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Gears of War

Platform(s): Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Epic Games

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Xbox 360 Preview - 'Gears of War'

by Matt Mefford on Nov. 28, 2005 @ 12:53 a.m. PST

Gears of War blends the best of tactical action games with the best of survival horror titles, thrusting gamers into the harrowing story of humankind's battle for survival against the Locust Horde.

Gears of War

Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Epic Games
Release Date: Q1 2006

Cliff "CliffyB" Bleszinski of Epic Games jump-started Microsoft's Xbox 360 Zero Hour launch event in style, as only he can do. Standing on the main stage, he proudly showed off next year's Gears of War. Much to the chagrin of the production crew on hand, he invited EVERYONE in the audience to join him on stage. Handing over his controller to a fan, he allowed the public to play the game. As events and key details emerged, he pointed them out, but gave the gamers in attendance full control of the speech. He made sure that every 360 on stage had Gears running on it, and a number of players got their chance to play. As something important happened in one of the games, he had it put up on the big screen, and the action in that particular game would then became the focus of his presentation. This was more than a demo – this could very well the final release candidate, and everyone in attendance was quite pleased.

Anyone who is considering buying an Xbox 360 and looking for a great shooter should know the following about Gears:

According to CliffyB, there will be no med-packs or "turkey dinners." For anyone who has played Call of Duty 2, they will be instantly at home with player health regenerating on its own. Stay out of the line of the fire for a few seconds, and your character gets his HP back.

Breaking from tradition with most first-person shooters, Gears will allow you to plot the trajectory of a grenade. Hold down primary fire, and an HUD-style arc will appear to show you where the 'nade will be tossed. The accuracy gained by this arc is very rewarding, even taking into account bouncing off walls, breaking through glass, or hitting squadmates.

Speaking of squadmates, the AI for your team is very impressive. According to CliffyB, odds are that you will die before they do. The AI seems to be tightly scripted, based upon in-game events and paths, like Unreal Tournament. They appear to react according to their squad rather than fly solo in search-and-destroy tactics.

"No Ice Levels, Dropships, Aliens, or Lesbian Squadmates!" According to an in-house joke at Epic, a game just isn't done until it has an ice level. CliffyB is proud that Gears breaks with their own tradition and that of a lot of other FPSes. In a similar manner, Epic stating that there will be no dropships or aliens is a sign that it is avoiding all Halo-style conventions. The baddies in this game come from underground, not from another planet, like the Covenant. No lesbian squadmates is anybody's guess, probably another in-house joke, but it got the crowd to laugh.

For anyone who has been closely following Unreal Engine 3 and what it will look like in UT 2007, you will be pleased to hear that Gears takes full advantage. Emissive light channels add a new level of realism to the game, and explosions will outline chicken wire embedded in murky glass windows. High-dynamic range lighting can be seen in fire and vehicle headlights, and a"bloom" effect is applied to virtually every light source and reflective material, giving Gears a very cinematic quality.

The gameplay on display was a solid 20 frames per second (at times more). Even with large amounts of characters on screen and heavy use of particle effects and HDR, the game had very few noticeable dips in performance. What makes this even more impressive is the fact that this is the actual gameplay, not another tech demo. CliffyB assures us that come launch, Gears will never drop below Microsoft's demanded 30 fps at full HD resolution.

Worth mentioning the fact is that friendly fire is ON, which adds much to the realism of the game. Despite Gears being a sci-fi shooter, the squad interaction is on par with the most realistic shooters on the market. Unlike Quake 4 (also available as a 360 launch title), in Gears you CAN kill your squadmates. Although no penalties are levied against you, having one less teammate in thick combat WILL have a noticeable effect.

In a nutshell, this may very well be the most visually compelling reason to buy a 360. Although slated for 2006 release, Gears looks to be the most beautiful title on display. Everything you would expect from a high-end PC title (HDR, high-resolution textures, fluid animation, ragdoll physics, and normal maps) is here, and you won't have to spend over $2,000 on upgrades to play it. From what I saw, there were no instances of blocky aliased edges or surfaces. What's more, virtually every curved surface (steering wheels, plates, etc.) was well-rounded and smooth. Most titles (even those released this year) still have a problem with medium-quality wireframes and normal maps, but Gears looks to be taking full advantage of the new 360 technology and push the gaming experience even further.


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