It ships today, I managed to get copies of it over the weekend, so if you're looking for a PC/Xbox360 gamer's impression of Gears of War - here it is:

Ever since the release of the Xbox 360 I've been waiting for something good to play on it. Unfortunately, as is the case with many games, with 360 titles there was often a lot of hype and very little substance; for once, there's a game that doesn't follow this unfortunate tradition.

Gears of War is the first game that honestly looks as good as the trailer or as screenshots from the game. Normally I absolutely abhor pre-release game screenshots since they always look infinitely better than the game itself, especially on consoles, but with Gears what you see is what you get.

The game looks amazing, just about every level had something in it that made me stop playing and just watch the game. The sky in the last level of the game is the most incredible sky I've ever seen in a video game. The models are all unbelievably detailed and the in-game frame rate is absolutely perfect. Cut scenes can sometimes get a little choppy but the actual game runs smooth as butter. Derek and I were working on G80 when Mark Rein dropped Gears off for us to try, and all we could think of is how much we wanted to play it on G80 at 2560 x 1600. That being said, in my opinion Gears looks better than anything else currently in a production state - on the console or PC.

Visuals aside, the gameplay itself is very good. We beat the co-op campaign in just under 10 hours on the hardest difficulty setting available by default, but it was a very fun 10 hours. I can only remember a single time where we had to do the dreaded "fight up to this room, grab an item, then fight your way back" quest - and even then it was extremely short. The levels were all extremely well designed, varied and entertaining. Honestly my only complaint about the single player is that the game assumes that you are already familiar with the backstory of the game. You don't have any overly long and boring cinematics, which also means that if you care about why you're fighting this war you should probably read the manual or check out the story online.

The game itself wasn't too hard on the "hardcore" setting, but after beating it once you can unlock the "insane" difficulty setting which appears to be much more challenging. I'm the type of person that wants to play through a game once so I would've liked to have had insane available at the start, but others may feel differently.

For those of you who haven't heard of the cover system employed in Gears by now I'll give you a quick overview. You can't jump in gears, instead you use the 'A' button to roll, run or take cover. Rolling is pretty self explanatory, tap 'A' to roll in the direction you're pointing the left thumbstick in. Running is a bit more interesting than just walking fast; in Gears you do what's called a "roadie run" where your character ducks his head a bit, the camera zooms out a little and you get this shaky effect while you're running like you're watching video a cameraman run after your character on screen. At first glance it looks cool, upon further inspection you'll worry that it'll be annoying, but it's not bad at all and quite useful in game.

The cover system is pretty simple; when you're near an object or wall you can hide behind, tapping 'A' will cause your character to take cover behind it. It's the cover system that results in a far more strategic and high-heart-rate inducing game than most other FPS. As much as I normally hate games that don't let you jump, you don't really miss it in Gears. The control/cover system does take some getting used to, and I'm still not totally comfortable with it in very close quarters, but it fits with the game and is a large part of what makes Gears unique.

Multiplayer is interesting and I'll have to save my final verdict here until later since I haven't played anything bigger than a 3v2 online at this point. Multiplayer in Gears ends up being very team/strategy oriented, much more so than Halo 2, but I'm not sure how long the "newness" of the game in this sense will last. If you're wondering, in unranked games you can have up to two users per Xbox in splitscreen, one per box for ranked games.

Level design is done very well, near perfect I'd say, in that they are balanced and tight enough to provide for a very fast paced and competitive game. Gears is the first game where I actually got nervous if I was being hunted by the other team, I didn't want to die. It's a very intense experience to say the least. The multiplayer is like a game of paintball, except chainsaws are allowed.

But the real question for me is whether Gears can replace Halo 2 as our most often played multiplayer game on Xbox Live.

We've been playing Halo 2 multiplayer on Xbox Live since its release, and Bungie has done a tremendous job of adding new modes to keep the multiplayer game fresh. With only three game modes to begin with and a user base that will start from scratch, Gears is at a disadvantage today. If Epic wants the game to have the same lasting appeal that Halo and Halo 2 did for its fanbase, Gears needs more modes and it needs a more transparent to the user matchmaking system.

