20 Reviews

Gears of War

Review: 360's biggest release to date

Let's get straight to business then. Gears of War is - unless you have particularly wild expectations - everything we expected it to be. It's without a doubt the biggest and most important Xbox 360 release so far and, as it turns out, while not quite perfect it's arguably the most quality title you'll find on Microsoft's box as well.

In case you've been living in a (emergence) hole, events find you in the futuristic boots of Marcus Fenix, a disgraced war hero seeking redemption as he leads a fire team in the raging war against the Locust Horde - a race of pasty subterranean nasties who literally crawled out of the ground to destroy mankind.

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The game follows Marcus's various objectives to hit back at the Locust army, who as you'll see have battered the once-gorgeous Gears world quite severely (cue Tears for Fears).

But as Epic has spent a year hammering home, Gears isn't just your basic tactical shooter. The company calls it a 'cover shooter' - a new genre, and really it's not far off the mark. Never before have we spent literally minutes popping up and down from behind a concrete slab, firing off pot-shots at an enemy who, essentially, can be dispatched in two pulls of a trigger.

Especially in higher difficulty levels, it's a case of 'run out of cover and die'. Although your health recovers over time you can be killed in only a few shots, and the enemy AI - unlike in your typical shooter - knows how to take cover properly, which can wind you up in a lengthy 'pop-up and shoot' gunfight waiting for someone to slip up and expose their melon.

And it's arguably the most intuitive cover system in a shooter. A simple tap of the A button slams Marcus against the nearest wall, wardrobe or slab of stone, and the same button also acts as your sprint action, so dashing from cover to cover is a simple task indeed.

When in cover, on-screen diagrams help display possible commands for diving between objects - holding UP along with the A button for example will send Marcus over the top of a small barricade, or dashing towards whatever alternate objects may be ahead.

Similarly, SWAT turns can be executed between short gaps with simple use of the analogue stick and A button, and you can of course peak around corners Solid Snake-style to get a look at the bad guys. Overall, it's easy to get to grips with, yet an incredibly effective system that's simply a joy to use.

Shooting controls are again relatively simple. The right trigger fires your weapon and the left peaks over Marcus's shoulder for an aiming view. When in cover, the left trigger again pops you out of cover for some over-shoulder aiming, while the right trigger by itself sticks just your weapon out of cover, for some less accurate 'blind firing' that's useful for scaring off brave Locust - or when you simply cant risk exposing yourself to fire.

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This kind of high-risk gunplay makes the employment of covering fire and flanking tactics essential, especially in the latter stages of the game when having enemies' full attention means you could have an explosive arrow winging towards your face the second you pop out of cover.

An early stage of the game introduces this nicely, when a stationary turret and handful of Locust block your path. You could simply try your luck with a bit of sharp-shooting at the gunner's head, but it's far easier to have your squadies distract the gun from the front, whilst you flank it around the side and treat the unfortunate gunman to a bit of chainsaw tango - which, by the way, is disgustingly violent and never gets old.

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