After a rather odd mix up in launch dates, I finally got a hold of the highly anticipated Gears of War for the 360. For the last couple of days, I've been working like a madman, late into the
evening early morning trying to get stuff done for various projects and chewing through the list of home made Christmas list items. Last night I took a much deserved break, and spent some time playing this wonderful new game.
My first impression was that this definitely is not a game for children, which shouldn't be surprising because of the large M on the box. Rated for "Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language" it's right on the mark. The first time you sink the chain saw into someone, of ram a frag grenade into their body before it blows, you know that you know that Epic didn't shy away from showing people what War is all about. The game plays out like a doomsday war movie, the dialog is impressive (if loaded with words you don't want your 4 year old picking up), and the flow of the game plays well into the story.
Saying that the content is gruesome is one thing, witnessing it in High Definition is completely another. The graphics for this game are to the level of crazy. This game really shows the community what the 360 can push as far as graphics are concerned. The models are excellently detailed, some of the views are breathtaking in their vastness and attention to design and I've yet to see the engine slow down one little bit in all of the intense game play.
The best part of the game, however, is it's game play. Epic Games (the same bright boys that brought us Unreal Tournament) has brought a whole new element into the shooter genre of games: cover. You can't just run around like a fast twitch idiot anymore, and hope you can shoot someone else down before they shoot you down, now you employ a series of SWAT like maneuvers hopping between broken husks of old stoves, sand bag barricades, doorways, trees and pillars trying to move around an enemy to expose their flank. You have to lay down covering fire for your team mates so that they can attempt to make crossings that leave them out in the open, nothing more than ripe targets for unsuppressed enemies. It is true that you can shoot at exposed parts of an enemy while they are cowering behind something smaller than they are, but while you are trying to line up that elbow or knee in your scope, you are exposed to all of his buddies. It's a different way to play, as you are really hesitant getting out from behind your precious cover, until you know what next piece you are going to use. Epic also did a great job with the save/checkpoint system (unlike Capcom's Dead Rising) and it just fades into the background, and you never need to worry about it. Having your partner teleport to the checkpoint when you reach it, also helps keep the game moving quickly. The balance that is struct with the ammo supply and your ability to regenerate health, also means you can spend more time in the action, than worrying about finding a pack of something.
Perfectly complimentary to the new game play style is the controls. Epic made the mad dashing from cover very easy to control, as well as the aspects of shooting from cover, and coming out of cover to get a more accurate shot. Another nice new feature, is the 'point of interest' button. When you hear someone yelling about a grenade, a fallen team mate, a newly discovered gun turret or emergence hole, you can press a button and the camera snaps towards what they were talking about. The controls become very natural after a very short learning curve.
The reason I was most looking forward to with this game was the Co-operative play. Right out of the box, I was playing in a split screen with Sonja, and the two of us were shooting through the level together. The same thing can be done in full screen over Xbox Live. I joined in as Dom in one of Mark's game, and we could strategize over the voice link, and render locus after locus dead in our path. I haven't tried the Versus mode on Live yet, but from what I hear, it's also a great deal of fun.
As great as the game is, there is still a couple areas I think could be improved. I would have liked to see the split screen Co-op be left-right as opposed to over-under, and the mechanics for getting into and out of a Co-op game are not quite as good as they could have been. For instance, if the second player leaves, I don't see why the first player has to quit as well. If I can jump in at any time, I should be able to jump out at any time.
All things considered, this is a very good game. It is currently my all time favorite, and is quickly generating a big online community. With Emergence Day coming up this weekend, and contests and tournaments scheduled for the future, I can see this quickly becoming one of the most popular games on Xbox Live.