RPS Advent Game-o-Calendar: December 11th

Christmas, huh, what is it good for? It’s good for opening a window on our Fairtrade advent calendar. Mmmhmmmm!


What lies within?

HOLY SHIT! It’s chocolate! Om nom nom nom! OM NON NOM NOM!

I bet YOU want something too, eh? Well how about this:

It’s: Gears Of War!

The first think that struck me about Gears Of War was how clumsy and slow I felt. Clearly, this was a kind of cognitive hangover brought on by years of circle-strafing and unnatural leaping. As “physical” entities the protagonists of most FPS games have been more like sped-up monkeys than they have been like real human beings, and the lumber beasts of the Gears Of War universe act rather more like real people than many previous shooters. Consequently the initial outing feels clumsy and weird – and that’s compounded by the doubled up leap/take cover key. Much has been made of the absurd carved-from-bicep physic of everyone in GoW, but the truth is that they move and cower a bit more like real people than previous shooters, and that alone was the main and crucial innovation that makes this game an interesting one to chew on.

The realisation that diving behind cover is cool and fun has been a slow one for shooter developers, but it’s now basically come of age across the genre. From Brothers In Arms to Stalker, suddenly you’re making sure you can get behind a log. Of course it seems so obvious, but proper use of cover, being and to lean, or blind-fire, or stay down to regain health, are elements that really have taken their time to come together.

It seems as Gears Of War is trying to play with our expectations of what we thought games should end up doing – particularly in giving us a different avenue of cinematic action to the one delivered by, say, Max Payne. Cliff Bleszinski’s design ideas stems from these same kinds of iconic action-flick stuff, the classic gun-poser stuff that anyone with a vague gun-battle fetish wants to see emulated. B explained a bit of this on his 1-Up blog:

When I was first pitching this game (to Microsoft, to Epic leads, to team members, etc…) one of the images I couldn’t get out of my head was the classic “Lethal Weapon” buddy cop moment of Gibson and Glover outside of a room of hooligans and looking at each other and saying…

“Okay, count to three and we go.”
“Wait. Right on three or three and THEN go?”

For me, taking cover on opposite sides of a door while you watch your best friend on the adjacent side doing the same, trading turns unloading on foes always seemed like a great moment to shoot for.

Which leads to the other thing that GoW does so well: co-op play. Rather than leave gamers satisfied but able to say “yeah nice game, I wish there was a co-op mode”, as they seem to now do for every decent shooter of the last decade, it was right there from the beginning. Indeed, it seems rather as if GoW is just a co-op game where your partner is more often than not an AI drone, rather than a person sitting next to you, or at the other end of a phoneline. Gears Of War is a great big high five of a game, because success and a quasi-ironic “Yee-haw!” is better shared with a buddy.

The second thing that struck me about Gears of War, by the way, is that’s awesomely beautiful. It might look as if it has been dipped in grit and dust, but it delivers one of the most believable wartorn worlds we’ve ever seen. And it’s purest sci-fi. This isn’t another ruined village in Normandy, it’s some ludicrously overblown classicist palace in what looks like Space Paris. Epic have reached a point in creating virtual architecture where they’re just showing off: and I like it.

Gears Of War is just a really great shooter. The ludicrous overwrought visual immensity, the simplicity of the cover use, the little tricks like the faster-reload timer and the ‘glance at interesting thing’ hotkey – it all adds up to one of those games which might be essentially derivative, but masters all the details, giving you so much to play with that you end up hooked in, like an action film where the opening-credits heist scene is just so good that you have to keep watching, just to see if they can maintain the audacity of it.

This is one of the best games of this year, even if it was converted for PC, rather than designed with the PC in mind. In fact, the extra levels fill the game out to what it could have been previously. The PC version, you might say, is the definitive version of Gears Of War. Yeah. That’s it.

Oh, okay then. It’s this, too:


  1. Soldats says:

    Haha, that video is great. I’ve yet to play Gears of War, but I have a buddy who has finished it on both Xbox360 & PC. Maybe I’ll go ahead and pick up the PC version and get in on some macho action.

