Developer: Epic Games
Publishers: Microsoft Game Studios
Plot: After an alien invasion leaves the Planet Sera devastated, the humans and Locust fight over what is left of the planet.
Since the arrival of the Xbox 360, Gears of War has become a staple of the gaming world. It has had its ups and downs, and is in need of a desperate win right about now, but has always been a constant with the multiplayer gaming world. It is interesting to go back to the first game and look at how this series first kicked off.
What always surprises me is the Noir of the first game. While this is the still the action shoot-em-up that newcomers will expect, there is more layers to the story here. Without an expectation to deliver more guns and more monsters, there is a great layer of story to enjoy. The campaign opens up with Marcus Fenix, a disgraced soldier lying in a prison cell. He is extracted when the prison falls to the monstrous Locust (an alien race that came from the ground), and ends up being roped into a suicide mission to get an experimental bomb that only kills the Locust. As we travel across what is left of the fictional planet of Sera, we are struck by the desolation of everything. The humans are corrupted by the fact that it was them that launched the nuclear strike that wiped prominent cities off the Earth and reduced humanity to a few settlements. The government is mistrusted, coming across as a fascist military dictatorship. While the game doesn’t have the multi-layered political statement that the later games adopted, there is still an underlying sense that you are not worthy of a victory. However, to stop you from wallowing in the misery of it all, when you step away from the heart-breaking set-pieces, you get to bounce quips off of your marine unit. The brotherhood between the four leads is terrific and the main thing that makes Gears so enjoyable.
On the other hand, the story is mainly an afterthought. This is an excuse to shoot the hell out of some monsters after all. From the moment, your partner shoves a Lancer (an assault rifle with a chainsaw attached), into your hands, you are thrust into a battle that rarely takes a breather. The combat is always exciting, made tactical by the use of ‘cover’. This seems like a small thing now, but back when the game was first released, taking cover during a gun fight hadn’t really been perfected. Even now, Gears has left my expectations for well-made combat really high. Mass Effect and Grand Theft Auto have all gone down in my estimations, because taking shelter behind cover isn’t properly handled. Gears of War remains the one to beat when it comes to third person shooters. This is before the action got boring as well. The level’s layout is planned exceedingly well, so whenever the gun fights are beginning to tire, the game will throw something a little out of the ordinary to make the same fight seem new and exciting. Your team will be spilt into two, so one of you has to provide covering fire for the other half of the unit. A new enemy will enter the fray. One level introduces the Kryll, bat-like creatures that swarm and eat anything that steps into the darkness, meaning that shadows either become your enemy or a useful way to take out the enemies on the other side of the map.
The first Gears of War sticks in the memory more than the others, because it has moments that will go down in gaming history. Some of the boss fights are incredible. The monstrous Corpser is foreshadowed fantastically, always on the peripherals of the storyline. It shows up the moment you forget about it, so the jump scares and surprises are always hard-hitting. Surprisingly, the game allows you to have the final stand with that creature as the midway point in the game, making the middle act more than a stepping stone to the endgame. But Gears as more tricks up its sleeve to stop it from lagging, once its best monster is out of the picture. Soon after, as in the next fight, the Queen’s personal guard are introduced, requiring you to use some smarts to take them out. And then there is General RAAM, one of the more formidable villains to emerge from the series. The final fight between him on the train (and the entire train sequence before you get to him), is nothing less than exhilarating, as the game throws every last trick it has at you. Fighting him will be the toughest challenge of the whole game. Other moments don’t even require a big boss. The horror and tension of clambering through an abandoned power-plant is impossible to tear your eyes away from. Hiding from the Berserker in the catacombs of a government building will also be one for the gaming history books. My personal favourite moment in the entire Gears series however is when you team up with the Stranded (the name for humans that have abandoned the government to fend for themselves), to take on a whole horde of Locust. It is something the C.O.D series has been trying to perfect for a while, but, despite being moderately scripted, the madness of war is very present in this sequence, making it endless enjoyable when you just have the sudden urge to shoot up some aliens.
Final Verdict: Gaming hasn’t been this good in quite some time, Gears of War knowing that gamers just wanted some hardcore shooting from time to time.