Gears of War is innovative, visually stunning and tightly executed, but it lacks that certain something that would make it truly immortal.
By now, pretty much everyone alive has already played Gears of War. Those who haven't are probably huddled under a log somewhere in the depths of the third world, possibly wishing they'd bought a 360 instead of a PlayStation 3.
So I probably don't need to tell you that Gears of War is a third-person shooter developed by Epic Games for the XBox 360 and PC, most notable for its gritty visual aesthetic, its warzone-style shaky camerawork and its snap-to-cover mechanics and squad-based combat.
It's a game that's received a lot of bowing and scraping, and for good reason. The gameplay, graphics, and level design are all first-class. This is clearly a game at the top of its genre.
But it's missing that special something. I have revered games like Half-Life and Max Payne long after I first played them, but I doubt that I'm going to include Gears of War in their ranks. I think it's the Hollywood factor. Half-Life and Max Payne were interactive narratives; Gears of War is merely an immersive one.
In Gears of War it feels like the player is being swept along by the flow of events. There's really only one way to play the game, and only one pace to play it at. It's a hell of a way, and a hell of a pace, but it's always clear that you're having a story told to you, rather than helping to tell a story.
Max Payne, by contrast, let you dictate whether you had a shallow or deep experience. You controlled much of the pacing. You could blast through area after area in a hail of bullets, or stop to watch the television segments and explore the environment for hidden content. Half-Life and its sequel let you pick and choose what areas to fight in, what weapons to fight with, and to what extent to rely on the environment. There were extra conversations to hear, extra sights to see, and humerous consequences for unexpected actions. The game could as easily be a black comedy as an action spectacular.
In Gears of War every player will have almost exactly the same experience. Achieving that in a game of this complexity is actually an amazing technical and game design accomplishment, but it's probably an accomplishment that shouldn't have been aimed for.
It's also a little disappointing that there's a fairly large chunk of the plot missing from the XBox 360 version, which would have sat at the start of the game's final act. I understand this chunk has been put back in to the PC version, but it's disappointing for console players who'll likely be left in the dark as to exactly how the fairly lackluster story concludes.
While the storyline may be weak and the ending unsatisfying, the moment-to-moment dialogue is first class. The four main characters really come alive through their squad-based banter, and the voice actors are absolutely beyond criticism. This chatter does a great job of adding life and character to levels that would otherwise consist of a lot of repetitive run-and-gun gameplay.
Minor complaints aside, this is a phenomenal game that any dedicated gamer simply has to play. Experiencing it now will leave you well-placed for the arrival of the sequel this November.