After a year of hype, spectacular demos and much fevered speculation, weâ€™ve finally got our hands on Gears of War. Having played it in single-player and co-op form on the X06 exhibition floor, and in thirty-minute deathmatch sessions behind closed doors, itâ€™s safe to say that this is THE big 360 title for the pre-Christmas season, and that all the chatter of â€˜this generationâ€™s Haloâ€™ isnâ€™t as OTT as it used to sound.
Weâ€™ve talked about the graphics before â€“ the astonishing level of detail, the beauty of the gameâ€™s ruined-city architecture, the sheer presence of the rough and ready soldier heroes and monstrous Locust foes â€“ and itâ€™s all still here, perfectly playable and utterly smooth in action. But spending time up-close with Gears of War has given us more opportunity to see the amount of attention thatâ€™s gone into every aspect of the look. The style is heavily cinematic, with a hard, photographic edge that perfectly matches the in-your-face feel of the combat. Whatâ€™s more, the Gears engine handles some of the best use of depth-of-field weâ€™ve seen in any game, the focus and perspective shifting subtly as the camera moves from the standard third-person view to an over-the-shoulder targeting mode, and then to the brilliantly implemented â€˜shakeycamâ€™ that kicks in when you scramble from one point of cover to the next.
And you will spend a lot of time scrambling. This isnâ€™t a run and gun game, and even in the easy â€˜casual gamerâ€™ difficulty level getting caught out in the open was a recipe for a speedy demise. In the opening level, a wrecked prison under bombardment from human forces and invasion from the fiendish Locust hordes, making use of columns and blocks of broken masonry is very much the name of the game, with squadrons of the evil-looking goons suddenly appearing, then moving fast to end your life. Luckily, using cover is a breeze: you just engage A to shelter, then use A and the left stick to move between adjacent safe-points or hop over the block youâ€™re busy cowering behind. Pressing the left trigger has you peeking out to target the enemy, but if youâ€™re feeling especially â€˜yellaâ€™ â€“ or maybe just have an instinct for survival â€“ you can just press the right trigger to â€˜blind fireâ€™ over the barrier or round the side. You wonâ€™t fire with any sort of accuracy, but if you hit a Locust square-on with a shotgun blast, you donâ€™t really need to be precise.