  2. The_B says:

    SO! MACHO!

    I am sad currently however, that my free 30 day Gold account has run out, thus rendering me unable to finish my co-op until such time I can reactivate it or find someone willing to do it over LAN, and I’m not yet willing to pay for that.

  3. Cruz says:

    That is my hangup with buying this game. I’ve since gained a poor opinion of Games for Windows LIVE after my Kain and Lynch experience (I enjoyed the game itself, but the multiplayer implementation was piss poor), and I’ve read that GoW suffers from the same issues.

    The_B: Does the Silver account not allow you to do online co-op at all, or is it a matter of not being able to reconnect with a buddy since matchmaking abilities are nil?

  4. Alistair says:

    I thought the movement of Marcus & co was a strange mix between lumbering down corridors like oxen in American football gear, and then flipping like spring-loaded helium ballerinas when there was a low wall around. Lots of good ideas though. Who can dislike a game that makes reloading fun?

  5. etho says:

    I couldn’t agree less with this choice. Nothing about Gears of War impressed me, except the fact that anyone in the world could play it with a straight face. Everything about it was just so laughably corny, which could have worked to it’s advantage except that it took itself so unbelievably seriously. I suppose the design of the world wasn’t bad, but the level designs were overly restrictive. And the people, aliens, and guns all suffered from the characteristic Epic Games swollenness.

    That video is pretty cool though. A badly needed counterpoint to the emotastic original ad. Blech.

  6. Turin Turambar says:

    One of the most dissapointing games i have played in this year.

  7. Theory says:

    Must…resist…contact lenses joke…

  8. Ben Hazell says:

    I’m playing through it at the moment in co-op with my housemate. It works.
    I spend most of the game wanting to curb stomp Baird, but the only thing that really annoys me is how tricky it is to deal with enemies at your feet. This might just be a problem with split-screen, but once they get close we have to adopt a co-ordinated dance where one picks off the buggers at the others feet while we both jog in circles.
    I also wish it was a UT style game where Epic could go mad with the environments. It is very gray, however beautiful.
    And I want better grenades while we’re at it. Flash-bangs for a start…

  9. James Lyon says:

    That’s better. Two “om nom nom noms” to make up for the lack of one yesterday. Catastrophe averted.

  10. Sören Höglund says:

    I couldn’t really get into Gears of War. I enjoyed it on a gameplay level, and it had some really nice touches like the way the camera changes perspective during mad rushes for cover and the rethinking of the reload mechanic, but the awful, monochrome art-direction and the terribly poo-faced seriousness of it all dragged it down.

    I did nearly piss myself laughing the first time I heard Marcus go “Yeech, I hope it didn’t give me cooties.” after chainsawing a locust in two though. Yes, of course you fear getting cooties from the terrible female dominated alien scum, you macho man you. If only they’d made it more camp, it could’ve been the Commando of videogames, and I would’ve embraced it wholeheartedly.

    Well, wholeheartedly except for the fact that you can resurrect your squad, but they can’t resurrect you. Republic Commando got it right, why can’t other developers follow suit?

  11. Garth says:

    I absolutely, with every fibre of my being, hated Gears of War.

    I went into it totally a virgin to the hype surrounding it. I was just told by a friend “you like FPS’s, try this out.”

    What I got was a game that takes an interesting idea – hiding behind cover being a staple – and absolutely rapes you with it. The cover system isn’t a benefit, or a possible choice, it’s a requirement for every single second of the game. This wouldn’t be so bad if the enemies took a couple bursts to kill – once you get into the game, you’re pouring boxes of bullets into enemies who can hit you just fine while charging.

    Add to that the godawful characters — look at us, we’re football heroes! Our stories are all boringly over-done (I’m so badass the army put me in jail!), and we’re gonna take on an entire fucking race, just the four of us!

    Add in obnoxious weapon use (the grenades are just.. wow), an impossible to love camera angle (what the fuck was it, like, centred 6 feet to my left?), and crap-tastic A.I. (in one part an enemy soldier stood in the middle of us for [because I wanted to see what would happen] four minutes before I finally shot him.)

