characters know about this so you would thing they would have figured out the “let’s attach a light to our guns or maybe even mount one to our battle armor. I mean you’ve got a bow that shoots explosive bolts and you can’t attach a light to a gun or a suit of armor? OK, nit picking over.
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