Developer: Epic Games
Release Date: TBA
After our single-player demo with CliffyB, it's time to go hands-on with Gears of War. Deep behind closed doors at Microsoft's E3 booth, we walked into a large room that had two groups of eight Xbox 360s decked out with the limited-edition GoW faceplate and networked together for some four-on-four team-based deathmatch action. We first got an overview of the game controls and some basic tactics from the Epic Games team, and then we were off on our own for some intense multiplayer action.
The default button layout in GoW was both very logical and felt very good. The A button is the cover button, also known as the "roadie" button. Anytime you are by an object such as a car or wall, you can hit the A button, and your character will use that object as cover. This allows you to stay out of harm's way and lets you take pot shots or do some "spray and pray." The nickname "roadie" comes from the stance of running around while keeping your head down, much like a band roadie swapping out a band's guitars onstage. This move is quite useful, as it not only speeds up your character when moving from cover to cover, but it also makes you a smaller target that's more difficult to hit.
As in most action titles, the right trigger is used as the fire button. The right bumper is your reload button. The active reload feature from the single-player game is present in multiplayer too, so well-timed reloads will give extra power and accuracy to the first few rounds of the next clip. Badly timed reloads will cause your gun to jam, making you an easy target for a few seconds.
Left or right on the d-pad will change your weapons, and up or down will select your grenades, which can be tossed by pressing the fire button. The B button, like in Halo, is used for melee attacks. In Gears, there are some weapons that have special melee attacks built into them. The one we saw in our playtime was the SMG, which had a chainsaw attached to the underside of the weapon. When you move in close to an enemy and hold down the B button, you are greeted to a nice cinematic view of your player cutting your opponent straight down the middle, with guts and entrails aplenty.
By far, the X button has the coolest effect attached to it. When you take out an opponent in this mode, depending on what gun you use, you might not fully kill them, but rather severely injure them. When this happens, you will see them slump over on the ground; on his screen, the player can still look around the world but can't move at all. The downed player can call for help from his teammates, and if one can get to him within 30 seconds, they can revive the player, and he will be as good as new … unless you get to him first! If you do, you can walk over to the downed player and stomp his face into the ground by hitting the X button. This, just like the melee attack, provides the player with a very cinematic view of the opponent's death and leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.
Once I got into the multiplayer game, the first thing I noticed about Gears was just how well it controls. It took me no longer than a few minutes to fully learn the controls and feel completely comfortable with them, as if I'd been playing the game for years. In many ways, the game mode we were playing resembled Counter-Strike. We had two teams of four players, and the team who killed off everyone from the opposite team was the winner. Much like in CS, if you were killed during the match, you went into ghost mode until the round ended. This knowledge made people play more carefully and make good use of the available cover. The map we played on was a large, war-torn, urban environment, which meant that lots of cover was to be had almost everywhere. From crumbling buildings to overturned cars, you didn't have to look long for a good place to use.
The gameplay itself was slower paced than deathmatch shooters like Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament, but it was quite tactical and played great. The cover system really works well and adds a whole new layer to the gameplay. You will never see people just running around from place to place and shooting. In Gears of War, you will see people moving from location to location taking cover, keeping their heads down and laying down suppressing fire while others will try to set up a flank position or get a better shot at the opposing team. Toss in a few chainsaw melee attacks and curb stomps, and you end up one with an intense, fun game.
This was only one of the many planned online modes for Gears of War. Epic is planning for a four-player, online co-op throughout the whole single-player campaign, allowing your friends to jump into your single-player game at any time, play for a bit and then leave, without ever exiting or disrupting your game. The mode we saw was actually one of the simpler, basic modes, and many different modes and options are planned for the deathmatch games. There will be some really cool online modes that we can't talk about yet, but trust us when we say Gears of War will be the Xbox Live title to have this fall.
After finally getting a chance to play the game firsthand, I can safely say that Gears of War plays as good as it looks. A release date has not officially been announced yet, but if the production schedule stays on track, then it could be out by the end of the year. If so, it looks like Gears of War will be the Halo of the holiday season.
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