Gears of War

Gears of War
Gears of War Cover
Platforms Xbox 360, Windows
Genre Gritty Third Person Shooter
MtAMinutes to Action 1
Score 8  Clock score of 8Gameplay: 8
Fun Factor: 9
Gfx/Sound: 8
Story: 3
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Gears of War is a third-person shooter for the Xbox 360 that came out in late 2006. The game was one of the first to use the Unreal Engine 3 (seen recently in Mass Effect), a game engine created in-house at Epic. Gears of War's combat system differs greatly from the typical shooter, focusing more on using cover effectively to engage the enemy. Hiding behind cover is built into the game and you either learn it quickly, or die trying. People were obviously looking for something a little different because the game sold quite well and it was just recently released on the PC.

Gears takes place in the future after an alien race has attacked humans living on the planet Sera, a world used to harvest fuel. All the men in the future seem abnormally large, as basically everyone in this game could play American football and dominate the game. I kind of like that style though as it serves the bombed-out, nuclear winter setting well. So I already like the atmosphere, let's see how the rest of the first hour of Gears of War turns out.

For my review on the whole game, please see my Gears of War review at Beyond the First Hour.

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - I select New Campaign and the first hour begins. There are three difficulties to choose from, since I've only played Gears of War intermittently here and there, I select the easiest difficulty and the game loads the opening cutscene. Ashes, 14 years after "E-Day. " I'm looking at some creepy, drooling aliens. A very large man opens a door, he's breaking another man out of prison.

Gears Of War Marcus Fenix

01 - I get control already! My objective is to escape the prison, but it doesn't look like they typical guards are on duty. I have the choice of going to either combat or training, I'm going combat, baby!!

02 - My guy is ready for some action, but the game still takes a few opportunities to teach me things. I can look at my squadmates by holding Y. Guess I'll find some use for that.

03 - A chopper flies over shooting at us, whoops, friendly fire. I kick a door open and some corpses wave in front of me.

05 - My first battle is not a good one... should have read the instruction booklet! Or maybe taken the training, right? I die because I mismanaged my ammo and got gunned down trying to reload. Dang.

Gears Of War Marcus Taking Damage

06 - Ah, I can hold L to aim while under cover, that should help a ton.

07 - Battles are gritty and bloody. Our hero has a lot of weight to him and when he starts running, the camera dips down like we're in a war film and the cameraman is right at my hip. Great stuff.

08 - The bad guys are cutting through the door, dramatic. My friend goes down quickly but I'm able to revive him by hitting the X button over his body. Odd. Why didn't he revive me before?

09 - We're out in an open courtyard now, great textures and graphics. The Unreal Engine 3 is really strutting its stuff. It's not even the final build of it either.

Gears Of War Marcus Dom Helicopter

11 - A small skirmish breaks out and my friend and I make quick work of the aliens. I'm really low on ammo. We run to a helicopter as the ground beneath us breaks up and a really giant spider monster erupts out of it! Just like in the commercial!

12 - A cutscene plays now as we're on the helicopter. It's full of ugly brutes. A soldier asks if I'm Marcus Fenix, it appears that I'm famous. No idea why I was in jail though.

13 - The chopper lands and we approach someone who looks like they're in charge. He calls me a traitor and then a woman climbs out of another helicopter. She's not wearing any armor of course (we're only in a war zone). A skirmish breaks out.

Gears Of War Marcus Traitor Victor Hoffman

14 - We need some kind of resonator so that we can map the alien's tunnels and bomb them back to whatever nasty afterlife they believe in. The cutscene is still going with us getting shot at, sandbags are great protection for bullets I guess.

15 - As the cutscene finishes up the last of the enemies, it's time to head into the building we're outside of. The woman will feed us intel, she sounds scared.

16 - The game explains active reload, if I hit R bumper at just the right time, I'll reload faster. That actually kind of makes sense, a little.

Gears Of War Marcus Roadie Run

17 - I pick up some dog tags from the ground, a teammate says we should honor our fellow comrades.

19 - Wish I knew how to use my grenades! I just was told to flank a bunch of scum on the left and there's a group of them packed together, ripe for the picking!

21 - Ah, the D-pad, the last buttons I tried. Looks like I can carry four types of weapons, each one associated with a direction on the D-pad. Our current objective is to find Alpha squad, but there's some human remains over there. Doesn't bode well.

23 - Moving through more and more rooms and more skirmishes with the bad guys. I can hold the B button to use a chainsaw attached to my rifle! Just need some fodder now...

Gears Of War Marcus Dom Chainsaw Locust

24 - Ammo seems like it's on short supply in this game, maybe I'm just being reckless. I have to keep juggling weapons to make sure I have enough.

25 - A cutscene starts as we approach our dead comrades. We can't tell for sure who they are as their dog tags are gone. We still need to find the resonator though. Marcus thinks the bodies may be a trap.

26 - Marcus is a smart man, we just got ambushed!

27 - I hop on a gatling gun and literally rip one of the aliens in half! Awesome!

28 - I finally get to use my chainsaw as a rip a nasty in the chest! "Nothin' but bits!"

Gears Of War Marcus Locust Chainsaw Gore

29 - We enter a courtyard with a statue in the middle. This is not a good position to defend from.

31 - And defending is tough, I go down, but I guess no one wants to revive me...

34 - That was kind of a difficult battle, all about working the cover though and watching your health carefully. Health in Gears of War regenerates, when you're really injured though almost the entire screen goes red indicating to take cover! That's the only sign of your status in this game, and it works.

35 - Locusts; that is what the aliens are called. The men discuss having nightmares about them. Maybe I will too now!

