It wasn’t until the final hours of the 2nd day of E3 that I managed to find out about the private gameplay demo of Gears of War, Epic Games’ beautiful and hyped shooter for the XBOX 360. I had many questions about the game, most of all “was it as good as everyone had been saying?”. The answer is a resounding yes. Do I think it will be the next Halo? It very possibly could be.
I won’t go out on a limb and say yes, as it’s not perfect. But the wow factor certainly took my breath away. This test drive was located on the second floor of Microsoft’s massive booth at the rear of the South Hall, in a secret room filled with 16 360 systems and copies of the multiplayer build of Gears of War. The entire showing was media only, and had to be scheduled by appointment; for comparison, the closest that normal showgoers got to Gears of War was the 15 minute trailer on the show floor.
We were herded by Microsoft PR staff into the room and seated in front of flat panel displays and a 360 controller. After the development team showed us the basics of gameplay, they turned us loose into a 4 on 4 deathmatch against each other. One faction played as the Locus (the alien enemy faction of the game) and the Cogs (the human soldiers, also called Gears). Being a 3rd person shooter, the camera is pulled in tight over your character’s shoulder.
There are several mechanics in the game for fighting. One is the “roadie run”, which is a sprint maneuver that makes your character crouch and run, keeping his head down for cover. The other is the cover feature, which is a lot like the “stick to walls” found in games like Winback or Metal Gear Solid. Essentially, your character, with a quick press of a button, will assume a protective stance behind objects to avoid fire. It’s possible to roll or jump across gaps to other spaces of cover, or to tuck into a roll and come up firing. it’s all very smooth and impressive. Once the shooting begins, you have the ability to zoom in on the crosshairs of your selected weapon to get a better aim on your oppnent. One criticism of the system, however, was that opponents had far too much life, and taking them down was often quite difficult. There was also a melee attack that, when pressed and held, caused your character to whip out a chainsaw and cut your target to pieces.
You have never seen graphics like this, believe me. Every strand of hair on the head of a human is visible close in; the reptilian scales of the Locus have minute wrinkles and textures. Even the teeth of the characters are visible from afar, complete with discoloring and shape distortion. Armor, buildings, and AR-15 Rifles look equally phenomenal, and little touches such as the camera shaking when your character runs, or blood spattering on the screen make the whole experience very immersive. Once the chainsaw hits a target, it leaves a crevasse in the character’s face through which you can see bone, brains and a whole lot more.
The game’s multiplayer aspect will definitely lend itself perfectly to team tactics. Players can run and duck and cover each other in such dynamic ways, it will never be the same twice. Once the public gets its hands on Gears of War, we are undoubtedly going to have a new standard set for console shooters. It may very well do for the 360 what Halo did for the XBOX.