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E3 2005: Hands-on With Gears of War
game: E3 2005: Hands-on With Gears of War
posted by: Aaron Stanton
publisher: Microsoft
developer: Epic Games
date posted: 12:00 AM Tue May 24th, 2005
last revision: 12:00 AM Tue May 24th, 2005

Click to read.If you follow rumor sites very much, you probably know that a lot of people were looking for a glimpse of a next generation screenshot leading up to this year's E3.  Well, it turns out that they've been staring us in the face pretty much since E3 2004.  Screenshots and character models of Gears of War for the Xbox 360 have been around under a different name ever since a demonstration of the Unreal 3 engine by Nvidia at last year's E3.  The demonstration was good enough that I sent a number of our writers to see it the next day with instructions to ogle the graphics and drool a lot.  In a few years,? I remember saying, when people have computers that can run this level of graphics, gaming is going to be amazing.?  The demonstration showed a number of monsters walking through different light settings with real-time rendering, a slow panning shot of a deteriorating fountain, and a massive enemy T-Rex-style creature that rumbles through the demo right at the end.  Imagine my surprise when all three elements - creatures and fountain - made an appearance during the behind closed doors meeting we had with Microsoft and Epic Games.  The demonstration I'd seen in the Nvidia booth was basically Gears of War, only broken into chucks and showed off piece by piece for their individual graphical feats.  Apparently my comment about how long it would take to reach that level of gaming by the average consumer was off; we're now six months from the release of the Xbox 360, and it will be at the hands of everyone who cares to pick up the box.  

The Xbox 360 exclusive title Gears of War is probably one of the most fleshed out next-gen titles to be shown on the floor this E3.  It blends tactical fighting and horror into a game that reminds me of what Brute Force would have been if it had been done right.  The over the shoulder perspective, as well as the ability to join and exit a split screen or Live co-op game at any time, is reminiscent of the much-hyped Xbox title that turned out to really suck.  The similarities seem to end there, though, since even when taking into account the obvious graphical differences, Gears of War seems to be doing everything right.  

This is not a run and gun game,? says Cliff Bleszinski, a Lead Designer at Epic Games.  It's a stop and pop game.?   Unlike titles that have you charging in, one man against the world, without a thought for how many bullets your body can absorb before your arms fall off, Gears of War emphasizes the use of cover in-game.  This is where the stop? part comes in.  Stop, take cover, popup, shoot.  In one of those little details that help make games great, you can shoot from behind cover without exposing your head; you just point your gun around the corner and start firing.  When you shoot this way, though, your aiming reticule vanishes, and your left trying to hit your target virtually on the blind.  This mix of fast paced action and methodical cover-taking gameplay allows the designers to craft a more cinematic experience.  

We wanted to focus a lot on what we call water cooler moments,? Cliff says.  Things that happen that you'll find yourself talking to other people about the next day, things that keep the game interesting.  We don't want those moments to ever be more than 10 to 15 minutes apart.?  These moments can be as simple as discovering you can blow over some debris on the street to create new cover for yourself, or as complicated as a giant monster crashing through the wall behind you.  While the excitement behind dodging crumbling bricks as a building explodes is pretty obvious, many of these water cooler moments rely on a more subtle approach to the game.  In one scene we were shown, you spill a trail of gasoline onto the ground and set it ablaze.  The resulting fire trail not only provides light (which keeps you safe from certain types of enemies), but also works its way back to the source and ultimately blows up behind you.  The entire effect is very impressive, making this a very strong looking title.  

Unfortunately, while the gameplay seems to be coming along nicely, the storyline behind the game is less creative.  In fact, the described plot lends itself well to nearly a dozen similar games I can name off-hand.  You are a badass, rebellious marine released from a military prison because the forces of humanity are in great danger from an alien entity of some sort (that actually come from inside the planet).  Humanity has developed a new technology that may turn the tide of the war, if you can get it to the right people in time.  The humans, known as the Coalition of Ordered Governments, or COG, fight the Horde, which are creatures that burst forth from the heart of the planet during a time of great turmoil.  The COG are more mechanized, while the Horde use organic technology.  Because the bad guys exist below the surface, they don't like light; nighttime is your greatest enemy.  If you blend the plot from the movie Pitch Black with the space marines of StarCraft, you'd probably have something that looks much like Gears of War.  Not to say that's entirely bad, mind you.  Though I don't expect Gears of War to be any Advent Rising in terms of story development? well? that's why we have games life Advent Rising.  Gears of War seems to be about providing great action in a rich and detailed world, not laying down an epic saga about the forces of good and evil.  The setting of the story allows for some very interesting scenes, including some really sharp looking human city ruins that show off the power of the Xbox 360 surprisingly well.  

Probably one of the other most noticeable elements of Gears of War at this point is the target audience.  This Xbox 360 title, which is expected to be ready for the system's launch window (within 6 months of launch), is not for children.  Even in the brief demo we were allowed to see, there was more swearing than I remember seeing in a big title before.  Generally, I hope they're careful with this; it's very easy to fall into the trap of swearing when it does not add to the experience.  It's also possible this will be toned down a great deal prior to release.  We'll see.  Either way, Gears of War looks like it's going to be a great title in what is already looking to be a stellar lineup for the Xbox 360. 

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