Gears of War Reader Review
Best Epic Game yet
I doubted that Epic actually had it in them to make a game that would be interesting to me after the Unreal games which all lingered on the yawn/good line. I probably enjoyed Jazz Jackrabbit more than the shooters and almost wished they had continued the series but hey, if this is what they can do I say they should dump Unreal Tournament.
The game then, it's a cover based shooting game with you playing the classical anti-hero who's freed from prison and taken out to fight the god fight. A wink of the eye to Kurt Russel in Escape from New York and other movie action heroes.
The basic game play consists of taking cover behind blocks of concrete (or depletable cover, which you have to move from quick) and waiting for the enemies to pop out of their cover to shoot them down. There's a bunch of different enemy types and they are all pretty well designed with specific behaviours that you'll learn to counteract, I had problems with two of them specifically as I didn't think they added much to the game (the exploding monkeys that run up to you and kill you in one blast on the harder difficulty and the swarm of bats that kill you when you are in darkness) but I loved another couple (the Boomers who say boom before they fire their grenades and the 'bow' carrying Theron Guard who light up their explosive arrows before firing).
To keep the game fresh Epic decided to implement various different scenarios, one being the mentioned flocks of bats that attack you in darkness. You'll spend your time walking from cover to cover and shooting exploding canisters. I felt this broke the game as it would consist of harsh immediate deaths if you did anything wrong, which they didn't punish you for later in the game (rolls being stopped so you don't roll to your death being very useful in the last level of the game). They also created a very short sequence where you walk on a floor that can break apart with lots of exploding monkeys underneath waiting for you, on the harder difficulty levels you'll die immediately unless you realize that you need to run to the ladder. Every time you fall you need to run to the ladder. This served only to piss me off.
Epic also featured several boss-fights of varying difficulty and 'fun', the first time you meet a berserker being one of the fun times... the second and third time not so fun any more but the new PC exclusive boss fight with the Brumak being one of the high points. They also implemented a driving sequence with the bats and that only served to annoy as you were forced to switch from driving to gunning while trying to go down the linear route from A to B.
Regarding the level design I found that I enjoyed the intro of the game but I started to get bored with the level design and only enjoyed a few elements when in the caverns. I didn't like all the darkness but as the game changed and you emerged from the darkness the game started to focus on the fun aspects of the game together with some nice visuals and you being able to see your enemies which made me appreciate it a lot more.
Problems, bloody problems
However, even though I really enjoyed the game I encountered a horde of bugs which surprised me. I'd see my team-mates not being able to navigate without me going up to them to give them a push, they'd get stuck in doorways and they'd linger far behind me when I pushed into the next room. The enemy AI would go from cover to cover and mostly behave really well but sometimes they decided to rush me and jump over the cover I was hiding behind (I learned after a couple of times that's when you need to roll backwards very quickly) and sometimes my team-mate AI would jump over that same cover but in the other direction and they would shoot at each other. I also noticed a lot of problems with the entrance of enemies not landing on the ground properly and that started to annoy me. Even two of the 'boss-fights' broke because of the navigation bugs. I had just done the action to finish the last berserker but the game didn't care about that and let it kill me from a spot where it shouldn't have. And on the final boss-fight my friendly team-mate Cole (or was it Dom?) decided to fall to the ground close to the boss, usually not a problem but in this case the boss got stuck on the collision with my team-mate and I was able to sit back in cover and snipe at his head over and over.
But, the most grievous problem might be in the controls of the game. The game was designed with the limited amount of buttons on the 360 Pad and because of that the designers had to put several actions on the same button. Overloading the take cover button with the cover run action which meant that many times Mr Fenix would grab cover when I wanted him to start the cover run. The other problem was a specific PC problem with keyboard 'double-clicks', they implemented a shortcut to roll in the direction you pushed but the game would be overly sensitive and would make me roll over and over again.
Overall I accepted the faults because of the fun of the game. The faults and annoyances were more prolific in the beginning of the game and since the last acts just focused on the stuff that worked well I finished the game having really enjoyed it. I also enjoyed seeing all the design catered to coop play with different paths to take and helping each other out.
8 / 10