Gears Of War Locust Up Close Rain

36 - Our team has to split up, I take the left path. I'm going with a soldier named Carmine.

37 - I rush into a room and get blasted down. Geez, slow down, Greg.

39 - I take out a spotter with my pistol but there's still a big stationary gun in the room, someone has got to flank that guy. Probably me...

Gears Of War Marcus Spotter Gatling Gun

40 - The controls go wonky on me as I try to chainsaw him... he kills me.

41 - Dom goes down so I try to raise him, then I get killed in a gushy mess.

43 - The same stupid gunner kills me again by punching me or something. This is getting really annoying.

46 - Finally! I clear the room, and then we get ambushed from behind. I jump on the big gun and start mowing them down, however, right when I'm having real fun, Dom gets killed and I have to resurrect him. Lame!

Gears Of War Marcus Dom Is Dead

48 - My next objective is to gain entrance to the House of Sovereigns. Ha! Another wide open courtyard with tons of cover, I wonder what will happen?

49 - Well, I made a good run but I get blown to shreds by another large gun.

50 - I think I just got killed when my own man tried to take the same cover spot I had. It looked like he took cover and I splattered. Glitch?

Gears Of War Marcus Locust Lots Of Blood

52 - This time I take a different position and run into the building right away, hitting the Locust from behind and the side. Works much better, pretty intense sequence.

53 - A short cutscene of the disposable guy (red shirt) in our group getting sniped. Now we have to defend the area we just attacked. Could be tough with only three men.

55 - I actually do it the first try though and we move back into the building.

Gears Of War Marcus Beautiful Architecture

56 - Ouch, I just got shotgunned up close. I want that weapon. Now.

58 - Okay, what the frak? Why didn't the game checkpoint after I cleared out the courtyard and entered the building? That seems like two distinct sequences to me. Well, I replay the last area quick, this time grabbing the shotgun. We head up some stairs, Alpha Squad is alive! At least one of them. He gets shot down and I go down to the courtyard to save him.

59 - The survivor's name is Cole, I guess he was a famous football player but is now part of the war effort. Think Sam from Battlestar Galactica. We all head downstairs together but a new door is blocking our way. Our little robot friend who I guess has been following us the whole time uncloaks and starts working on the door.

60 - Oh crap, wretches! Small and nimble little aliens drop from the ceiling and scream, breaking all the windows in sight. Looks like I'll get good use out of my shotgun! Very awesome sound design here.

Now for some scores out of 10.

Gears Of War Brumak

First Hour Scores

Minutes to Action: 1

Gameplay: 8
Overall, I really like the cover system in Gears of War, and other game designers must have enjoyed it too because we're seeing it in games like Mass Effect and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (not saying taking cover is a totally new thing, but these games were obviously inspired). The characters feel appropriately heavy and ripping apart aliens with my machine gun just plain works well. The game stumbled a few times though, especially in close combat. The game seems to fall apart a bit when the bad guys close in, the combat system works much better at a distance. Another complaint I have is with your squadmates, they sure seem to die a lot. And it seemed a little odd that they can't revive me even though I can revive them. It would have been nice to maybe give the A.I. 15 seconds or so to lumber up to me and wake me up.

Fun Factor: 9
Gears of War's first hour was a lot of fun, sometimes not having much of a story can help out the other categories and give them a chance to show off. There certainly is a variety of gameplay near the beginning and it's cool when Dom tells you to flank the Locusts and you really feel like you're working together as a team. There was just something about the combat experience that makes it feel really real. Bullets tear through the enemy, grenades are exploding, and your shotgun blows things away like a shotgun should. It's all a very satisfying feeling. Some parts seemed pretty challenging for playing on easy, but it was still fun to tackle places I had failed from different directions.

Graphics and Sound: 8
The Unreal Engine 3 shines as usual and even most of the sound design is good. I've read some complaints from people saying that there is basically no art design in Gears of War, but I'd have to argue otherwise. Epic created an apocalyptic world and while it's dark, it has a certain appeal to me and if you take the time to examine the environments, I think you will be impressed by the detail that went into them. The characters are scarred and those old wounds can tell a story too. The Locusts don't seem incredibly original, but they do look evil and sometimes downright scary. Gears is chock full of one liners, which can get old after a bit, but the last scene with the wretches really impressed me. The high-pitched screams and the glass breaking is a moment I won't soon forget.

Story: 3
I'm not really sensing much of a story in the first hour of Gears of War. We have Marcus Fenix, a man who was in prison until the game started for who knows why being broken out by who knows who and fighting an alien race for who knows what. The only clue we get is from some guy calling Marcus a traitor and another soldier who can't believe it's actually me. The game is trying to play the mystery card but doesn't pull it off well. I also had no idea the game didn't take place on Earth until I read its wiki page and my only tasks in the future are to rescue some soldiers and then bomb the world to bits. I might have given this game a break but the number of cutscenes would seem to indicate I would come away knowing more.

Overall: 8
This game probably would have scored a bit lower if it weren't so darn fun. Of course it looks great, it's an Xbox 360 game in HD; and of course it plays great, it's a game from Epic. But I think where Gears of War really comes through is from the combination of the setting and the combat, if it didn't have either the dark and gritty atmosphere or the cover-focused combat, I really don't think the game would have done as well as it did. But either way, I enjoyed the first hour of Gears of War and it gets a really solid score from me, not to mention if you're looking for a game that gets right into the action, this is it. If you own a 360 or a nice PC, I would definitely recommend checking it out, I hear it even has great multiplayer...

Gears Of War Art Dann Perez
Art by Dann Perez - used with permission.