Gears of War Reader Review
It was so easy for Space Invaders. Innovation, wholesale innovation, in fact, comes easily when you only have about two other games in existence to compete against. Originality today can never match that of the past and in modern shooters it is rare to come across anything that is new and worthwhile - witness Call of Duty 3's failed attempt to introduce extended melee combat.
Gears of War, especially when played on its higher difficulty settings, contains a series of breakthrough adjustments that have taken the shooting genre into the next-gen (and that's ignoring the graphics). Halo did the same thing, e.g. by having a recharging health system, by restricting players to two weapons to force constant tactical decision-making etc. When shooters have been around for as long as they have, it is remarkable when a game can make even small changes to bring about an improved experience. And, in this respect, GoW is the new Halo.
What is so incredible about Gears of War is that the changes are often quite simple, often counter-intuitive (at first), and yet they give the battles an excitement and a sense of panic that will remind you of when you first fell in love with FPS games (yes, Gears of War is not a FPS but it is most definitely a bastard child of the FPS genre).
The obvious change - the cover system. Cliff Bleszinski writes in the introduction to the manual that they were trying to make the game experience more like the feeling of actual combat. The cover system is the primary reason for this. The game positively encourages use of cover as taking fire while in the open results in a quick death. The controls are intuitive and hiding behind and shooting from cover are mastered in seconds. It works so naturally that it will influence the way we play all other shooters.
The jumping. Making jumping a clumsier action was a stroke of genius. At first it feels odd to only be able to jump an obstacle when crouching down behind it and the lack of a straightforward jump button seems a criminal oversight. But then you realise that this was deliberate: it subtly adds to the weight of your character, giving him a physical presence that surpasses even the likes of Halo's MasterChief; it stops stupid jumping around in multiplayer battles; and it reinforces the instinct to crouch down behind cover when firefights kick off.
The running. You cannot fire and run; you run in a bent-over position; it's difficult to change direction when running; you cannot see as much while you are running. In battles you end up running in a state of panic, desperately hoping that you will safely make the next piece of cover.
The reloading. The game will reload your weapon automatically if you let it but if you initiate the reload then a simple timing test means that you can reload faster and even gain an extra boost to your firepower for a few seconds. A traditional chore becomes considerably more interesting.
The last three points - running, reloading, jumping - have been staple elements of a shooter for years but it takes something special to approach all 3 in ways that are both original and successful. Combat in GoW does justice to Cliff Bleszinski's aim: it does feel more like being in a real firefight (relatively speaking, of course) and - great for us - it is great fun too. Yes, the co-op is great, the graphics are astonishing and multiplayer works well too. But these are not where Gears of War's greatness lies. Rather it is in a slightlier clumsier control system that will make you fight like you would in real life, i.e. crouched behind cover, thinking frantically about whether you can flank your opponents or run like crazy to the next obstacle to hide behind.
The end result is a shooter that is certainly more evolutionary than Half-Life 2 and it is a landmark title that is up there with Halo and Goldeneye.
10 / 10