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E3 Exclusive: Hands on with Best of Show 06: Gears of War
game: Gears of War
posted by: Chris Martin
publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
developer: Epic
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date posted: 11:55 AM Mon May 15th, 2006
last revision: 11:52 AM Mon May 15th, 2006

Click to read.Microsoft\'s strong showing at E3 this year was due in part to the mammoth buzz around Epic\'s Xbox 360 exclusive Gears of War. But the Microsoft booth was full of other crowd pleasers too. A veritable festival of new games such as Crackdown, Lost Planet, Test Drive Unlimited, and Dead Rising all kept gamers waiting in long lines and wearing big smiles throughout the conference. But back to Gears of War. GamesFirst got to go hands-on with Gears\' multiplayer in a behind-closed-doors brawl against mainstream press and eccentric VIPs. Gears of War is almost out; this is why GoW is going to be in every Xbxo 360 owner\'s collection this summer.

The game is about changing the public\'s idea of an action game; it\'s about strategy, skill, and suppression. This is not an FPS, and so you cannot play it like one. Camera hanging over the shoulder of the player, Gears is very cinematic, even in tight quarters. When you press the A Button, also called the \"All Action Button,\" you tuck into a low run (the \"roadie run\") and the camera stays low, bobs and shudders similar to scenes from Saving Private Ryan. It\'s completely visceral. Raw and exhilarating. It\'s like rushing into a game of paintball for your first time.

And multiplayer reminds one of a very, very violent game of paintball. There are two teams that start on opposing ends of a map, duck and run to cover, then fire when opponents aren\'t watching. Strategies quickly developed on our team. We talked to Cliff Bleszinski lead designer for Epic, \"It is like paintball,\" said Bleszinski. \"That\'s exactly the feeling we were going for. We wanted it to be very physical, so when you\'re tucked into a run and you slam into cover,\" he mimmicked the taking cover motion against the Microsoft desk, \"you really just slam right into it, wham!\"

Getting used to the controller in a 30 minute hands-on isn\'t easy, especially when you want to be killing people. But it didn\'t take us long. First of all, the All Action Button (A button) is the most used in Gears of War, followed by the R Trigger (fire weapon). Reload is Right Bumper. Aim was on the L Trigger. B is melee, and so on.

Once in motion, we quickly found that staying in cover or sneaking around behind the enemy worked well. Cover is, in a literal way, your lifeforce in Gears of War. Leaving it haphazardly is just asking to be shot-- your health regenerates as you take cover. Jumping barricades, diving, sticking to walls, and running low to the ground are all performed by the All Action Button. And while Shawn and I were getting the hang of its function, we were also quickly acclimated to defensive positions on the map.

Our aggressors rushed in, taking the courtyard of the war-torn intersection. But we held the high ground (a good, and simultaneously, bad idea). We fired down at them, but realized we had to watch our surroundings as a flank of enemy Cogs (we were Locust) came in and took the chainsaw to our heads. It was gory and great and the crowd watching let out an \"Ewwww\" followed by maniacal laughter, so did the development team.

Cogs are the human resistance. And the last thing a Cog wants to be is outnumbered by Locust: creatures that burst forth from the earth on Emergence Day and slaughtered everything. But there seemed to be no difference (at least in multiplayer) between the bipedal Locust and the human Cog. The difference was only superficial (at least so far) as the deformed Locust sported some deranged looks, gnarled teeth, baled, domed head, and deep set eyes. As far as we could tell, Cog and Locust were equals.

GoW multiplayer doesn\'t feel like Counter Strike, although it is set up in a similar fashion: one life per round and then team respawns. Kill the opposing team to win a round. Down an enemy then run over and press X to curb-stomp their face. But if a teammate gets to you before the enemy can finish the Curb-stomp, you can be patched up (also with the X button) and continue the fight. It\'s a nice touch for team-play, and we can see ambush tactics emerging as opponents use downed teammates as bait for a waiting rocket or lobbed grenade.

There is also a strategy to healing yourself. Get too low and a large red gear pops up and tells you to find cover. Take cover with the All Action Button and you\'ll heal. By making the player hide this way, cover becomes not only a necessity of attack, but a necessity of retreat. In Gears of War, a good defense is an excellent offense. That said, jumping the barracade and taking moments offensively will play well in each team\'s strategy

The machinegun-mounted chainsaw, mentioned above, ended my life more than once. While guns are the main way to deal with enemies, get behind with a quick dash and take that chainsaw to their face. The chainsaw is the main melee weapon in GoW. While that messy end was fun at first, it became more and more difficult to get close enough to use it once enemies figured out where choke points were.

My favorite weapon is the shotgun. The shotgun is a better answer to charging Cogs than the Machine Gun, but doesn\'t come with the amusing Chainsaw. Get close enough with the shotgun and you won\'t even miss the chainsaw. There was also a rocket launcher that I tried out, mostly unsuccessfully, as it raises tons of dust on impact and allows the enemy to charge in with a few well placed bullets. There is also a sniper rifle, but I didn\'t get any time with it. Grenades, however, were extremely useful. Both smoke and frag are in GoW. Smoke allows flanks to charge a fortified enemy position, while frags can just blast them out. GoW also incorporates a cool targeting system for grenades that shows exactly where they will land, bounce, and explode, which makes your throw much more precise, but can also sucker you into spending too much time aiming. Of course, while you\'re getting ready to throw throw you are vulnerable, as if you\'re ever \"safe\" in GoW.

I should also mention that there is a strategy to reloading. When you press the reload button (right bumper) your gun is, obviously, reloaded--it takes about a second. But press it at the correct time, as the weapon icon flashes and you\'ll get enhanced bullets that do more damage (only the ones that filled the reload slot, older bullets will be normal). Reload time will also be cut back significantly, allowing you to jump into the fray in a timely manner. There\'s a risk/reward system here, however, and pressing the reload button again too late or early will make the weapon momentarily jam. This can cause a hectic moment and open you up to some serious suppression.

Both the grenade targeting and the reload bonuses show that GoW is pushing shooter-based gameplay into a more skill-intensive level. New players will likely huck grenades chaotically, and won\'t have the focus to register a reload at the optimal time. But as players become more experienced, they will master these elements, adding a layer to the gameplay in a way that reminds us of good fighting games and the Pro Skater series. The better you are at GoW, the more skillz you can display.

Graphically, Gears of War is stunning. The Unreal 3 Engine truly shows off the power of the Xbox 360 hardware. The gameplay is fast, framerate is solid, and the textures blow nearly every other game out of the water, even the stunning Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Gears is the most graphically pleasing Xbox 360 title yet. No other console title we saw at E3 had graphical prowess or addictive gameplay equal to Epic\'s Gears of War.

The sound effects are also amazingly immersive and when things explode, you feel the power of the explosions, the ripping of flesh, the pop of a gun, and the piercing rounds. I am personally attached to boom from frag grenades. But aren\'t we all?

We\'ll have more detail about Gears of War as we near \'Emergence Day.\' A release date has not been confirmed by Microsoft or Epic, but a completely unfounded gut feeling tells us to clear out some time around November 17 this year.

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