|TGS 2006: Gears of War Impressions
Epic's juggernaut shown behind closed doors. Chainsaws included.
by Charles Onyett
September 22, 2006 - Though Gears of War wasn't on the floor at TGS 2006, it was being shown behind closed doors. We snuck in for a peek at the single player demo, a single chapter of the solo campaign. The story centers on Marcus Fenix, who starts the game off in jail for disobeying orders from a superior. Don Santiago, one of Fenix's buddies, breaks him out as the game begins. The level we got to see takes place very soon after getting out of jail. Marcus, Dom and some other squadmates are on their way to a battlefield, riding in a chopper. They arrive at a ruined town square in front of a cathedral-like structure, and are informed Alpha Squad who'd headed in before them had gone missing.
This mission was part of the single player campaigns first act, called Ashes: Trial by Fire. In the game there'll be five Acts total, each broken up into chapters. Apparently the game will be around 10 hours long for the single player, though a number of multiplayer modes exist. What exactly those modes are, beyond the standard team deathmatch type we played at E3, representatives weren't saying. The game will support play over Xbox Live, through system link, and via split screen. Only two players can play split screen on any one TV, we were told. Setting up an offline two on two match would require two Xbox 360 units connected via system link, with two players going split screen on two televisions. Representatives were unsure if two players could play online split screen on the same console. Cooperative play for two players will be supported for the entire single player campaign, with Dom and Marcus as the controllable characters.
Getting back to the mission, Marcus and three others stormed the church's stairs after getting their orders. Though squad movement command can be issued, it wasn't possible in the demo as Marcus wasn't the squad leader. Tapping Y at any time directs Marcus' attention to any points of interest in the area. Near the start he would glance up at the chopper as it departed. At the end of the mission players had to use Y to spot Alpha Squad's brutalized corpses. If there's nothing particularly attention worthy in the area, Marcus will look over at the squad leader.
As has been the case with all the other Gears of War demos, the emphasis was again on taking cover. Marcus can sprint to get behind cover ahead, vault over short walls, and spin from cover point to adjacent cover point. He can also peek around corners to fire on enemies with bursts from his SMG. At close range, a chainsaw can be revved up to shred an enemy to bits. That's not recommended, however, since enemies will be taking cover as well.
While firing from behind cover can work to blow up enemy heads, using flanking maneuvers seems to be more effective. For instance, if you sprint up on an enemy position and pepper them from one side, they'll respond and adjust their cover. Ideally that would allow your teammates to take advantage and get some open shots. Moving out from cover is dangerous, however. In Gears of War, there's no real health bar or gear logo. Instead, a gear icon pops up in the center of the screen as Locusts drill you with firearms. With more damage, the logo fills in with red. If you move away from battle the logo will eventually flicker away, indicating you're back at full health. Should it completely fill in, you die.
To prevent death, k!lling others works best. Marcus can carry four armament types at a time: a pistol, grenades, and two larger weapons. In the demo he only had an standard issue COG SMG, but was able to scrounge some Locust guns after their brains were sufficiently stuffed with bullets. Ammo crates left behind by previous squads can also be found, replenishing numerous ammo types. When it comes time to reload, there's a choice. Either reload in the traditional fashion, or attempt an active reload. By hitting the right bumper, a minigame starts up. By stopping a moving bar in a specific place on the ammo display at the screen's top right, players can earn bonuses. A perfect stop gives players bullets with extra damage. A good stop gives players an instant reload. Poorly stopping the bar jams the gun, so there's a risk.
Using giant stone pillars and tarnished stone planters, Marcus and crew made their way through the church and various courtyards. Locusts spawned into areas via emergence holes, which were yawning gaps in the ground. Lobbing in a grenade closes up the hole, preventing more Locusts from spawning into the area. At one point a teammate went down, causing an icon to pop up in the top right of the screen. By heading over to him, Marcus was able to perform a revive. Should teammates die in the single player mode, the game doesn't end. However, progress will become more difficult with less guns beating back the enemy.
Players can also revive in the cooperative and multiplayer modes. In coop, players must ensure only one of them goes down at a time, since if both go down at once it's game over. There's a checkpoint system in place to let k!lled players continue their game for both coop and single player, and it generally seemed to start off near where the death occurred. In multiplayer, opponents have the opportunity to curb stomp a downed player's face, preventing revival.
From what we saw, Gears of War is one of the prettiest Xbox 360 titles out there. It's got great animations, nice explosions, and unnecessarily messy blood effects. The frame rate seemed more stable than the last few times we've seen this one, which is definitely good to see. Though there are plenty of cover options for Gears of War, we're hoping the gameplay manages to stay interesting over 10 hours. We'll see more of this one at X06 in Barcelona, where designer Cliff Bleszinski will be on hand with some single and multiplayer content.