Gears of War was a huge hit on the Xbox 360 and it was THE title that showed what the console was capable of. Given that Epic started out as a PC developer, I figured that there would be a PC port sooner or later. The game uses the Unreal 3 engine so that's naturally an easy starting point to get the game running on the PC. Coupled with the fact that it's an Xbox 360 game and there are tools to easily develop for both the console and the PC, Gears of War had all the signs of coming to the PC. Well, the game's finally here and for those that don't have an Xbox 360, Gears of War is one game you should definitely pick up.
I'll spend a little time on the specifics of the game since it's been a year since it came out on the Xbox 360. You take the role of Marcus Fenix as you and your members of Delta Squad battle the enemies known as the Locust Horde who have emerged from underground to wage war on the surface dwellers of the planet Sera. The battles will take you through a few war torn towns of Sera , underground where the Locust reside, the home of your dad, and aboard a runaway train to name a few. The tactical shooter takes place in third person mode allowing you to see Marcus and a little bit of his surroundings. Cover is vital in Gears of War as you'll want to use the environment as much as possible to stay out of the line of fire. Marcus has the ability to dive around and take cover against obstacles and use them to shoot at enemies without exposing yourself too much to return fire. When you do a sprint, the camera angle will come down a little bit and the screen will shake making you feel like you're right in the action.
Marcus can carry two heavy guns, a pistol, and grenades. Weapons range from a chainsaw equipped machine gun, sniper rile, torque bow, shotgun, and Locust gun. The chainsaw on the machine gun can be used for an instant kill whereby blood splatters on the screen as you rip into your enemy. At certain times of the game, you'll be able to call upon an energy beam brought down from a satellite above called the Hammer of Dawn. The Hammer of Dawn is used to take out extremely tough enemies as well as instantly kill Locust soldiers. The caveat is that the Hammer of Dawn can only be used when there's no obstacles above you such as a ceiling and when the satellite is online. With weapons that contain ammo, there's a reload mini game that can be played. Pressing the reload button too soon or too late will cause you to jam your gun and lengthen your reload time. If you press the button when in the reload range, you'll reload faster. If you are able to perform a reload in a small area on the reload bar that's pure white, the damage done by the bullets that get reloaded are increased a little for a short amount of time.
As with a lot of games these days there aren't any health packs in Gears of War. When you are taking damage, a red gear and skull starts to fade in and the more pronounced the image is, the more damage you have taken. You'll gradually regenerate over time so it's imperative that you hide behind an obstacle once your health deteriorates.
The game isn't all run and gun as you'll experience a vehicle level whereby you drive to a destination and fend of deadly flying creatures called Kryll with your UV spotlight. Kryll only come out at light and like vampires they burn up when exposed to UV light. The vehicle level is a nice little diversion from running around and ducking behind obstacles.
One of the big components of Gears of War is that you can team up with a buddy and play the entire game cooperatively. Your friend will take on the role of Dominic Santiago as he follows Marcus around. Playing Gears of War cooperatively is a great deal of fun and the only way I've finished the story mode. Your friends can join in anytime so you don't have to wait on them if you don't want to. The problem is though once they drop out your game ends as well so it's like Epic got the dynamic joining in working fine but couldn't deal with a player leaving in the middle of the game. At least you can join in a game in progress if you want to help out your friend.
So the game finally hits the PC and it takes advantage of DirectX10 on Vista if you have a supported video card and OS installed. While the Xbox 360 version lets you jump into the game relatively quickly, you have to have 12GB free on your hard drive and endure a 30+min install before you can play. That's one thing that's nice about the console in that you don't have to sit around and wait for files to install. I couldn't believe it took that long to install Gears but the 30+ min time was on a few machines so it's not unexpected.
Games for Windows Live is supported by Gears of War so you can see your friends and invite them just like on the Xbox 360. What I found annoying though was the updater. A few times I booted up Gears I was greeted with a message that there's an update for Live. After agreeing on updating the software, you are presented with the start screen for Gears. There's no message that the update has been applied so naturally I thought I was good to go. Unfortunately, you have to exit out the game for the update to install. At no point was I told I had to restart the game for the update to install which seems like something that should happen. At it's current state, it's a little kludgey for Games for Windows Live to get updated and I hope there's a way Microsoft can fix that with an update.
The big addition to the game going to the PC is the new Brumak sequence. Previewed at E3 and clamored for by fans, the Brumak sequence isn't just a tiny tacked on fight with the big lug. In fact, there's a good hour and change of content added to tackle a plot hole with the train and also introduce a few new environments. You'll fight in a nicely done theater, parking garage, a few other new outdoor areas to name a few. The new act's difficulty has also increased as a few times you'll be attacked on multiple fronts. You'll definitely be on your toes more as you can just rely on the enemies coming from one area. Throughout the act, the you'll see the Brumak trudge around and even get a tease of a fight with him before the final showdown. The final fight with the Brumak is also pretty intense as that monster not only has a few machine guns but the ability to launch a few rockets at you as well. Epic did a great job with the new content and I'm happy that they added so much more when they ported the game rather then just going through the motions and releasing a straight port of the content.
