Thursday, December 07, 2006

Gears of War (Completed)

I thought it was about time I wrote something.

Gears of War is an excellent action game. The story is deep and interesting. It feels like the story is being told in a TV drama type way with the game having an overall plot, the viewer not knowing the full story/backstory, and several slight subplots happening while you are watching the action. This is opposed to a film where there is really just one two hour story.

GOW does several gameplay things that seem like stokes of genius. Like in most games when I check my objectives I press START the game pauses and then I navigate a menu to view my objectives. In GOW checking my objectives is as simple as pressing the LEFT BUMPER button on the top of the controller. When I do that the screen goes gray and I can see my objectives, but the action keeps going and I can still interact with the game.
The only showstopper to the gameplay is death, which is handled by loads of seamless checkpoints. Walk through a door 'checkpoint', kill all the Locusts in a section 'checkpoint' it all works very well and doesn't pause or slowdown the action (unless you just died of course).

The cover system in GOW is rather interesting, it isn't the first game to use a cover system and many of the cover actions are used the same as they are in many other games, but there are three major things that make the cover system so good in GOW. The first major improvement in is that cover isn't entered and exited by pressing the left thumbstick down or by holding down Y, instead you simply press A. This is interesting because the A button is a primary function button, not something to be used for game actions that are not used often. So obviously the person who designed the controls wanted you to have easy and frequent access to the cover system. Secondly pressing A doesn't just allow you to enter and exit cover when you are standing next to a wall like in other games. Instead at any time when you press A your character will enter and exit cover by either immediately slamming themselves into whatever is infront of them or by holding down A, do a crouch-run forwards and slam into whatever they run to. This makes getting into cover very easy and is preferable to simply running away from the line of fire because using A and the cover system is quicker. Once in cover moving the left stick and pressing A will preform different actions relating to cover, so pressing forwards and A will command your character to leap over whatever cover they are behind and forwards. Pressing left or right and A will either activate a dive from behind cover or an automated move to another piece of cover. This means you can hop from one bit of cover to the next simply by pressing a direction and tapping A. And that brings me to the third thing that makes the cover system so sweet and that is the fact that cover is everywhere. The levels don't just look good, they also play good and work very well with the cover system. The game was obviously designed from the ground up with all this in mind as the game also has blind fire so you can fire at people without lifting your head from cover (sounds odd, but much appreciated during play) and the player health is done in a Call of Duty style where you regain health simply by not being shot and waiting behind cover which obviously encourages you to stake your territory.

Weapon wise GOW has a good spread with grenades, sniper rifle, automatic rifle, pistol, shotgun and such. But just like the RPG Fallout where killing someone will result in a completely over the top killing effect shooting a shotgun at close rang in GOW results in meaty chunks flying everywhere. You can plant a grenade on someones back and then dive away before it explodes. The automatic that is your primary weapon has a chainsaw on it that allows you to activate a death move where your character saws another character in half with blood spurting everywhere and a corpse of two halves that has organs and intestines all showing. When it happens it looks horrendous, but feels so satisfying.

Graphically GOW is the best looking game money can buy, today. There are times when I found myself just walking around looking at stuff, especially later on as the levels become quite stunning.
Soundwise the game is great, the music is excellent and there are sounds in the game that will spark panic. Voice acting is brilliant with the main character Marcus being voiced by John Di Maggio who is known for doing a lot of voices, but most notably Bender from Futurama.

Multiplayer is good if you can stand overly competitive jerks, but they are to be expected since a lot of the game's Achievements are earned online. I haven't tried the cooperative play yet, but from what I have heard it is nothing short of the model all games with cooperative play from now on will be copying as a fiend can join your singleplayer game at any time by taking control of Dom, a character who is with you the whole way through of the game.

On the negative side the main campaign could be said to be a little short on first play through, but I have replayed it a few times and trying to complete each section on harder difficulty is something I see most players wanting to do because of the game's achievements. There are sections that mildly frustrated me because of their level of difficulty, but I am all smiles when I do complete the section because sections are challenging and not purposefully made difficult for the sake of being hard. Difficulty is not auto-balanced and GOW never gets to that point where because you are playing a later level the designer though that the game deserved infinite spawning hordes of bad-guys.

GOW is one of the best action games that I have ever played. It is one of those game that when I tell someone how good it is, I have a big smile on my face.