Wednesday, February 14

Let loose the Cogs of War

Though I may be neck-deep into Virtua Fighter 5 on the PS3 these days, I got a bit of time to take a break from hand-to-hand martial arts combat and get into some relaxingly bloody firefights on my Xbox360. The game on point, Epic Games' gritty and bleak futuristic tactical third-person shooter, Gears of War.
Now, ever since it's release last November, GOW has been carving a name for itself as perhaps the Xbox360's best game- never mind Oblivion or Halo 2 or whatever... this game suddenly spread like wildfire, seemingly overnight becoming Microsoft's BFG in the war with Sony and the PS3. I got into this title late (not really a fan of shooters), but even just a couple of hours in, I can tell why.

Gears of War is set in the future, on a human-colonized planet called Sera. After a devastating war, mankind further gets pushed near total extinction during the event known as "Emergence Day", when a race of subterranean creatures known as The Locust Horde invade the surface. Ranging from brutish humanoid warriors to gigantic insect-like monsters, the Locust all have but one goal- to wipe out humanity from the face of the planet. The player takes the role of Marcus Fenix(who bears a striking resemblance to WWE Superstar Batista), a disgraced former soldier who is drafted back into the fray as the conflict reaches a turning point. With just your old friend Domingo Santiago or 'Dom', and two other members of the crack Delta Squad, you're tasked to save your race through a bloody, action-packed, multi-part campaign. Think Platoon or Full Metal Jacket meets Independence Day/War of the Worlds with a smattering of Starship Troopers and you get GOW.

What separates GOW from being a simple FPS (First-person Shooter) is that it is mainly played in Third Person, switching only to your characters' perspective when firing your weapon. A big part of the gameplay (in fact, integral to it) is the use of team tactics and cover. It is imperative to find cover and snipe at enemies from safe or at least less-dangerous vantage points, and to move into positions to outmaneuver your crafty enemies. Rushing in like Rambo is a no deal- you have to take things smartly, duck-and-shoot, roll-and-shoot, hide and outsmart the Locust as often as you'll face them. This is because for the most part you'll often be outnumbered and even outsized, and even short exposure to open enemy fire will result in death. Luckily, the game's intuitive controls make going from cover-to-cover easy, (everything is done with just one button) and soon after you begin the game you'll be moving like a seasoned vet in no time. Also important, and a minigame in itself, is the simple act of reloading your weapon. Press the reload button at the right time when an onscreen meter flashes and you'll reload extra fast- miss your mark and your weapon will jam for a bit, which just may be the difference between life or death. Ouch.

Visually, the game looks quite amazing- easily the 360's best-looking game, and it even outdos most PS3 games as well. Whether it's on standard TVs or HD TVs, GOW looks smashing, with hyper-detailed character models and environments communicating perfectly a ravaged earth being fought over tooth and nail by human and monster. That translates to sound as well, with guttural bellows and grunts mixing with your characters' cusses and cries, over rapid gunfire and explosions. War may be hell, but it's damn interesting to hear.

There are two images I'll easily remember of GOW right off the bat- seeing your character do a 'roadie run', where the camera takes a behind-and-beneath the character point-of-view as he makes a mad dash for the next bit of cover; it captures perfectly the look and feel of a handheld camera, as if some unseen war correspondent was hobbling behind Fenix as he runs. It's an iconic image that just characterizes this game perfectly.
The other trademark GOW image is that of taking out an enemy (or getting taken out yourself) with a CHAINSAW- GOW's answer to bayonets. It's gory (blood splattering everywhere) and messy but quite satisfying (heh). I'm just a few hours into the game and I have to say I'm impressed. I think I'll be seeing this Game of the Year to the end. I still hold Oblivion to be my favorite 360 game so far, but GOW is right up there with it.

If you get yourself an Xbox360, make sure this one's locked and loaded in the package.

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