    The game also takes gray to whole new stages of overuse, and every single part of the game has 3 things you can hide behind that are totally out of place (who the hell put these 3 foot barriers every 20 feet?)

    I’m not counting the fact that I couldnt play Multiplayer co-op because the game, well, often just breaks down and wont allow it.

  12. Nick says:

    I won a copy around a month ago and Microsoft still haven’t sent me it =(

  13. Lorc says:

    My only significant problem with this game was that the mid-late game enemies had about twice as much health as they needed to. It reminded me of the original unreal in that respect; a cheap difficulty hack that was consistently frustrating and silly.

    Other than that I declare it an innovative new take on the FPS genre. Huzzah!

  14. Mike says:

    omnomnomnom.com is possibly the best thing you’ve ever linked to.

  15. Ging says:

    I never had too much trouble with the enemies – a “super” ammo from a perfect reload allowed you to take them down in short order with the lancer or just use one of the one shot kill weapons that appear (the sniper rifle and bow).

    To the people complaining about it being grey, haven’t you heard? Grey’s the new brown…

  16. Garth says:

    Early on the enemies were pretty flimsy. Later they just take (as Lorc said) far more ammo to kill than they should.

    I honestly have to admit, I’m completely puzzled by this games positive reviews, or at least how positive they are. Then again, Halo has pretty much shattered any understanding I had for which games do well.

  17. malkav11 says:

    Gears of War is such an astounding visual and (to some degree) aural experience that it’s almost possible for me to ignore the fact that I’m almost done with one chapter of five and the entire game so far has consisted of finding a convenient spot of cover and poking my head out periodically to shoot bullet sponges. No, really, the whole thing. The visuals are great, the cover mechanic is good if maoverused (and every area ludicrously full of inappropriate cover objects), and I like the interactive reloading. But there really needs to be some actual meat to the game, and so far there isn’t.

    I think, in fact, that the cover mechanic in this case aggravates the problem. Because really, brainless run-and-gun with pretty visuals has done me just fine for many years. But the taking cover slows each gunfight down to a crawl and it’s just not dynamic or interesting enough to support that slower pace.

  18. JakethePirate says:

    If that had been the actual ad, I would have bought a 360 and the game right there on release.

  19. Monkfish says:

    Haven’t got ’round to buying this as there was so much else going on games-wise in November to distract me, and my poor wallet was begging for mercy.

    I am hoping that Santa will drop it down the chimney, though, so I can experience the joy of thrusting the chainsaw bayonet into Locust Horde face. ‘Tis the season for it…

  20. The_B says:

    Cruz: My mistake, just checked and you can play Co-Op with other silver members for free, you just don’t get the matchmaking stuff, and people can set their games to “Gold only” if they choose to be eltist.

  21. dhex says:

    got this for my birthday. seems to run pretty good all told.

    the install time, however, was ridiculous and took nearly an hour. gave me plenty of time to download the patch, i guess.

    i haven’t played it enough to really develop a feel for it.

  22. dhex says:

    i also think i may have been one of three people in the western world to have actually liked the original gears of war ad. it was a cute juxtaposition.

  23. Mouj says:

    omnomnomnom.com was hilarious, thanks for the link.

  24. malkav11 says:

    Oh yeah, forgot about the install time, which was utterly ridiculous. I’ve installed games off six separate CDs in far less time.

  25. Kieron Gillen says:

    dhex: I loved it. I thought it was note perfect.


  26. Ghiest says:

    Playing this game with my brother in the same room was won of the best gaming experiences of last year (not just on the 360 as well), but playing it again on the pc was a bit of a let down after some other great shooters this year. The co-op on the 360 was superb really, and friends (who were watching it) really remarked on how cinematic it felt watching it.

    I like the game but it should really have stayed on the 360 in my opinion.

  27. Adam says:

    Remember, Hamachi (free edition) gives you a virtual LAN over Internet on PC. Just love it. You can play just about any game with LAN network functionality over the Internet with you buddies stopping evil corporations trapping you inside their crappy networks.