By Microsoft , Epic Games Released: 9 Nov 07
Also on: Xbox 360
When Gears of War came out as an Xbox 360 exclusive, it blew me away. The graphics were mind blowing, the combat did an amazing job of making you feel like you were bogged down in an intense firefight, and the chainsaw... well, let's just say, the first time I split a locust in half with it, I nearly soiled myself.
Xbox 360 owners rejoiced, as did developer Epic and publisher Microsoft - the game has been a phenomenal success. But there were always a few niggles. The story wasn't told with anything remotely resembling cohesion and events seemed to happen without explanation. The background to the war with the Locust was left unexplained, we never found out about Marcus Fenix's father, nor any detail on his trial, and there were perplexing bits in the game where you'd finish one level then be thrust into a completely new area without anyone in the game batting an eye-lid. Perhaps the most glaring example of this was the plot hole that occurred between Delta Squad escaping the monstrous Brumak - an enemy every Gears player wanted to fight but couldn't - and the final section of the game which sees you on a train carrying the Lightmass bomb speeding towards a gaping chasm in the earth. We did what we were told of course, without really letting the confusion bother us, since Gears of War was such a roller coaster of a ride. Now, a year after the game came out on 360, the PC version has arrived, and it does a good job of filling in some of those gaps while retaining the core gameplay that made the game great in the first place.
None of that makes any sense to you? Let's back up a bit. Gears of War is a squad-based third-person shooter which sees you assume the role of super soldier Marcus Fenix, imprisoned after being found guilty of treason. Set on the earth-like world of Sera, Gears takes place some 14 years after Emergence Day, the day the Locust Horde emerged from the bowels of the earth and started chewing everything up. The game begins with Marcus' friend Dominic (himself a super soldier and playable in co-op mode via LAN or online) busting him out of prison and bringing him back into the thick of the action. Gears is famous for its brutal depiction of war - because of the way the camera is positioned the game looks like Saving Private Ryan on steroids. The combat is all about getting into cover, flanking the enemy and dispatching them in increasingly gruesome fashion, including sawing them in half with the chainsaw and curb stomping downed enemies with the heel of your size 20 boots. Essentially, it's intense skirmish, cut scene, intense skirmish, cut scene.
The game proved a massive success on Xbox LIVE, and held the top spot until Halo 3 came out in September. Through a number of game modes you played as one of either Delta squad or a squad of four locust in eight-player matches. A year after the game came out, I still regularly return to the game online, it's so much fun. Amazing to think that Epic had considered [/xurl=/pc/gears_of_war/news-6771.html]dropping[/xurl] the multiplayer portion of the game. Quite simply, Gears of War is so good, we gave it a 10.
So on to the PC version. What's new? The game includes five new single-player chapters (replacing the old Act Five) which culminate in a boss battle with the Brumak - "four storeys of teeth and guns" as Cliffy B describes it. The new chapters take place towards the end of the game, right after you flee the Brumak and just before the final train mission. There are also three new multiplayer maps, Courtyard, Sanctuary and Goldrush, bringing the total number of multiplayer maps shipping out of the box to an impressive 19, and a new, less impressive multiplayer mode, King of the Hill. If that wasn't enough, you'll also get Cliffy B's favourite new feature, the game editor, and, of course, improved graphics made possible by the extra grunt modern gaming PCs have under the hood.
The new chapters begin with Marcus and the rest of the team blocked by a drawbridge they can't close. Those gaping plot holes are quickly filled in - you need to rendezvous with a train carrying the Lightmass bomb because the powers that be have decided that the best way to end the Locust's existence is to deploy it in a huge Imulsion sinkhole. The train is being overrun by Locust, so speed, and getting that bridge working, is of the essence. As leader of the squad, Marcus orders fellow squad members Baird and Cole to wait at the draw bridge while him and Dom try to restore the power. Baird, being the moany git that he is, complains, but Marcus puts his foot down. Afterwards, Dom comments: "You sounded just like your old man back there." Marcus replies in a non-too complimentary tone: "He tried to prevent this war." So very quickly we're given some more backstory.
We won't spoil the new stuff by going into masses amounts of detail, but what we will reveal is that you get to fight all the usual suspects employing similar tactics as before. Wretches, Drones, Theron Guards, Boomers and a Seeder (which, by the way, you have to take down without the Hammer of Dawn) all make an appearance, and all the while you are being stalked by the Brumak itself until the inevitable face off, which we won't spoil either.
Funnily enough, my favourite bit of the new campaign wasn't the Brumak fight but the section where you tip-toe through a shanty town area with the beast stalking you overhead. You can hear its grunts, its breathing, as if it is about to jump down and rip your face off. It's pretty intense stuff. Then there's a seeder fight in a run-down theatre hall. That's pretty good as well. But there's nothing here in the new campaign content that's a major departure from the gameplay we experienced in the 360 version. It's all about cover and being patient as you flank the Locust and chew them up. It's firefight, little break, firefight, little break.
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