First Impressions: Absolutely badass...
The next generation of gaming is almost here. In less than 6 months Microsoft unleashes the uber-powerful Xbox 360, and with it an impressive group of launch titles that are poised to take gaming to its next logical conclusion. Coming not long after the machine's release is an extremely promising piece of software from Epic Games, and helmed by none other than star developer Cliff Bleszinski. Gears of War will likely be the
killer app for the 360 when it bows a few months after the new box hits shelves. Featuring absolutely staggering visuals and gameplay mechanics that are sure to please fans of hardcore shooting action, GoW truly represents the new evolution in gaming.
Set on an Earth-like planet called Sera, Gears of War places you into the combat boots of Marcus Fenix, a tough-as-nails career soldier with a checkered past. His world has crumbled around him, as the Pendulum Wars pit the formerly peaceful and enlightened nations of Sera against one another in a battle over a fuel source buried in the planet's crust called imulsion. For 79 years the battles raged, until an unexpected threat burst forth from Sera's core. Thereafter called ?Emergence Day? the Locust Horde ? a collection of ghastly beasts ? attacked the armies of man with such ferocity that they were driven back to a single point on the planet, a thick-crusted plateau called Jacinto. Safe from the burrowing horde, it is from this haven that the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) will launch their all-out assault on the Locusts, and that's right where you come in ? a gear in the cog?.
Having seen several minutes of real-time gameplay footage, I can tell you that Gears of War has me excited for the next generation in a big way. When I say unprecedented visuals I mean it, as the power of over a Teraflop of processing muscle and a graphics chip a generation ahead of anything on the market today are clearly evident in every frame. The gameplay actually looks like a CGI movie. Featuring incredible dynamic shadowing and near photo-realistic, insanely complex character models with a truly staggering amount of texture detail, as well as environments that look stunningly real, Gears of War is simply inconceivable in the visuals department. The displacement mapping the Unreal 3 engine is capable of is outstanding, as it gives any flat surface completely realistic bumps and protrusions. Everything truly looks like a living, breathing world. Characters move realistically across an open courtyard, and roll behind cover to pop up and attack a battalion of Locusts raining death down from the second story of a bombed out building - all with perfectly natural, smooth and graceful movements.
Judicious use of cover will be of paramount importance as you battle your way across the campaign (which is promising to also include co-op play over Live 360. Imagine the squad with three of your buddies inhabiting the other soldiers!) and shelter can be found everywhere. You'll fight your way through ruined Sera cities that offer plenty of interactive environmental fodder. Blow up a vehicle and watch the force of the explosion blast it into a strategic position, or topple a pillar from a decimated building and land it between you and the oncoming Horde as part of your overall attack plan.
As seen in the demo, Marcus and his boys land in a courtyard, and make their way out into the ruined city streets. It's dark out, which gives the Locusts the advantage. Immediately, one can't help but notice the game's stunning
good looks. The cityscape is a bombed out ruin, and everything has a dark, gloomy feel that's perfectly appropriate for the subject matter. As Marcus and his team run down the block, a huge group of swarming bat-like creatures called Kryll swoop by overhead. In order to avoid attack, the Gears close in on an abandoned car that's on fire. Following it as it rolls down an incline, the Kryll keep their distance, as the light is painful to the Horde's minions. Suddenly, as the Gears enter a building, Locusts launch a vicious attack. Blazing gunfire, as well as laser fire, is everywhere
as plaster and wood splinters fly across the screen. Marcus sprints from the building and rolls behind cover. Blind firing while keeping his head down (accomplished by pulling the right trigger while covered) Marcus drops a Locust in a gaudy spray of blood. Moving from point to point, the team takes out a few more bugs before being overwhelmed by the enemy forces. Noticing an abandoned gas station, Marcus releases a valve, which in turn sprays gas all over the ground. Igniting the fuel with gunfire, the Gears cover their escape with a massive explosion as the entire structure goes up in flames. Of course, these creatures won't represent the entirety of the Horde. In fact, at some point in the game, you'll face a five-story beast loaded with tremendous cannons strapped to its back. How you're supposed to even begin to deal with this thing is anyone's guess at this point?.
Bleszinski claims the development team is designing the game in 10 to 20 minute increments. In other words, you'll have plenty of moments in each mission where some amazingly cool stuff is happening. It's the kind of set-up that the team hopes will entice the player to keep forging ahead, just to get to another one of these ?water cooler moments?. Gears of War will feature a vast array of human weaponry. Everything from pistols, to shotguns and assault rifles will be on display, and they'll be carried right on your character's person ? no weapon icons ? and will be accessed using the D-pad. The characters look quite cool, bristling with futuristic armor and heavy weaponry. Gears of War looks like it has everything necessary to be the next big franchise for Microsoft. Epic has retained Eric Nylund to contribute to the story, and the possibility for a vast and twisting narrative is clearly evident given his experience. The developers have eschewed the usual health packs and other typical videogame contrivances by creating a health system where your teammates, or a medical bot, can heal you, and the incredible art design of the game truly puts you into a gritty, war-torn future world not unlike the Alien or Riddick films. Good stuff to be sure.
The game plays from a third-person perspective, with the camera pulling in tight over the character's shoulder when you fire. So far, everything looks smooth and realistic, with excellent character animations and an overall feel that just looks right
. The framerate is pegged at around 30 frames per second, but expect the team to fine tune and improve that over the next 10 months or so of development.