Gears still employs (albeit better than any other Xbox 360 game that uses a similar methodology) a very PC-like matchmaking system, where you go out and find servers to play on. The Halo 2 matchmaking is far more blackbox like where you simply hit go and it finds the requisite number of other players needed for the particular gametype, puts together the game, picks a host and you're on your way. No looking for servers, no worrying about the host getting upset for losing and quitting (thus ending the game); it's simply the quickest and easiest way to get a multiplayer game going and in a way, perfectly suited for a console.

The idea behind console gaming is that it is supposed to be simpler than PC gaming, but applying a PC-like matchmaking system, again albeit done very well, is taking a little bit away from the console experience. It's something that only Bungie, as far as I can tell, has managed to get right and I do hope that it's something that Epic will be able to embrace down the road as I feel that Gears has the potential to be just as big as the Halo franchise.

By now, if you're interested, I'm sure you've read tons of Gears reviews that will have far more information and detail than this wordy post. Is Gears the game that is going to make you buy a 360 if you're a PC gamer? I'm not sure, we'll have to see how the longevity of the multiplayer pans out, but for those of you that have an Xbox 360, Gears is the game to have; it's the best thing out for that console bar none. Microsoft should be very happy with Epic this holiday season, as Epic just gave people a reason to have the 360.
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  • OcHungry - Wednesday, January 3, 2007 - link

    Mr. Anand I would like to PM you about a concern I have regarding your forum.
    How can I PM you?
    Thanks
    Reply
  • CorrND - Friday, December 15, 2006 - link

    Wow, this blog has really been tossed in the can. The last post was over a month ago and the post before that was a couple months too. Come on Anand! I really enjoyed even reading about mundane stuff like the crazy wiring you were putting in your house! Reply
  • xbox360defective - Tuesday, December 5, 2006 - link

    We had to spend the money were going to spend on Gears of War for Christmas, on getting our xbox 360 fixed.
    What should have been covered by a 1 year warranty, we had to pay to have repaired.
    Now, we will get another Re-Furbished xbox 360. We don't even get the same one, the one we took excellent care of, back. Instead we get one that went through no-telling what kind of hell, got sent in for repair, then Microsof sent us theirs.

    If you have a used Gears of war for sale or trade, love to know, I have quite a few of the newest games.
    Need for speed.
    Ghost Recon
    NFL
    Fight Night round 3.
    to trade in on one.
    Reply
  • xbox360defective - Tuesday, December 5, 2006 - link

    http://www.xbox360defective.com">XBOX 360 DEFECTIVE DOT COM CLICK HEREhttp://www.xbox360defective.com

    Thousands of people paid good money for an xbox 360 only to have it crash and burn.
    Then, after paying to have it fixed, the one sent back from Microsoft also had hardware failure... this happens over and over and over....

    Sure would be nice to be able to play Gears of War.

    I wish microsoft would quit using the public to test their gaming console, then charging them to repair it.
    Microsoft needs to put a 1 year warranty on the xbox 360 and recall all the broken units and send out NEW units to the people who received defective xbox 360s.
    A public announcement needs to be made by Microsoft.
    Reply
  • jbalds007 - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    I was wondering, since all 3 nextgen consoles are out, will Anandtech give a comparison on how games run and performs on each console? Like performance by watts, comparison made with AMD to intel. Like comparing on how Madden runs on all 3 consoles for example. Reply
  • cosmotic - Thursday, November 9, 2006 - link

    Warcraft 3 implements a similarly simple matchmaking system as you described for Halo 2. You pick the number of players and click go. It finds players, manages whos the host (even when some one drops or leaves). Reply
  • rqle - Friday, November 10, 2006 - link

    blizzard always have the best online gaming system that i experience so far. Reply
  • bwmccann - Thursday, November 9, 2006 - link

    I didn't even think you contributed to your own site anymore. One of the reasons I used to like your site was that it was personal...it has moved away from that in the last quarter or two. Please don't get to commercial on us...especially the loyal fan base you have had for over a decade. I know you don’t reply to these but hopefully you read the comments. Reply
  • bwmccann - Friday, November 10, 2006 - link

    Anand I hope you take time to read the comments. Are you ever going to address your readers anymore? A little reply or new blog would go a long way to show that you are still around and care about this community. Reply
  • KraftyOne - Wednesday, November 8, 2006 - link

    Hey - glad the game is good and that you took some time for fun.

    When will we get to see the Intel 965 budget boards? I'm looking to build something for Christmas for someone and this would be very helpful to have soon!

    Thanks for all the help you give!
    Reply

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