Almost a month late, HMV did finally deliver my collectors edition Gears of War in its swanky black tin. It has now been hailed as GameSpot’s Game of the Year, a title I for which had thought Oblivion’s vast expanse was a shoo-in. Discussing the game without hyperbole is somewhat problematic because it is the sort of rare gem that demands or even requires it.
The Unreal 3 graphics engine is very, very pretty. But we already knew this. The “destroyed beauty” art style (the game begins several years in the war between humans and the Locust horde) showcases it in a way that often makes you just stare in the game’s quieter moments. Despite the shallowness that first person shooters often display, what makes this a truly standout game is the fact the visuals are almost irrelevant to a discussion of its strengths — they speak for themselves, after all. Rather the slick production of everything from the soundtrack to the cinematic camera angles and presentation to the characters themselves are what boost this product to another level. Well, that and the exquisite composition in the unification of the gun with a chainsaw bayonette. That alone is almost worth the price of admission. The characters are jocks, to be sure, but hulking badasses like this are great fun to play, particularly with the sort of banter that has been a pre-requisite since the Aliens film. The bottom line is that Gears is as close to stepping into sci-fi action movie as I have ever experienced.
The game has two difficulty settings to begin with: Hardcore and the slightly insulting Casual. Insulting, because even seasoned FPS fans may find themselves reverting to Casual on their first play through. Cover is essential in this game as bullets hurt and the dynamic of swiftly diving behind cover and then rolling smoothly between them can take a little while to get down. Now, all I need is a partner to play co-op. Any takers?