When I sat down to write this review, I began to think about the last year since Gears came out for the 360. It was a roller coaster ride for those who didn't have 360s but wanted to play Gears, and with Epic being a predominantly PC angled company, very difficult to swallow. I was one of the many or few who was sucked in by the Microsoft hype machine last year. Even though I didn't have a 360, I was incredibly hyped up about the game. However, due to my circumstances, I pretty much never played the game at all. It was in this state of mind that the announcement of Gears for PC came to us, and my excitement level grew once again.

It is important to realize in reading this review that I had not played more than 5 minutes of Gears since it was released on the 360 before playing it on the PC. As such, I do not have a complete grasp on the complexities and comparisons between the two different versions of the game, except based on screenshots and my very limited play time. It is also important to realize that I played the game on the easiest difficulty in order to get through it in a reasonable amount of time so as to understand that my experiences with the game will not be identical to someone's who had played through on a harder difficulty.

Scorched Earth

Gears starts out in a mostly destroyed prison with strange looking creatures vomiting on you as someone busts in your door. It is your old friend Dom, freeing you, or, as it turns out, rescuing you. You play as Marcus Fenix, a jaded Gear (apparently a military unit of the COG) that was incarcerated for some unknown reason supposedly related to treason. Upon escaping the prison, you learn that the Locusts have spread hither and yon and you have to do something about it. Central command has developed a resonator unit that you need to retrieve and plant in the Imulsion Mines to help map out the Locust tunnels so the Lightmass Bomb can be dropped on the Horde. Like it or not, you have no choice but to go along with it.

Along the way you run into a few frightening looking creatures. The Corpser is a huge spider-like monster that attacks you at one point and looks quite scary, but he ends up being of little threat to your progression and is reasonably easy to defeat. In the PC version, you'll run into the enormous Brumak, and find, once again, that he is relatively easy to defeat. The most difficult enemy that you will run into only twice in the game is the Berserker. He cannot see but he can smell and hear very well. Once he gets a trace on you he will charge you like there is no tomorrow, and you better get out of his way if you don't want to turn into a splatter of blood and giblets.

A Literal Horde

Have you ever seen a swarm of bees? Not much variety there, huh? Well, we have a similar scenario here. The Locust are literally a horde of enemies. There is not much variety, but they come in swarms. Locusts attack from what is called "Emergence Holes". These are holes that are opened up by the locusts for them to climb out of. A well placed grenade will seal up the hole and prevent any more Locusts from climbing out, but, since you can only hold 4 grenades at any one time, it is best to be careful when making an attempt. Epic did a good job of introducing variety, though, as later on in the game you meet bigger and meaner enemies such as the Boomers and the Theron Guard who each fire exploding projectiles at you. They also have an enemy called Nemecysts who attack by flying up in the sky then charging you and exploding into a mass of poisonous gas.

The most annoying enemy by far is the Kryll. These bat-like creatures seem to come straight from the pages of "Pitch Black". They avoid the light and swarm in the dark, and they will pretty much constantly annoy and destroy you throughout Act 2 of the game. They are avoided by causing often difficult to immediately see propane tanks to explode throughout the game, but more than once I found my idiot partner in crime, Dom, hiding in cover that was just slightly out of the light and getting himself eaten which caused me to lose the game. Several times you will also run up against Locusts manning Troikas, which are mounted turrets. These enemies are easily dispatched with grenades or, if you can get around them, the chainsaw as they rarely ever move when being approached from the back.

A Shower of Gibs

You'll start out the game playing with the Locust rifle, which is a three shot burst fire rifle. You won't enjoy it much, but before too long you will find the Gear weapon of choice, the Lancer. The Lancer has an attached Chainsaw bayonet, which will likely provide you with hours of entertainment, chopping Locusts into pieces any time you outsmart them. It is also an automatic rifle, meaning you can fire out your whole clip in one trail if you'd like. This is the gun you'll likely want to keep with you throughout the entire game.

