Gears of War: Same old game done right.

Cruising around in my local Blockbuster, I ran to the XBox 360 section and lo! I found an available copy of Gears of War. I’d heard quite a lot about this game and how much fun it is, so I scooped it up and figured it might make an entertaining pastime. After spending a week almost drooling on my controller, I can say with full confidence that Gears of War is a damned good time.
In essence it’s the same old game, with the same old story – aliens invade the earth, there’s different sized aliens of different power, and you and a rag-tag band of futuristic soldiers are tasked with blowing stuff up on a war-ravaged post-apocalyptic earth. You get some pretty neat weapons to blow stuff up with, and they operate with satisfying destructiveness. There are ammo packs indiscriminately (and glowingly) distributed across the battlefield. Same game we’ve played a hundred thousand times and wished for the days of GoldenEye. But with Gears of War there’s so much more.
The controls are incredibly intuitive. You can (easily) take cover and roll between barricades to effectively inch up on your opponents. You can blind fire. You can aim from cover. The combat options really are unbelievably well thought out and implemented, and the controls are so good it quickly becomes second nature to flip around cover, dodge, and shoot.
The graphics are absurdly good. Granted, it’s on the XBox 360, so you’re pretty much guaranteed next-gen above-average graphics, but even by those standards the graphics quality of Gears of War is pretty ridiculous. The overall feel is a little stylized – the soldiers are all hugenormous armored bodies – but realism isn’t really the goal here. There’s big guns involved and we want big things to blow up, so it all works out. Talking about big things, some of the ‘bad guys’ are excellently huge and a lot of fun to blow up. Your ‘standard’ weapon has a chainsaw attached to it like a bayonet. Memories of Doom come flooding back… mmmmm….
Good use and rendering of atmospheric elements (darkness, shadows, fog, smoke, etc) to create ambience and mood. The sets are detailed and very well put together with lots of cover and great tactical options. This is one of the features that I like the best about the game, and that has been very lightly touched upon by other reviews of the game. There’s a great deal of tactical depth in the game, especially considering how simplified the squad commands were made. Your squad-mates hold their own (mostly) in combat and *will* usually take out the enemy, leaving you to pull flanking maneuvers, bunkering attacks, charges, and pretty much anything you might see on, believe it or not, a paintball field. This aspect of the game is *really* felt in the multiplayer (as it would be in any multi-player game), but it’s extremely nice to see it effectively implemented in the single-player game.
All in all, a wonderfully addictive, wonderfully rendered, wonderfully put together game. More than a rental, I would tag this as a ‘buy’, which, because of the ridiculous price of XBox 360 games and the majority of them having relatively low replay value, is high praise from me indeed.

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