I’m primarily a PC gamer, as most of you that follow this blog know. I just prefer the distance to my monitor, the keyboard and mouse input, the ability to alt tab to web sites, and the ease with which I can take screenshots for this blog. Sadly my inlaws don’t like to give gift cards, so a Steam gift card was out of the question (Imagine the amount of games I could have bought after Christmas with their sales!). Instead I got a few console games, which while it’s not PC, I am not biased and I can and do enjoy many console games. The point to all of this is that I received Gears of War, a game I’ve always wanted to play due to the reviews I had seen of both it and it’s sequel. The following is my take on this now older game.
I’m a little behind.
I went into Gears of War pretty excited for the experience. I loves me some shooters, but I’ve rarely played a third person, cover based shooter especially on a console. The closest I can think of off the top of my head would be Transformers: War for Cybertron. I remember hearing about how amazingly good Gears was supposed to look, and it’s led to many rip offs and a sequel, so it couldn’t be bad.
Sadly I AM coming at this game a little late in it’s life, so the graphics were lackluster. For the time, and for a console, I’m sure the graphics were superb, but by todays standards Gears textures are pretty muddy, especially when you respawn and the game takes almost a minute to retexture the hallway you’re running down. Still, the graphics were acceptable, even if the world was very brown and boring. There were only a few scenes that I thought were really cool looking, such as an underground cavern where I battled a giant spider like thing.
The controls are what really started me grating my teeth though. It may be typical for consoles, and you may get used to it (I have no idea), but if you go into Gears expecting it to control as fluidly and easily as a PC shooter you’re going to get frustrated a lot. Once I learned to treat Marcus Fenix and his cohorts less like a shooter character, and more like a drunken brain damaged whale, I finally felt alright. I imagine the reason for the “shield” effect in both Gears of War and Halo were created specifically because, good as they can make them, console controls are going to be sluggish. It’s incredibly frustrating for a PC gamer to get shot in the back and try to spin around and headshot the enemy, only to have your drunken soldier slowly turn, more like a truck than a human.
There were also some seriously stupid story elements, if you can call what is in Gears of War a story. You play as Marcus Fenix, a man who is broken out of jail by some soldiers and given weapons and armor. You quickly learn that Marcus is some kind of traitor who was imprisoned, and someone mentions something that might mean Marcus was innocent, but that’s about it for backstory for the main character. The overall story is that some kind of creatures have tunneled up from the depths of this planet and humanity destroyed every city themselves so that the enemy wouldn’t have it. The enemy who are entirely at home underground with no “buildings”. The enemy whose greatest weapon, these bat things that insta-kill anything, can only attack in the dark. Good job on destroying all those lights guys.
Speaking of the bat things, Kryll they are called, the idea is that they can kill almost anything easily because of how many of them there are. They don’t like the light though, and sunlight or UV light can destroy them. There are two levels that really revolve around them, and in one you are out after dark, and you must move from light source to light source, even blowing up cars and houses along the way so that the fire creates a new light source. The second is a vehicle section where you need to drive as fast as you can, then when you see Kryll you stop the vehicle and shoot the bats, then drive forward again. So what’s my problem with them? Well aside from humanity destroying most of the light sources on the planet for the enemy, Marcus and his squad have this:
That is a hover robot that can turn invisible. It is always with you, and you use it a few times to cut through stuck doors, and once to download some information, but I can’t help wondering why it doesn’t have HEADLIGHTS! Your biggest enemy is the insta-gib bats in the dark, and your flying, invisible robot doesn’t have a few lights? How about you slap on a spotlight or two and just walk next to it to get to your destination?
Still, shooters are rarely about the story, and Gears of War’s story is interesting enough to keep you playing, even if it didn’t leave me caring about the characters, the setting, or really anything else. The gameplay is your standard console shooter with a slightly slower pace than the Halo series due to the cover based mechanics. The cover mechanic can get a little annoying as you’re often stuck behind cover so you aren’t killed, meanwhile an enemy is running up to the chest high wall you are currently cowering behind. The enemy can then just jump the wall and beat you to death if you aren’t quick enough, which can be fun and frustrating at the same time.
I imagine people who are used to, and good at, console shooters would have a blast with this game. It all just felt like a poorly developed game to me though. From the poor story, bland visuals, terrible character development, and sluggish controls I wouldn’t have picked it to be as popular as it is. Still, I have to remember that I am comparing this game to games that came out years later. The worst part I felt is when the game tries to shoehorn you into a specific series of events. After playing through Fallout New Vegas I was particularly upset when I came to a scene on a train in Gears where I was being chased by a Berserker. Right next to him is a massive gas tank, so I try and throw a grenade on it. The grenade goes off and nothing happens, until I ran away from him for a while, hit a switch that unlatched the train cars behind us, and finally my squad mate tells me that I should try blowing up the gas tank. In more open ended games I could have just done that to begin with.
Overall I had a good time. It only lasted about seven hours for the campaign, which isn’t uncommon for a shooter, but I’ve been spoiled by recent games with greater length. Still, I doubt the fun would have lasted if the game had gone on much longer. I also haven’t done TOO much with the multiplayer, which I hear is a major reason the game was successful. The little I did play was a blast, and chainsaw-ing someone in half is pretty satisfying. Still, in my view all games should be rated based on their single player or solo gameplay alone, and the multiplayer judged separately.
At $20 I’m not sure I would pick the game up unless you know you enjoy console shooters. The multiplayer is older now and there aren’t as many games going on so you shouldn’t pick the game up for it’s muliplayer either. If you can find it for $10 or less, or are just interesting in playing through it before you play through Gears 2 and 3, then go ahead and pick it up. I’d suggest waiting for a Steam sale, but it doesn’t appear the PC version is being sold digitally.