We get to grips with the Gears of War

Written by Wil Harris

May 11, 2006 // 10:58 p.m.

Tags: #crysis #e3 #engine #epic #gears-of-war #unreal #xbox-360

Man, this is turning into a spectacular E3. Remember how we told you yesterday that, much to our surprise, Crysis looked just as good in real life as it did in the unbelievable videos and pictures we had seen previously? Well, ditto Gears of War.

Gears is an Xbox 360-only title that is coming around the September time frame. It's based on the Unreal Engine 3, and will possibly even be out before Unreal Tournament 2007 itself.

The game is not, as we had previously thought, a first-person shooter. It's actually third-person, and it has gameplay that is quite different from anything we have seen previously. The guys at Epic, demonstrating the game to bit-tech in a private area away from the main floor, explained that they preferred to think of the game as a 'stop and pop' rather than a 'run and gun'.

The gameplay

You play an ex-soldier busted out of prison by a friend. The world around you is being invaded by the Locust Horde, a mysterious race of brute alien types. You and your buddies have to beat your way through the minions of the Horde to take back your home planet from the invaders.

We've never seen anything quite like the gameplay on show here. It's 'cover-based' - meaning that rather than standing out in the open and firing at enemies, it's imperative that you keep yourself protected from the massive Locust machine guns. Unlike other games - like Perfect Dark Zero - where cover is an awkward annoyance, here it's a well thought out mechanism. Throwing yourself against a wall gives you the protection you need to line up your shots. If you really have to move quickly, you can scuttle along the base of a wall, firing blind with the rifle over your head. Running from wall to wall, throwing yourself around corners and hitting the floor all feels suitably military. You can leap over cover to surprise an enemy on the other side - and he will be pretty darned surprised when he finds the chainsaw on the end of your gun (bayonet style) buried deep in his skull.

Needless to say, the game is going to be 'M for Mature'.

Your squad mates are a valuable addition, and giving them orders and using their help is critical to getting through the game. Crucially, Epic has made the decision to allow co-op gameplay from the get go - meaning that instead of a team of computer mates helping you through the game, your buddies can all come together over Xbox Live and play through the game. However, the way co-op has been handled is quite different. Rather than, say, Halo - where you basically just have Master Chief 1 and Master Chief 2 inexplicably following the same route - each character in the game has his own path that compliments the others. One buddy might have to go and press a button that only he can get to to open the door for others. You can flank around and utilise each guy's speciality weapons. The vibe is definitely Time Crisis, for those familiar with the two-player arcade shooter.

The graphics

The visuals in-game are simply sublime. If you thought videos of Unreal Engine 3 looked good, nothing can prepare you for how this thing actually looks on a high-def screen. It's crazy. Things blow up everywhere, the parallax mapping is ultra-detailed, textures are mega-high-resolution and the movement and animation is spot-on.

Scenery is destructible, as you might expect in a game set in a warzone. The guns looks suitably meaty and the heat and muzzle flare from the barrels is a very neat effect. Shadows have never looked so good, and the HDR lighting also adds some great depth to the scene.

The whole thing is so high resolution, so high polygon, so well detailed it looks... well, unreal. Is it as good as Crysis in the visual stakes? It's a slightly different style but it's really hard to call. Crysis appears to excel at outdoor areas, vegetation, whereas we haven't seen much outdoor stuff so far in Gears. But, we'd have to say it's as good, if not better at indoor scenery. That is pretty sweet.

Gears of War looks like being one of the standout titles of 2006, along with Crysis. It's truly next-generation, representing a substantial improvement over the first-gen Xbox 360 titles in terms of graphics and gameplay. Is the PS3 worth $300 more than this? It's hard to think so.

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