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The superb character movement brings me onto one of the most important features in Gears of War, cover. Unlike many action games, GoW doesn’t lend itself to players who like to steam into the action with guns blazing – of course you can try this technique, but you probably won’t last very long. Instead you’re encouraged to take cover behind concrete blocks, doorways, burned out cars or even sofas. Then from the relative safety of your cover position you can lean out and take shots at the evil locusts, then duck back behind your cover. Of course many other games have implemented a cover feature, but none have pulled it off as well as Gears – cover isn’t an afterthought, it’s imperative to progressing in the game.
But the real beauty of cover is that you can make your way across a map jumping, ducking and diving from one area of cover to the next. Once behind cover you have a number of options on how you wish to proceed. If it’s a concrete block you can leap over it or dive to the left or right. If you’re behind a doorway, you can spin around it into the room, switch to the other side to get a clearer shot at the other side of the room, or just dive into a forward roll. Once you get the hang of cover you can advance on enemies while taking only minimal damage – something that’s pretty important if you’re trying to flank a locust stronghold.
There are no health packs in Gears of War. The damage system works in a similar manner to Call of Duty 2 – if you take some damage, duck behind some cover and in a few seconds you’ll be good as new. OK, so it’s not particularly realistic, but then neither is patching up multiple gunshot wounds with a first aid kit. It’s this method of damage/healing that makes a more strategic approach the key to succeeding in Gears.
The one downside to the superb cover feature in GoW is that the environments sometimes feel very contrived. No matter where you go, there will always be concrete blocks, furniture, burned out cars or sand bags strewn around. However, even in the real world there is generally always something to hide behind – this is urban warfare after all, rather than a pitched battle in a field. According to the story, the war against the locusts has been raging for 14 years, so it’s not surprising that there is no shortage of shattered buildings and wrecked cars to dive behind. The cars are particularly cool, since you can push them along while hiding behind them. Don’t get too comfy when you’re behind cover though, since it’s only a matter of time before a locust lobs a grenade in and blows you to bits.