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Gear of War PC

Hands-On: Is mouse and keyboard control a wrench in the Gears?

It's the worst kept secret in history; Gears of War is coming to PC, it's looking slightly prettier and it's got Microsoft's controversial Games for Windows Live logo slapped on it. What's new to us though is how Epic's gone about serving its "best damn console game we could make" to the mouse and keyboard world, which hasn't exactly proved to be the best environment for a third-person action game.

Truth be told, it's done a pretty good job; accessibility wise - like most Games for Windows Live games so far - it's all very easy to pick up, with fluid menus and gigantic buttons ensuring that even a short-sighted bridge troll could figure out how to pull up the friends list.

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Menus are splurging with extra detail like fire embers floating up the screen, while massive PC resolutions ensure that the already fantastic-looking models and environments look even sharper on a PC monitor. As always, Epic puts together a fine package, but it's not that simple when you consider that the game was designed from the ground up for consoles...

Director's Cut
The biggest selling point for Gears fans, undoubtedly, is the new single-player content. There are five new campaign chapters in all (and just to clarify; that's chapters, not acts - don't go expecting an extra half of the game), fitting into the beginning of Gear's final act. And yes; we finally get to fight the giant Brumak, which was shamefully cut from the Xbox 360 version.

It kicks off with the Gears foursome speeding off in their APC, after narrowly escaping the aforementioned dinosaur with guns. Unfortunately, they run into a road block. Swearing, much one-liner-spewing and a hunt for switches ensues from there...

Although we don't think the controls have been totally cracked on mouse and keyboard, they managed to keep the same angsty, visceral feel of the Xbox 360 version even without the rumble feedback. Your character feels heavy, successfully portraying the effort it takes to lug his stonking metal armour from one area of cover to the next. Most of this is down to behind-the-scenes tweaking on turning speed and auto-aim (the boring stuff). Marcus feels right in front of a mouse.

The problem, rather expectedly, is with the keyboard. Gears' interface just isn't designed to be accessible on a 101-button device. Scrambling from cover to cover using the game's famous shoot 'n cover system is effortless thanks to the simple, age-old pairing of WASD and mouse, with the space bar used to run and cover.

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The problems started when we discovered that to chainsaw enemies - which is a quick, knee-jerk reaction on the Xbox 360 - we had to hunt out a random keyboard key, which isn't exactly suited to the game's spare of the moment executions. The more we strayed away from vanilla combat, the worse the problem got; switching weapons, picking up ammo, opening doors had us all over the place. Very quickly we abandoned the mouse and keyboard and reached for an Xbox 360 pad to connect to the PC; problem solved.

Impasse, the chapter we played, is a pretty straight-laced opener to Gears PC's new content, but as it's positioned at the tail-end of the campaign we quickly figured out that maybe we're not quite as ready for Hardcore mode as we were a year ago.

The opener sees Marcus and his team being ambushed from two sides by Locust hordes - it's another classic Gears battle where pushing your land position forward is the key to victory. Shortly afterwards our mission moves through Wretch territory and it all goes a bit Resident Evil; critters darting past doorways, smashing through windows and generally being a pain in the nuts. So far, so familiar then; but more Gears is never a bad thing, especially when the original was a bit on the short side.

We'll reserve judgement until we get to fight that massive Brumak. It feels like we've been waiting forever...

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