Thursday, 29 March 2012

Gears of War

Despite working on a review since mid-January I can't seem to formulate paragraphs about this one. It's Gears of War, etc. Click the link.

Keeping this short and sweet - Gears of War is a vastly overrated title. A "Microsoft" exclusive, Gears is meant to act as the second point of call in the Xbox army (giving way to Field Marshal Halo of course), though it's a role it perhaps doesn't deserve. As is common when Squirrel reviews games like this, the previous statement by no means suggests Gears is a bad release, but I fail to see where it gets its mandate to send others onto the battlefield.

I'm also a bit ignorant when it comes to the ways of the third-person shooter. The majority of "TPS" games I've encountered have been students of Tomb Raider, or were merely Super Mario 64 with added auto aiming. With dodgy cameras and clunky console controls, third person shooters weren't a common feature across the gaming landscape in the early days, and even today the genre struggles. The expectation is that perhaps Marcus Fenix will be getting into a vehicle at some stage and the game will evolve into a "third person action" game - it won't be easy exciting the youths of today when you can only rely on firearms.

Yet for reasons which baffle the mind, Gears of War was allowed to be an innovator. Rather than take inspiration from Grand Theft Auto III like the rest of the world, Gears of War looked across to its next-door neighbours in the first person shooter household, namely Epic Games' Unreal series. Unreal is a rich man surrounded by fame and money, while it was clear that Gears wanted a bit of the action. And so, Gears of War's interpretation of "third person shooting" copied the mechanics of first person shooting to the letter, panning its camera backwards and calling itself something different.

Yes this is what apparently qualifies as innovation. Because TPS games avoided the PC for many years and FPS games avoided the consoles, there was a delay in the meeting of ideas, and when the two finally came together, Epic Games sneakily managed to get all the credit. In reality the concept is nothing new - for the inquisitive, boot up the 1999 release of Quake III Arena and enter "/cg_thirdperson 1" in the console. Magic.

So if you're doubting whether Gears of War was truly a revolutionary back in 2006 like I am, welcome to the crux of today's post. Waves of extremely high review scores puts this game (and its sequels) on the list of Xbox 360 must-haves, yet I can't for the life of me understand why. It's amazing what money can do.

If you like linear adventures in shades of brown or grey, Gears of War is the game for you. Forget complex level design like you may have experienced in other third person shooters - Gears is very much about running forward, finding cover and shooting people in the face. Occasionally there is a fork in the road, or you'll be sidetracked with something where feet aren't a requirement, but for the most part, this is a pretty bog standard shooter from beginning to end. On one hand, it's silly to expect much more... but nevertheless... I kind-of do - it holds a 94% at Metacritic.

By all means praise its colourful cast of characters - this is an area in which Gears does remarkably well. With the exception of Marcus Fenix (a.k.a. the player's character), your squad and allies are all memorable and fun to listen to. Sure, perhaps the story is a bit generic but it's not something to openly criticise, as most video game stories suck too. The game is well polished and some sections are very well designed... but though I'm happy to say Gears of War is a good game, I can't take the view that it's an excellent one. And as usual, multiplayer doesn't count.

The statistics will back me up on this. The music isn't much to squawk about, and the graphics, though reasonably pretty, are dated by today's standards. It is an above average 2006 release, mainly due to the people it involves, but I'm reluctant to say it's one of the best games for the Xbox 360 console. Consider, for example, the fact I was playing Pinball FX 2 the other day - it's a game I've been repeatedly going back to it since I reviewed it in the middle of last year. Pinball FX 2 has what we call "replay value", and in my mind will always beat this sort of offering from Gears of War.

Nevertheless Gears is a perfectly enjoyable experience and still one to recommend if this sort of thing floats your boat. It's overrated nature likely comes from the fact many of its fans have played little else, not because these people are jaded in their opinions like you might get with Halo. This is probably the best "pure" third person shooter out there, though that might be because there aren't any others worth speaking of.

1 comment:

  1. You should check out Vanquish if you haven't already, it's similar to Gears of War but generally MUCH faster paced and plain more fun.