Other weapons you will come across are the Locust pistol (which can pretty much kill any Locust in one shot), the Shotgun (which can make short work of anything) and the Sniper Rifle. The Sniper Rifle became another weapon I liked to keep around. Three headshots from a zoomed sniper easily took down a big Boomer. You will also run across the Locust Rocket Launcher and the Crossbow. The Crossbow is one of the more interesting weapons in the game as you have to hold the trigger to charge it before firing. Once you fire it, it will attach to your target and detonate. Typically, this means immediate bodily dismemberment in most enemies. You also get a set of grenades. The grenades have a fair bit of range, and you can either free-throw them by hitting the fire button, or you can aim them by alt-firing. The aiming brings up a drawn path on your screen that lets you see where the grenade will go. Easy cheesy!

Push that button!

The controls are very easy to grasp, a short tutorial at the beginning of the game shows you how to use most of the basic functions. Honestly, throughout the game, I never felt much like I was playing a game that was designed for a controller. The lack of jumping was strange at first, but after I got used to the control scheme I was able to pull off some pretty good moves. It also becomes pretty necessary by the time you reach the Brumak to have at least roadie running and cover figured out fairly well as you won't have time to make any mistakes.

The sound was also great as well. The game has a very fitting theme in terms of music, and it slows down and ramps up in pace with the action that is going on around you. You also very rarely find yourself out of the action due to the streaming technology, which helps keep the pace of the game up. You always feel like you are immersed in the story, which is an important part of storytelling. There is also a sizeable amounht of story that is left out and the final cutscene of the game will leave you wondering where the story is headed and possibly slightly confused at what just happened.

Let me count the ways!

The game also comes with a slew of cutscenes for your enjoyment. You will run into a cutscene at least a couple times every chapter. The cutscenes look really nice, however you may notice some hitching as the next level is loaded in the background. The characters move very fluidly and the faces look fairly lifelike. The single-player portion of the game is highly enjoyable, by the time you get to the end of the game you will have gotten used to the controls and movement and will find yourself really enjoying the experience the game provides.

After you finish the game, you're going to want to try the multiplayer. Before I get into the multiplayer, though, I just have to say that on fun factor alone, the multiplayer gets a 10 from me. However, there are other issues that ruin it for me.

First, you have to sign up for Game for Windows Live in order to play the game at all. Otherwise you are unable to get achievements. If you want some of the handier features of online play, you have to subscribe to Games for Windows Live Gold, a $60 a year charge that will probably not seem worthwhile to the majority of PC gamers. Notwithstanding that, you can still use the basic functionality to play co-op and the other gametypes. Still, the Silver level membership leaves a lot to be desired. Take for example the following scenario.

hal and I want to play a co-op game, so we both get into the game and sign into Live. After doing so we start a Private Chat so we can voice message one another. Due to the limitations of the Silver membership, I have to have hal enter the List Play server browser for co-op and start mashing the F2 (refresh) button. I then Host a Co-op Game and it begins to load. While I am on the loading screen, hal happens to be lucky enough to see my game, and joins it. We begin playing and hal crashes out. I continue playing until the game realizes he is gone, at which point I am booted from the game. Back at the main menu I just immediately host the game again and get to the Loading screen. No one is watching for my game, and thus a few minutes later, I am dumped into the campaign without another player as if I hadn't been trying to play co-op at all.

If you ask me, this is terribly unintuitive. Even at the Silver level it should not be a chore to start a network game. This also brings up another point that bears mentioning. Every server in the server list is a Listen server. This means it is generally hosted by Little Johnny on his home connection. While I never had any major issues with lag, I know this can and will cause problems for the online community of Gears.

Aside from these problems, the multiplayer is incredibly fun. Playing a bit of some random gametype (Annex I believe), I was able to get a bunch of kills and curbstomps. Curbstomping has become somewhat of a phenomenon online, and it is easy to see why. Who doesn't want to knock their opponent over and smash their head? All in all, I can see why Gears multiplayer is so popular on the 360 and, with only a few tweaks, I believe it could become very popular on the PC as well.

Signing Off

The Gears Campaign is a blast. I loved it from beginning to end. It's got superb levels of voice acting, cutscene quality, chapter length, attention grabbing mechanics, et al. There were a few minor annoyances here and there, mostly technical problems which came down to my video card driver. Other people have complained of crashing, I never experienced any crashes except relating to X-Fire In Game (which seems to break everything these days). Additionally, while the multiplayer is marred by some technical flaws, I still found it incredibly fun and continue to play it from time to time.

