Special: The House of Sovereigns?
Gears of War has hit. The game has shipped to retailers, many gamers have already had their copies since yesterday and the word thus far is that Gears is truly worth the hype. The high marks keep pouring in (and they're not going to stop with us) and the unanimous consensus is: GoW delivers, big time. Having played the final product for about 6 hours last night I can tell you this journalist is impressed beyond belief. Not only does Gears live up to the hype, it very nearly surpasses it with astonishing graphics, great characters and imaginative, extremely exciting play mechanics.
Ashes ? Act One
After being busted out of jail by Dom Santiago, you take the controls as Marcus Fenix and experience the true meaning of destroyed beauty. Everything about this game screams high quality production values. The environments are simply breathtaking, and once you escape the prison in a King Raven copter you're taken to see Colonel Hoffman and tasked with entering a vast war-zone (that was once a great city) to search for Alpha Squadron, who've gone missing on patrol. Meticulous detail rules the day here and you'll be astonished at the appearance of the character models. Weathered faces, scars, body armor bristling with fine features and amazing looking weapons. Everything in the game is bathed in a glowing brilliance that completely captures your attention, and I would definitely say that arguably, Gears of War is without a doubt the best looking videogame yet, on any platform.
The weapons are fantastic, and while they may be a relatively standard assortment of arms, their design, detail and overall feel are spot-on. Nice touches like actually seeing the weapon that's not in use holstered on Marcus's back. When you switch weapons the character dynamically reaches for the newly selected arm and secures the other. The Snub Pistol is actually a nice piece, and rapidly fires its clip as quickly as you pull the trigger. Its counterpart ? the Magnum ? can stop an elephant, though it has a slower firing rate than the Snub. The workhorse of the Coalition soldier, the Lancer Assault Rifle is incredibly sweet, with a high rate of fire, decent accuracy and of course, the built-in chainsaw bayonet!! The Gnasher Shotgun is amazing, and blows things apart at close range while maintaining pretty devastating results even from a distance. Grenades are very nicely implemented, and the aiming system works extremely well. The LongShot Sniper Rifle blows heads apart like watermelon and finally, The Hammer of Dawn brings an orbital laser down on your enemies with predictably destructive results. Wait until you've taken on your first Berserker, you'll be kissing the Hammer and thanking the heavens for it.
The firefights in Gears of War are absolutely epic, and as you move from one astounding set piece to another you'll be thrilled by the cinematic battle scenes that unfold before your very eyes. There's a decent learning curve, and things may be a bit awkward at first, but once you get the hang of it the true beauty of the cover system starts to reveal itself. It's perfect because it works so naturally and intuitively. Sliding from a roadie run into crouched cover, then SWAT turning across the way to another cover point, then popping up, blasting Locusts (who charge, flank and take excellent cover of their own) and ducking back down while blind-firing is simply breathtaking and your adrenaline will surge during the numerous gunfights. Everything from an intense battle where Marcus and the team are pinned down in a large fountain that graces the middle of a huge square to an insane flanking maneuver to take out a Locust machine gun nest, the excitement of each encounter effortlessly reaches a fever-pitch. I've barely completed a quarter of the campaign, and I've already had more water-cooler moments than 10 other games combined. Gears of War is truly a technical and artistic achievement beyond merit. This is what the next generation is all about.
Is GoW, as J.P. would say ?The future of gaming?? ? the answer is no, because that's just bloated hyperbole. However, Gears of War is an amazing piece of software that really does deliver on all of its lofty promises. It succeeds on every level, and the strong production values combined with the finely-honed gameplay present a combination that's hard to beat. The absolutely untouchable visual package doesn't hurt either. As it is Gears stands tall and proud, and deservedly so. Check back with us Friday for coverage of the co-op and multiplayer modes, and stay tuned for our full review next week.