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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 Rainier on Jan. 1, 2006 @ 1:30 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.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Epic Games
Release Date: TBA

Microsoft's theme for E3 2006 was to show off all of its big titles in playable form, and when it comes down to big titles, they don't get any bigger than Gears of War. Last year, we got an early look at one of the single-player levels, but this year, we got to see a much more complete version of the single-player mode. We also got the chance to go hands-on with one of the multiplayer modes.

The madness all started off when Cliff Bleszinski from Epic Games, lead designer of Gears of War, took the helm and demoed a brand new single-player level, which appears to be one of first levels of the game. It starts off with the main character, Marcus Fenix, being released from jail to join up with a group of Marine-like soldiers and take on a new enemy known as "the Locusts."

As CliffyB began to play, Marcus and his Marine buddy start to make their way out of the prison cell block into a large room that was covered with lots of fallen debris. A large number of Locust foot soldiers cut through a metal door at the other end of the room and burst in. He showed off GOW's excellent cover system as he dove behind one of the large blocks on the floor and placed his back against it. The Locust also took advantage of the large blocks of the building on the floor and took cover behind them as well. This really showed off the AI well, as the Locust didn't just sit behind the cover and wait for you to come and cut them to pieces. Instead, they spread out, and some of the enemies took quick pop shots from behind the cover and then went back out of view, while others laid down suppressing fire.

Cliff fired back with a "spray and pray" move, which is what you can do when you are behind cover to lay down suppressing fire of your own. Marcus will stick just his gun out over the object used for cover, allowing you to spray lots of rounds in the general direction of your enemy, but with very little control over your aim. This move is mainly used to suppress your enemies so you can get a better shot on them or flank them, which is exactly what Cliffy did next. With most of the Locusts hiding behind cover, Cliff moved into a better position and fired off a few rounds into the knees of a Locust, causing him to flinch in pain. He then finished off the Locust with a few well-placed shots to the face, at which point the great ragdoll physics took over, giving us a nice death animation.

Locusts have lots of armor on their chests and arms and that you need to go for only head- and knee-shots to take them out efficiently. Cliffy then showed us what he meant by firing a ton of rounds into another one of the Locust chests, which took him a great deal more time and damage to take out this one than it did the others. At this point, he showed us another cool feature of Gears of War, Active Reload, which is the title's reloading system. Unlike most shooters, where all you have to do is press a "reload button" when you are out of ammo, in GoW, you have the ability to time your reload to the exact second you fire the last bullet from a clip. If you hit the reload button at this very instant, Marcus will not only pop in the next clip much faster, but the first three or four rounds of the next clip will actually go straighter and do more damage. There is a down side to this as well; if you miss time your reload, your gun will actually jam, and it will take a few seconds for Marcus to fix it so it will fire again, thus leaving you totally defenseless. The AI picks up on these gun jams and will come at you full force if they see your weapon lock up.

The machine gun in GOW features a chainsaw bayonet, which can be activated at close range with the press of the B button, much like in Halo. If done correctly, you are greeted to a nice cinematic view of your character slicing the enemy straight down the middle, complete with entrails and all.

Described as "force split" sections, there will be multiple paths in many of the levels, giving you a choice of where you want to go. Some paths with be easier than others, but they will all end at the same place, room or section of the level, no matter which way you go. Your role on these paths will also change, according to which one you take. In some, your team takes up a good position, laying down covering fire for you as you move to complete an object or flank an enemy position. On other routes, you are the one taking up shop with a small team of guys, providing suppressing fire for your other squad in a different section of the level. We saw both paths in our demo and the differences between them. One turned out to be a pretty easy way to go, with few enemies and help from your teammates. The other was a much more intense path, with lots of enemies, as well you needing to provide cover fire for your other group. This looks to give Gears of War lots of depth, especially in co-op mode, which will be playable over Xbox Live.

We also saw a large outdoor area, where there were lots of Locust enemies well fortified behind good cover. At this point, we saw another really cool feature in Gears of War that can only be described as the "cinematic button." At times, there will be really cool or important things happening in the level, such as a big monster crashing through a wall or one of your friends needing help with an enemy. When one of these events is happening, you see an icon on the screen flash, and you can hit the Y button on the controller, which will give you a very cinematic view of the important scene taking place. This all happens in real time, while you can still control and move your character around the environment.

Another example we saw of this was when one of your AI squadmates asks you to activate the door to the next room from the switch on the table. Well, as you walk into the room, there is a ton of buttons and other clutter on the table, making it hard to know which switch your squad mate is referring to. With one press of the Y button, the camera zooms in on the exact switch he is talking about. What Epic wanted to do is keep the game as interactive as possible while making it cinematic at the same time. They didn't want to pause the action and have the players watch an in-engine movie to show something important, so they came up with this instead. After seeing how well it worked firsthand, I must say that this is going to be a feature that many developers will try to rip off down the road.

At this point, the Gears of War demo came to an end in true Epic Games fashion, much like last year's E3 demo did, with the team getting on a helicopter just in the nick of time as a massive, never-before-seen monster bursts forth from the ground. Every time we have seen this game in action, it has impressed us a little bit more, and this time was no different. The graphics have improved even more since the last time we saw it. The textures, character models and lighting all look amazing, and this is one of the few X360 titles we saw using a high level of FSAA, getting rid of almost all of the jaggies. What you are left with is a title that does not look like a next-gen video game, but like a playable high-quality CG movie. Gears of War looks that good, and the gameplay in the single-player demo we saw looked tight, polished and very, very fun. Stay tuned for our full hands-on impressions, with a multiplayer portion of Gears of War coming soon.

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