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Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2006, 15:08 GMT
Gears of War grinds and shines
By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Gears of War
War is hell, judging by his expression

The most insanely-hyped game of the year has finally arrived on the Xbox 360.

With Microsoft feeling the warmth of its competitors' breath on its neck, it needs a big name game to keep consumers loyal and to put doubt into the mind of gamers thinking of investing in a new console.

Gears of Wars is the kind of title designed to appeal to those gamers who feel the size of one's gun is directly connected to the amount of fun one can have.

It's a third-person shooter, exquisitely-designed and with the kinds of graphics prowess that will give new PlayStation 3 owners a deep pang of regret at spending $600 on their new machine.

From the moment the game starts the beauty of the world that has been created is breathtaking. There might be a touch too much grey in the palette but the visual splendour of buildings, domes, towers, interiors and exteriors would not look out of place in a Peter Jackson movie.

You take control of disgraced soldier Marcus Fenix who is released from jail to help the army battle an alien horde that has long since taken control of Earth.

The principal action of the game revolves around mini-battles: finding cover and unleashing your hellish arsenal on the enemy.

The game utilises a cover system, and wherever you find a wall, piece of smashed masonry, pillar or post you can crouch behind it and then fire of your weapons from a first person perspective.

Gears of War
Format: Xbox 360
Graphics: 9.5
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 8
Enduring appeal: 7
Overall: 8.5

The cover system is essential - if you go wading into a battle you will soon find yourself dead. How fortunate then that every space in the game is littered with potential cover.

Although the cover system works as advertised it constrains the game.

Each battle becomes a succession of 3D space invaders: The aliens climb out of an Emergence Hole at some distance, you crouch behind the nearest piece of cover and pick them off one by one until they are dead.

Too much emphasis has been placed on cover resulting in a battle experience that can become quickly stale.

The fights are broken up with a series of essentially shallow mini games. In one section you must blow up a series of conveniently located gas canisters in order to illuminate the darkness and ward off a flying horde - similar to the creatures in movie Pitch Black.

It's a game designed for a generation of boys who have drunk too much fizzy pop and eaten too much fast food and judged on those terms it ticks every box.

  • Blood-thirsty, meaningless violence? - Check
  • Guitar-edged soundtrack? - Check
  • B-movie action heroes? - Check
  • Trite dialogue and narrative? - Check
  • And so on.

    Gears of War
    The world of Gears is beautifully drawn - but very grey

    But Gears of War is still a lot of fun to play because - like the great arcade games of the 1970s and 1980s - it sticks to its core principles and doesn't deviate for a second and there is an exuberance about the game that survives despite the many flaws.

    It's been criticised for being innovation-free but that's a bit unfair. A title like Halo didn't innovate, it simply did everything very well.

    Gears is not in the same class; the visual gloss is magnificent - even on non-high definition TVs - but you soon stop looking when you're constantly engaged in yet another battle of hide and seek.

    There are lots of neat touches - the use of the Y button to draw gamers' attention to cinematic moments of importance works well, while the online co-operative play is a successful evolution of something Doom 3 started on the Xbox.

    Other elements such as the documentary-film camera angle when you run is a lovely moment initially but because you can only really run in a straight line you soon stop doing it once the visual impact has worn away.

    Reviews for the game in the US have been lavish in their praise and I feel almost embarrassed that I don't share their enthusiasm.

    Gears of Wars is a fine game but - because it is indecently short -all the gloss and glamour wears off very quickly.

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