The move to keyboard and mouse on the PC made this game really easy though. I had a relatively easy time getting through all the levels on hardcore by myself because I was so much more accurate with the setup. I was able to track my gun on the heads of the Locust without any problems right from the get go adjusting for the recoil of the guns. I tried jumping into a game of Gears on the Xbox 360 after a long layoff and had a great deal of problems adjusting to the aiming and controls. Playing on the PC however, I was comfortable right from the get go with the keyboard and mouse. Because you can be so much more accurate with the mouse in a relatively short amount of time, the game is a lot easier on the PC than on the Xbox 360 at higher difficulty levels. Easy was just way too easy and hardcore was easy.
On the 360 you change weapons via the D-Pad. On the PC version, the mouse wheel now scrolls through your available weapons. You won't get the exact selection of weapon that you want with what the D-Pad offers you but changing weapons with the mouse wheel is pretty fast and any PC gamer that has experience with FPS games will be pretty comfortable and quick in changing weapons.
A few other little control additions help make the game easy to play. You can double click forward to initiate the run. Double click the side or back keys and you'll dive in that direction. If you want to dive forward, just tap the space bar while pushing forward. The double click action can be turned off and all dives can be performed by tapping the space bar if you desire. Holding the space bar will also initiate the run. Of course,everything's adjustable on the PC version so you can change the key actions if you wish which is something I like about the PC port.
One thing I wish they would've incorporated though was a true save system. Like the Xbox 360 game, you'll have to move to checkpoints for your progress to be saved. I've always disliked the checkpoint system and PC gamers are used to saving whenever they please. Now it can be argued that you can't be as reckless since you can't save at anytime but I think a save system should've been implemented. At least the checkpoints aren't too far off from each other though so it does save often.
If you love playing multiplayer Gears of War, Epic has included three new multiplayer maps for you to fight on. Added to the multiplayer modes is King of the Hill. You are given capture points and you score points for the amount of time you have the active point captured. You have to stay inside the capture point though to rack up the score making it a little different from Annex. A new point is presented to you once the maximum score possible is allocated for the point. The gametype also lets you spawn as much as you want so you don't have to sit out a round once you die like Deathmatch.
Modders will be happy to see that UnrealED is included letting you make new content for the game. I've used a few variants of the editor going back to the original Unreal Tournament days and it's really simple to create new levels with it. The GUI isn't too complicated and you can easily import your new levels into the game. You can't use the new levels on the 360 of course but PC folks should have a great deal of new maps to fiddle around with once the game's in the hands of modders. I'm anxious to see what modders can do to extend the game over level creations. I'd love to see the engine used with different genres though perhaps seeing the game skinned and tuned for a Western or a modern day tactical shooter. Epic's always great about giving the community the tools necessary to generate new content of their own and they continue the tradition with Gears of War.
Since the game has Games for Windows Live components, there is are Achievements in this game as well. Most of them are the same but there are a few on the Xbox 360 that the PC version doesn't have. A total of 50 are available while the 360 has 57 Achievements that you can earn. I wouldn't be surprised if more were added in the near future.
I ran the game with a Core 2 Duo E6400, 2GB of ram, and a Foxconn GeForce 8800 GTX under Microsoft Vista. DirectX 10 was enabled and the game ran OK for the most part I did experience periods of sluggishness and there were times the game really paused long when what seemed like a loading of a lot of data. You'll definitely need a beefy machine to run it smooth and that's once nice thing about the Xbox 360 as you'll spend a lot less to get the game to run with high details. You do get access to all the different resolutions and can turn up and down settings to adjust the detail level so that you can run it a little smoother or prettier. When I ran the game in DirectX 9 mode, I really saw no difference except that it did run smoother. DirectX 10 mode does offer 4XAA and it does smooth out the edges. The problem is you'll need a very high end card to get adequate performance with this feature turned on. I'd say stick with DirectX 9 though and reap the benefits of higher framerates and no loss of image quality. The game looks absolutely gorgeous though and cleaner than when I play on the Xbox 360 attached to my 44" LCD TV running at 720P. The models are incredibly detailed and the textures are high quality.
I did run into a few bugs here and there. Some video sequences seemed to play a little prematurely as I wasn't near the area where it should trigger the event. Another one that made me restart the game was when I was trudging through the underground and came up to a boomer on an opposite ledge. I was able to phase into one of the rock faces just like Kitty Pryde of X-Men fame. Diving around a little, I found myself stuck even though on screen my entire body was out of the rock. I had to restart at a checkpoint to get going again. Once in a while I would experience some textures popping in as well. Other than a few minor bugs, the game never did crash on me.
The new content and inclusion of the editor is nice but if you already own the game on the Xbox 360 you might not find enough here to warrant spending another $50. I definitely like the control scheme better and it does look better than the console on high detail. PC gamers or those that skipped out on the Xbox 360 version will definitely be in for a treat though. Once good mods and maps come out for the game, there might be enough value to pick the game up for those that already own the 360 version. Overall, Gears of War is a good port of the 360 game to the PC with some fun included content not available on the 360.
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It's a great port with a good chunk of a new chapter added in. The game needs a beefy system though and those who already played the 360 version might not find that a new chapter would warrant a new purchase.