There’s little doubt that Gears of War has been the most anticipated game to launch on the Xbox 360. Obviously every serious Xbox gamer is still waiting with baited breath for Halo 3, but pretty much everyone who saw the screenshots of GoW prior to the Xbox 360’s launch was blown away. Even though there wasn’t much information on the gameplay at the time, I was already desperate to get my paws on this game. Then when I saw Gears of War demonstrated at E3, I was completely hooked and started counting down the days.
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first. Gears of War looks absolutely stunning! There simply isn’t another console based game that can even come close to the visuals offered by GoW. To be honest, even on the PC I can’t think of anything that looks better than Gears, although Crysis and Alan Wake are set to redefine PC gaming visuals in the not too distant future, so that glory is potentially short lived. But as things stand, Gears of War hasn’t so much raised the graphics bar for console gaming, it has sent it into the stratosphere.
Never before on a console have I seen such rich textures, such atmospheric lighting and such immersive environmental effects. Graphically Gears of War gets everything just about perfect. There are dark and dingy buildings, debris filled streets, underground caverns and even the odd moving train to fight your way through. The locations are varied enough not to feel like you’re trudging over the same ground over and over – something that spoiled the otherwise excellent F.E.A.R. when I played it through.
Despite the fact that much of the game is played in semi-darkness, Epic has thrown in some of the best lighting I’ve ever seen in a game. Whereas many games these days go overboard with HDR lighting effects just to throw eye candy into the equation, GoW is far more restrained. Although some of the lighting is breathtaking, it’s not “in your face”, just like in the real world. Instead it just adds atmosphere to the proceedings and makes the locations look that bit more convincing. Yes there are some bloom effects thrown in here and there, but they’re not overdone, and when they are used it’s because the locale calls for it.
The character models are also first rate, no scratch that, they’re better than first rate. And I don’t just mean the way they look, although the detail in each and every character in the game is staggering, but more about how they move. You’ll be blown away once you’ve got the hang of the controls and you make Marcus Fenix duck from one area of cover to the next, taking the odd pot shot as he goes, while all the time the rest of the squad are negotiating the same environment and also engaging the enemy. I’ve never seen such fluid movement in a game. But for me one of the best effect is the sprint option. Hold the A button and Marcus will run – when running the camera angle drops down low and the environment takes on a slight motion blur effect. The result is a real feeling of urgency that adds to the already unparalleled atmosphere.