Gears is definitely a game you'll want to try, especially if you haven't gotten around to playing it on the 360 yet. You will appreciate the time and effort that went into the game, the design and quality are all superbly executed in every fashion, and, while the game doesn't bring anything drastically brand new to the table, you will find that Epic was able to bring variety and originality to a genre that has been desperately needing it.

Graphics 9.5/10
Gameplay 10/10
Story 10/10
Sound 9.7/10
Multiplayer 8.5/10

Total score 9.5/10 or 95%

Second Opinion

By: hal
Having never played the Xbox 360 version of Gears, I have no basis on which to recommend the PC version to a current owner of the original. I can, however, say that Gears of War qualifies as a must-purchase if you don’t already own the game and the idea of a semi-third-person shooter appeals to you at all. As a certified first-person junkie I found myself disliking the viewpoint Gears offers for probably the first fifth of the game. Progressing, I grew much more comfortable with the mechanics and began to appreciate the reasoning behind that decision (plus you always get to see how cool you look). The duck and shoot game play would be much less effective in first-person and that, in a nutshell, is mostly what the game is about. Quick button combinations will have you rolling and dashing like an action movie veteran in no time and, as a long-time Unreal series devotee, I really appreciated the implementation of double-tapping movement keys to perform many of them. Reloading your weapon requires precise timing. Doing it correctly will yield a quicker reload time and a damage bonus, but if you flub it up, you’ll find yourself praying for a reload before you’re totally overwhelmed by locusts. It’s a nice minigame that adds some risk/reward depth to the experience.

Gears of War is a pretty linear game. Though you are occasionally given alternate pathways to take, you’ll ultimately end up in the same location and nothing you can do during the game affects the unfolding of the storyline. The alternate routes do give the game a bit of replayability, as they offer a chance to take a different role in fixed scenarios. Pick one pathway and you may end up playing the role of the marine grunt, battling up close against unbelievable odds, while the other pathway may offer you the chance to dole out suppressing fire from high ground. These kinds of choices really shine in co-op play which is the method of choice in which to experience this game. Teaming up with a buddy online will give you a chance to try out strategies that just aren’t possible with your AI squad mates. Not to say that your computer controlled allies are hapless by any means… I found them to be much better than in most games that have tried this approach. In fact, they can’t die in most chapters, so you can either plow ahead or hang back and let them do some of the rushing for you. The enemy AI is mostly decent too as they’ll attempt to rush you if they have the numbers, flank you if the terrain is favorable, or toss a grenade into your hidey-hole if you get too comfy in one spot. There are occasional gaffes, but for the most part they remain solid.

The online experience is going to largely depend on its adoption rate. Gears ships with a whopping 19 unique multiplayer maps and five variations of deathmatch, which is pretty impressive considering the singleplayer campaign clocks in around 12 hours and has loads of replayability in co-op. For those that like to hunt for secrets, over 30 cogtags (similar to dog-tags of fallen soldiers) have been hidden about the game and you’ll have to do a thorough search to find them all.

It’s actually pretty amazing that the title is a year old already, because it still looks as stunning as most of the top PC titles being released today. The art direction overall is just outstanding and the character animation is superb.

It’s true that the storyline in Gears is not going to win a Pulitzer Prize, but it doesn’t really need to. It’s unapologetically macho in its delivery and serves well enough to move you from place to place. Just be aware that you aren’t going to be moved to tears or come away with a life-altering epiphany if that sort of thing is important to you in your games.

I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention the slight stutters during level loading which seems to affect some more than others. To me (AMD 64 x2 4200, 2 GB RAM, 7800 GT, Win XP SP2) it was noticeable, but didn’t detract from the experience overall. Also in the negative column is the limited matchmaking – that is unless you subscribe to Xbox LIVE Gold, which I don’t. You can find a few players online simply enough otherwise, but you can’t escape the feeling that you’re missing part of the game if you’re a lowly free Silver subscriber. Be aware also, that as of this time, there is no dedicated server and I am not aware of any plans for one. Despite all that, there’s a tremendous amount of fun stuff here and it’s all beautifully done. If the gameplay I described sounds like your thing, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy it.

Graphics 9.5/10
Gameplay 9/10
Story 7/10
Sound 9/10
Multiplayer 8.5/10
Replayability 9/10

Total score 8.7/10 or 87%

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