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"Gears of War"

12/5/06

From a single-player action-game perspective, "Gears of War" is the best game I have played this year.

Emphasizing reality for the first time in the history of videogames (sure, that's a stretch, but play along for a second), "Gears of War" takes place in a future where aliens have overrun the planet.  As Marcus Fenix, you and a band of three professional soldiers venture off on a mission to eradicate a tunneling system that the aliens--called the Locust--are using to pop up from the earth's core to squeeze humans out of existence.  As a small mission team, Marcus and his partner, Dominic, work with another two-man team to knock out objectives while systematically taking out baddies.

The first and most important thing about "Gears of War" is the intro in the instruction guide for the game; the game's developers classify themselves as gamers who are truly sick of playing games where you can circle-strafe bad guys to death and generally run around making on-the-fly headshots and otherwise defying everything you might think would happen in a real-life shootout.  In "Gears of War", you must master a one-button running and cover system where you use the environment to stay mostly out of sight and out of gunfire's way while flanking opponents to take them out.  As such, if you spend much time standing in the open while firing at bad guys, you will die early and often in this game.

The cover system, all using the A button, takes a little getting used to and even now, having beaten the game, I think it would have been wiser to use a couple of other buttons for running or popping out of cover.  But, you can use almost anything--broken-down cars, walls, doorways, statues, crates, dressers, benches--to move from point to point while blind-firing over objects or popping up slightly to take aim with the left trigger.  Weapons are a mixed bag--the assault rifle with a front-mounted chainsaw really is a spectacle (especially because its melee attack is one of the game's true highlights), but the shotgun, while effective, just isn't as cool as the "Halo" shotgun, although those are big shoes to fill.  Pistols are no good but the Torque Bow, a bow-and-arrow setup that ends with bad guys wearing arrows that blow them up from inside-out, is quite sweet.  Teammate AI is great--you actually do get to watch your partner(s) kill bad guys for you--and enemy AI is just awesome.  Bad guys will pop out and occasionally get you for a headshot; sometimes, they'll forego cover to rush you and use a melee attack to kill you; if there are multiple enemies, it's fun to watch them flank you to get a better position.  And, the end boss is just a fucking monster.

Multiplayer is great; you can either play in 4-on-4 matches on Xbox Live (which, from a size perspective, is perfect given the style of play and the size of the maps) or play through the entire single-player game with one other person.  This might be the game's best mode: taking a buddy online to wax the enemy by truly communicating to work the levels in a way that makes the most sense.  And, the graphics and lighting and shading are the best I've seen on the system.

This is the game that really might keep you warm at night until "Halo 3" comes out next fall.  I'm not kidding!

Rating:  Opening Weekend

 

Feedback?  Comments?  Salma Hayek's digits?  justin@bellviewmovies.com

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  Buy this game right away, and don't ask me any questions as to why that's a good move.  A game experience that will almost guarantee repeated controller abuse, lots of ManScreaming and high resale value, you will assuredly play this bad boy for months on end. 

"$40":  Usually after games have been out for a while, they drop in price slightly, or can be bought for slightly cheaper in combination with other new games.  Usually, that's about $40.  You'll feel good getting the game for this price, since it isn't quite run-out-and-get-it-right-now good, but it has enough game in the box for a few weeks' worth of enjoyment.

"eBay":  This game is not too bad, but you'd be better off buying it used from either half.com or eBay.  You also might let a friend buy this game, let s/he beat it, and then try to buy it from them to make them feel better.  Yes, this does tend to feel like "Sloppy Seconds."

"Rental":  Like my cousin Ron, you should always rent games that you aren't sure about first, to make sure that your $50 is going towards something worthwhile.  For games in this category, this is the maximum amount of money ($5) and/or time (3-5 days) you'll need to either gain satisfaction from the game, or beat the game in its entirety.  Rental-rated games are also sometimes perfect for a weekend when you are going to be at home on your ass, with some time to kill.

"Dogshit":  Games like this should have never been released.  If you play this game for any reason, you will regret every second of the experience.  Further, if you can get this game for free, don't do it, because even for FREE, it will still be a negative experience for you!

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09