As the Gears Turn
Around this time last year Epic Games dropped a bomb on Xbox 360 owners powerful enough to temporarily distract many hardcore gamers from their carnal daydreams about the impending release – 10 months away at that point – of the final installment of an epic first-person shooter trilogy which needn’t be named. On Microsoft’s high-end console, Gears of War was a gaming coup d’etat which crammed an enormous amount of attitude, artillery, and action into an über tactical third-person apocalyptic slugfest.
A year later, PC gamers finally get their chance to taste the grit and gunpowder in a last-ditch struggle to stem the bloody tide of a subterranean assault that’s left human civilization in ruins. In its port to the PC, the game receives a few updates and some killer new content that’s guaranteed to rattle your gut. The extra material alone may not be enough to entice players who’ve already shelled out the dough for the Xbox 360 version, but Gears of War on the PC is absolutely not to be passed-up.
Stunning graphic details, amazingly fresh gameplay, and a grand, sweeping story arc are only bits and pieces of what elevates Gears of War well above other titles of its ilk. The action is so intense and realistic – in a futuristic, impending doom for all humanity kind of way – that barely a single moment goes by where you won’t feel glued to the heart-pounding conflict unfolding on the screen. Whether you’re cautiously sneaking around through old decimated buildings to avoid detection, diving for cover in the midst of chaotic firefights, or frantically trying to reload before being overcome by a charging foe, the thrills rarely subside. The pace is frenetic, and the presentation is virtually flawless. The few occasional moments of calm, where gunfire ceases and subhuman bodies litter the ground, offer a chance to reflect on the desperation of your plight. Even then the eerie quiet is foreboding as you never know when the next ambush will shower you in a hail of bullets.
The game immerses you headlong in the fight to save humanity. If being stuck on the losing side of a violent conflict and facing the possibility of being wiped clean off the face of the planet wasn’t bad enough, the fact your sworn enemy is a legion of snarling inhuman abominations makes the situation even more severe. Though it may not seem so on appearance, just the right flavor of survival horror atmosphere has been sprinkled into this well-oiled war machine. Every chapter of Gears of War is dark, ominous, and very carefully crafted to instill in players a sense of isolation and urgency; you are the very last line of defense against the complete annihilation of your civilization, and you’ll feel the weight of your task pressing down on you every second.
Life on planet Sera changes drastically for its human inhabitants on Emergence Day, a harbinger of the catastrophic times to come. It was on this day a race of powerful and horrific creatures known as the Locust Horde burst forth from beneath the ground, causing death and destruction in their wake as they quickly overwhelmed key cities on the planet. After many people are evacuated to another planet, the humans are forced to destroy their own civilizations rather than let the horde control them. The story in Gears of War picks up fourteen years after Emergence Day as the horde continues their conquest unabated and all able-bodied humans left on Sera are forced to take up arms in a last-ditch effort to survive. Players end up in the unlucky shoes of Marcus Fenix, a former soldier imprisoned for desertion, who’s put in charge of leading the small Delta Squad. Their mission is grim as the rough-and-tumble group sets out to map the horde’s underground tunnel network and deploy a super weapon designed to turn the tables. No ever one said your job was going to be easy.
Fortunately, the precise aiming control afforded by the mouse and keyboard setup makes popping the heads off your enemies far more enjoyable and is in many ways superior to using a controller. The tradeoff is other actions are slightly more cumbersome since running, diving, and grabbing cover are all mapped to the same button. The biggest letdown is the fact the “F” key is used to rev up the chainsaw mounted on your rifle. Slicing enemies in twain with sprays of blood dripping down the camera is always a sinful pleasure, but it’s one you simply won’t be able to enjoy frequently enough since it’s in such an awkward location in relation to the WASD keys. You can, of course, manually adjust other custom controls to your own personal liking, but the default setting makes it hard to switch over fast enough when it really counts.
Tactical strategy and use of terrain cover comes into major play at every step of the way. Well-placed barriers, debris, and other scenery elements must be used to protect your hide. It’s a lot of fun to dive from one barrier to the next, jump over a wall, or pop up from behind cover to send a stream of gunfire flying towards foes. If you’re in a tough spot the ability to stick your gun out from the safety of cover and blind-fire is great. Your squad-mates have your back sometimes, but most of the time they’ll get in your way of your shots or rush head-first into enemy fire only to be taken out.
Through the Game for Windows Live service, players will be able to get their frag on in all of the multi-players levels from the Xbox 360 version in addition to three new maps and a new King of the Hill gameplay mode unique to the PC version. The inclusion of online co-op play is also a nice touch. A built-in game editor will also allow players to craft their own levels for maximum tactical carnage. Multi-player combat is always a good diversion, but if you’ve got a hankering for a lengthier solo campaign then this PC port delivers.
Overall, the best addition to the PC version is the new content worked into the single player campaign over the course of five new chapters located at the start of the game’s final act. While the bulk of the main game is linear, forcing players to move along a fairly rigid path, the new chapters allow for greater flexibility in choosing how you get to where you need to go. The big highlight of this new section is a series of ongoing run-ins with the Brumak found originally at the end of Act 4. Brumak is a giant walking tank-beast of a monstrosity, and the new chapters let you get up-close and personal with the big guy. Needless to say, he doesn’t take kindly to having pip-squeaks with guns all up in his business. The new content culminates in a crazy, action-packed showdown with the brute.
Gears of War is all about breaking apart the status quo, and the port to PC succeeds masterfully in this endeavor just as the Xbox 360 version did. It’s a heavy hitter on every level. If you missed-out on the first go around, definitely pick up the PC version for the extra goodies and – mostly – improved controls. It’s the best Halo alternative around, and if you’re looking for something a bit different, you might even find Gears of War to be ultimately superior.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 5.0 Graphics
Eye candy, only of the dismal post-apocalyptic variety. 4.4 Control
Improved mouse aiming is balanced out by slightly awkward keyboard controls for certain actions. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Super epic soundtrack, great combat and voice effects, and entertaining character dialogue. 5.0 Play Value
A dynamically paced mission with numerous twists and turns. Tactical elements greatly improve the game design. The addition of extra campaign content packs a few great extra hours into an already lengthy and satisfying title. 4.9 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.