So here I am, playing Gears of War on a widescreen Samsung TV at 1,920 x 1080 and, somehow, everything feels rather familiar. I swear I was doing just this a year ago, previewing a game that quickly came to define a console and propel the Xbox 360 into a successful holiday period. But hang on a moment, what's this? Ah, there's a keyboard and mouse in front of me as well as the familiar Xbox 360 controller. Since when did the Xbox 360 support a keyboard and mouse?
Answer is, of course, it doesn't and probably never will. This is the PC version of Gears of War and, as such, a keyboard and mouse is an essential addition. Indeed, it's an addition that posed quite a few problems for the development team, as Cliff Bleszinski, known simply as 'CliffyB' in gaming circles, attests to:
''What we actually wound up doing behind the scenes was having a lot of little tweaks to make sure that the player wasn't too empowered with the keyboard and mouse…we didn't want the game to devolve into how quickly can I get one pixel on another pixel, because that's really not what the game is about."
Having just sat through a breezy five minute introduction from Cliff himself, the assembled journalists have been let loose on the demo stations dotted around the adjoining room. It's a rather awkward arrangement if truth be told; sitting a matter of inches away from 32in LCD TVs is hardly ideal for gaming. Still, it's bearable, and settling down to play through the opening segments of the game, bullishly setting the difficulty to 'Hardcore', I was quickly reminded that Gears of War is by no means a forgiving game.
As such, as I fumbled around discovering all the keyboard commands, the A.I handed me a large slice of humble pie and suggested I ate it with haste, which I did. Lesson learnt it was time switch down to the embarrassingly named 'Casual' difficulty and load up the new single-player chapters introduced for the PC version of the game.
Yes, you did read that right; there are five new chapters in all, which represent a whole new act that fills in the story between acts four and five. As CliffyB explains, this new section of the game centres around you and your team being chased relentlessly by a giant creature called 'The Brumak':
'"What we’ve wound up doing with this section is having this great grinder of combat, but all book ended with this beast that’s harassing you the entire time…he just keeps on making these appearances, reminding you that he’s there, reminding you that his presence is felt. It's what I like to call ‘Monster Foreplay’."
Those who played the original will no doubt remember the creature, but for those who didn't you'll recognise it from the TV adverts where it was featured along with the haunting 'Mad World' by Tears For Fears. It's less than pivotal role in the original proved something of a disappointment to many, so it's a more than welcome addition to the game.
Quite apart from the new chapters and The Brumak, there's also a few other additions to the multiplayer side of things. Three new maps bring the total shipping with the game to nineteen and there's also a new multiplayer mode, King of the Hill, where each team gains points for holding onto a single ring in each map.
Indeed, multiplayer will doubtless continue to be an important theme for Gears of War on the PC. On Xbox 360 the online options were important to the game's success, especially the much lauded co-op mode, which naturally makes a return. Gears of War PC also marks the debut of the Unreal Engine 3 Game Editor, which Cliff was particularly excited about since some of Epic's best designers have come from the modding community.
As part of the Games for Windows scheme, the game will also utilise Microsoft's LIVE service for multiplayer matchmaking, and only a free Silver account will be required. This also means, as with the Xbox 360 version, that there's support for Achievements, which helps to maintain consistency between the two versions.