First Look: Gears of War

[Let me throw a caveat right out here at the beginning. I only played till the end of the first act. I stopped not because I didn’t like what I was playing but because I had been convinced that if I were to play more I needed my own copy.]

The thing that stuck me the most about Gears of War was how much it reminded me of Fallout 3. Both have a similar aesthetic – bleak colors and an overly abundant use of depressing grey. They both deal with exploring what is a mostly an empty, ruined landscape. The combat though is what causes Gears of War to stand apart. It has a cover system.

The classification of Gears of War as a tactical shooter is only too true. Trying to play the game as a reincarnation of Rambo is not a good idea. You will die. Quickly. Moving from one cover to another is the key to survival. Simply approach a wall and press a button. You are now using the cover mechanic. Move the joystick one direction or another to see a short depiction of what would happen at the bottom of the screen. Press a button again and you enact that animation. It’s as simple as that. Of course, combat is not exclusively defensive. You got to shoot sometime.

Third-person shooting has been done to death. Attempting to aim from behind an avatar’s shoulder is practically par for the course for most gamers. This is tweaked in Gears of War with the introduction of an up close over-the-shoulder view – basically first-person camera – to use while shooting. At the press of a single button the gameplay changes from third-person hiding to first-person shooting. This simplifies the game down into a quick series of target-shoot that makes the experience easier. Well, somewhat easier, you still have to survive each battle.

I won’t say I didn’t die. I was killed over and over as I learned each battle, each set piece. The game plays most fluidity when you consider each new encounter to be a separate entity. Take time to find out where each enemy will come from. Position yourself in the best cover. Wait for openings. Those are the keys for success. Every battle I entered had a number of set patterns. Waiting for those patterns to emerge and then taking you shot is the best move.

I want to close this out with a few words on the story. Or, more accurately, lack thereof. After playing for several hours, I have very little idea of what exactly is going on and why. I get that I’m supposed to shoot the enemy. I’m OK with that. As for why exactly they are trying to kill me in the first place: I have no idea. These enemies, these Locusts, open holes in the ground. They come out. I shoot them. Sometimes they shoot back. That’s about it. But, then again, what more story do you need?