Blending unmatched twitch-action with an incomparably oppressive atmosphere and multiplayer that will monopolize your broadband for months, Gears of War is the game the 360 was designed to play.
Talked up for months in a marketing campaign whose cost undoubtedly dwarfs the gross national product of most third-world nations, we can safely announce that Gears of War delivers on the promises developer Epic has made. Here's how it suckered us...
Gears of War zigs when you expect it to zag - where you'd imagine a guitar-heavy, thrash metal-laced soundtrack, Gears of War belts out a hard-hitting symphony packed with fanfares and themes that get your blood pumping far more than any generic electric guitar could.
This theme of surprise is carried over into the gameplay as well. Gears of War doesn't just focus on your standard running and gunning, but rather delves into some fantastic twists on the tired shooter genre.
The first time you run up against a blind Berserker (who can only be killed outside using the lasers of orbiting satellites - which you can call down using a pointer called the Hammer of Dawn), you'll understand the drastic departure Gears of War has taken - a swerve which fulfills the promise of next-gen like no other title yet. When you try to guide hero Marcus Fenix over a rotted-out wooden floor without dropping him into a nest of bloodthirsty Locusts, you'll know the definition of innovation.
That is, if you can get past the graphics. Huge, muscular combatants move like giant men wearing heavy gear, fine details are everywhere, and splattering blood never looked so beautiful - and we mean that in an uncreepy, non-Hannibal Lecter kind of way. It just looks incredible.
As if the single-player campaign isn't satisfying enough (and it is, though it's over far too soon, at around eight hours), Gears of War's four-on-four multiplayer action has swept the GamesRadar offices in a way unknown to these weathered game reviewers since Halo 2. There, we said it: Gears of War has induced the kind of spontaneous throw-downs that used to be reserved only for that holiest of Halos. Be sure to click on the Movies tab above for a video account of our experiences with Gears of War, and if you like it (or don't have time to sit and watch now) go ahead and download a portable version for your iPod by clicking this link.
Gears of War accomplishes this by providing a rich suite of contextual actions that are fairly easy to grasp, but incredibly challenging to master. Shucking and jiving around the map, making sure you're always under protective cover is easy enough, but getting the hang of the highly-touted chainsaw bayonet takes some serious dedication. Add to that the expansive arsenal of weapons at your command and the deeply nuanced tactical options, and you've got a game that may never get old.
We do have one word of caution, however: people are going to get very good at this game very quickly over Xbox Live, so bear in mind that the competition will be stiff. If you don't like losing, you may want reserve your multiplayer matches for only your closest friends in order to avoid getting your ego stomped into the pavement by some random thirteen year old with a foul mouth.
We were wary of Gears of War and its hype-fueled debut, but actually playing this magnum opus has shoved all doubts from our extremely critical minds. If you own a 360, you owe it to yourself to buy this game (and an Xbox Live account... and broadband internet service if you don't already have either of those). If you like guns at all, you owe it to yourself to buy a 360 just for Gears of War - you will not be the least bit sorry.