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Videogames-To-Flix #33

04.18.2007

VIDEOGAMES-TO-FLIX is a JoBlo.com column showcasing reviews of videogame translations of Hollywood films (or games soon-to-become Hollywood movies). With both industries getting closer and closer, and videogames, in general, getting so much more popular, you knew it was just a matter of time before we hit that stuff!

GEARS OF WAR

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Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft
Systems: XBOX 360

INTRODUCTION:

GEARS OF WAR is the definition of hype. Since Microsoft started promoting the XBOX 360, GEARS OF WAR has been a tent-pole title. It was promoted as the graphical benchmark for next gen games. It was the next HALO, the next huge online shooter. The game has been out for months now, with millions of copies sold across the globe. With the dust settled and a movie series in development, let's take a look at the game behind all of the hype.

You start the game as Marcus Fenix, a former military hero locked away for leaving his unit to save his father. Fenix is freed and rejoins the fight against the Locust Horde that have destroyed much of humanity. With the help of his partner (Dominic Santiago), Fenix battles through five acts of intense combat with the Locusts. While the majority of these acts are played in third person perspective, a lone vehicle mission breaks the shooter mold and challenges shooter aficionados to drive their way to safety.

This game is currently exclusive to XBOX 360 consoles, but rumors and tepid confirmation make a PC port very likely. The game has an extensive and popular multiplayer component that adds hours of death match or cooperative gameplay opportunities.

GAMEPLAY:

GEARS OF WAR blends a lot of great "established" gameplay elements with a couple new features never seen before. While the game is technically a third person shooter, switching to a weapon's cross-hair puts GEARS in the first person perspective. So, GEARS OF WARS has the benefits of motion provided to a third person shooter and maintains the targeting benefits built into a first person shooter.

Lead designer, Cliff Bleszinski , stated he took inspiration for this mixed perspective from RESIDENT EVIL 4. While borrowing another game's new approach to design might be seen as poaching, GEARS OF WAR introduces enough new elements, to justify itself. Borrowing gameplay design is common in the gaming industry, and considering GEARS OF WAR flawlessly executes split perspective gameplay, CAPCOM is probably flattered more than they're bothered. While RESIDENT EVIL 4 broke new ground with mixed perspective, GEARS OF WAR established the new perspective as a viable alternative to first person shooters.

A major gameplay element in GEARS OF WAR is cooperative play. As Internet gaming continues to expand, cooperative play has grown from being a last minute add-on to a full-fledged design element. GEARS allows for two variations on cooperative play, online and offline. Online players can team up with a friend or stranger locally or via the Internet . Offline allows players to explore via split screen. GEARS features three progressive levels of difficulty (casual, hardcore, and insane). While individual players can easily make way through casual, having a partner on hardcore, and especially insane, is essential. Having a teammate makes the player less dependent on Dom's (intentionally?) erratic AI and allows for genuine teamplay . Another benefit is that one player's death doesn't spell the end of your efforts. If a player is "downed" in cooperative play, his teammate can either revive him or progress far enough in the level to auto-revive the partner. GEARS is easily the best cooperative game to come out during this generation of games. Better than CRACKDOWN, GHOST RECON ADVANCE WARFIGHTER, and even LEGO STAR WARS II.

The final major component to gameplay is cover. Like PERFECT DARK ZERO, GRAW, and kill.switch, GEARS OF WAR makes defensive and offensive stance an essential component of gameplay. Players use the "A" button to roll, jump into cover, flip cover, or step out of cover. Cover works as it should a majority of the time and adds a lot of variety to gameplay and strategy. Cover is especially effective when attacking bosses like General Raam and Beserkers . However, cover is stickier than you might expect and overuse or circumstantial button pressing can result in events you might not want. It is the only consistently frustrating element of an otherwise flawless gameplay dynamic.

Overall, the gameplay of GEARS OF WAR is phenomenal. There are enough innovations (like active reload) and nearly flawless implementation of borrowed gameplay, that players will be able to jump right in and enjoy everything this game has to offer. While cover has its issues, they are minor in overall scope of how GEARS plays.

Gameplay: 9.4/10

GRAPHICS:

One of the major points of contention between PS3 fans and XBOX 360 fans is graphical prowess. PS3 fanboys attested that the XBOX 360 couldn't deliver high level graphics. Too bad for those fanboys that GEARS OF WAR throws the proverbial wrench into the mix. Without a doubt, GEARS OF WAR has the prettiest in-game graphics available on a console. There are a few games that come very close, but the overall design of GEARS wins out.

The character design of GEARS OF WAR is the biggest standout piece of graphical flash. Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago, and the other cogs are all spectacularly rendered. Their movements are rarely robotic and their skin and faces look incredibly human-like. Not only do they look great in the cut scenes, they look exactly the same in regular gameplay and multiplayer. While other games water down graphics outside of the CGI cut scenes and online, GEARS OF WAR has a universal standard of excellent character design. From start to finish, these dudes look exactly the same - allowing the player to relate with their actions and their story.

Level design, like character design, is wonderfully executed. Between the five different acts in GEARS OF WAR, each reveals a different variation of the dilapidated society found on the planet Sera. Whether it be underground or in the dark, the levels in GEARS are heavily detailed and ultra-realistic. There are enough destructible items to support a sense of reality in destruction. And although the entire environment isn't destructible , the level of detail and draw distances make up for it. The levels in GEARS OF WAR aren't as large as games like OBLIVION or SAINTS ROW, nevertheless, the amount of information and detail jammed into the smaller area are just as convincing. Also, keeping in mind the difficulty of enemy AI, you won't even notice the limitations of the maps. You'll be too busy trying to get killed.

Finally, the little details go along way to make GEARS the prettiest game of 2006. The excessive blood sprays, the brain-popping headshots, and the never-ending piles of enemy limbs make this fantastic environment very real. Nothing is more visceral than sneaking up behind a locust and inserting your chainsaw into his chest. Except maybe running and shotgunning an opponent so that his brains splatter onto the sidewalk. I'll leave that for you to decide.

Graphics: 9.7/10

SOUND:

If you thought that there'd be no way to keep the audio in GEARS on par with gameplay and graphics, you'd be mistaken. Particularly, the voice acting in GEARS OF WAR is noteworthy. All of the work done by John DiMaggio, Carlos Ferro, and Lester Speight is at the peak of their field. While the majority of video games treat the story and voice acting as necessary evils, GEARS OF WAR puts the voice acting and performance front and center.

DiMaggio, best known as the voice of FUTURAMA's Bender, is the voice of Marcus Fenix . He reveals the character to have a wide range of emotions and adds incredible backbone for the experienced soldier. Never before has a voice been so perfectly matched to a video game. In tandem with DiMaggio, Ferro's work as Dominic Santiago adds normalcy to the bizarreness of this story. Ferro shows Dom to be the perfect example of a teammate and a friend. These two dudes fit together like peanut butter and chocolate.

As an added bonus to the voice work, Lester Speight's performance as Augustus "The Cole Train" Cole, is hysterical and fascinating at the same time. Speight takes a very stereotypical character, the over-sized black man, and adds lots of levity and charm. You can't hop into a multiplayer game without one player using "The Cole Train" to wreck house. And more than likely that same dude will be shouting one of Speight's fantastic catch phrases.

In the realm of music and ambient sounds, GEARS OF WAR continues to keep at the top of its game. The music borrows some of the "metal" vibe that appears in HALO, especially the all-clear guitar riff, but dredges enough of its own path to feel original. The ambient noises, especially Locust whispers, add a sense of dread and tension already supported by the manic battles. The soundscape in GEARS OF WAR adds a lot to the experience and in tandem with gameplay and graphics makes this one of the best video games ever.

Sound: 9.2/10

OVERALL:

With no hesitation, GEARS OF WAR is the best game for the XBOX 360. For me, this game has a better story than HALO 2, has better gameplay than OBLIVION or DEAD RISING, better multiplayer than CALL OF DUTY 2 or 3, and will likely out rank HALO 3 when it arrives. This game is a benchmark for all modern video games and will be remembered alongside HALF-LIFE 2, HALO 2, GOLDENEYE 64, and DOOM as one of the best shooters of all time.

Overall: 9.5/10

STATUS OF THE MOVIE:

According to Variety, New Line Cinema has taken a liking to GEARS OF WAR and hopes to make a movie out of it. Fingers crossed for a CGI-anime or SIN CITY-like CGI-Live Action mix. Just something hyphenated will do.

MY XBOX GAMERTAG:

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