Gears and Guns and Guitars and Stuff

With the Wii and the PS3 sold out, I sat down for a peaceful weekend with games I had already bought. For the 360, I had been itching to play a decent shooter, and with some trepidation I picked up Gears of War. I’m happy to say that it doesn’t suck. The hype for Gears of War was overwhelming. When the game finally arrived, the press for it made me nervous. While the reviews were overwhelmingly positive, there seemed to be a subtext in each one that was telling you in code that the game was no good, but that the review had to be good because this was the game that would justify the existence of the Xbox 360.

After playing the game for a week, I am ready to say that the game does what a good shooter must set out to do: the shooting is fun. The pacing and combat in the game is well implemented, if a bit repetitive. The core mechanic is pleasingly tactical, especially in the multiplayer. You scoot from place to place, keeping your head down, biding your time until the enemy pops out of cover and lets you shoot it. Then you open up and make things blow up. When you do this right, you get a pleasurable little rush.

When a shooter gets the combat right, you can forgive it a lot of problems, and this is the case with Gears. So now I get to complain.

The AI is not great. There are stupid checkpoints. At times, the combined cover/roll mechanic goes haywire, and you end up stuck to a rock somewhere rather than rolling out of the way of an oncoming missile. This generally leads to your death and a temptation to throw the controller.

There are Boss battles of uninspired and derivative design. In one case, I ended up fighting one guy for an hour because every time I figured out how to not get killed, my stupid robot partner would get himself killed. Note to Cliffy: don’t make me escort your retarded A.I characters through your stupid Boss battles.

The plot and narrative in the game barely exists. You are dropped into a bombed out city and you run from place to place shooting things until the you get to the next checkpoint. Then you rest and do it all again. There isn’t much in the way of character development, but the characters are sort of fun anyway.

There are a few weird production issues. It seems to me that both the environments and the colors used to fill them in are overly bland. The blood effects looks cartoony and stupid. Finally, the sound effects are too loud and annoying. Even if you turn the audio down, every once in a while some grunt will vomit loudly in your face. This is annoying.

The game is on the short side. I’m already into the last chapter after less than a week. That’s very fast for me. The multiplayer and co-op will be good for some replay. But, for a game that is supposed to be Halo until the next Halo comes out, they could have at least implemented a decent matchmaking system. The multiplayer lobby in this game is a crippled mess. Once you get in a game though, the multiplayer is a nice change. The game rewards good team play and good tactics, and there is no respawn. It’s more like Counterstrike than Halo, and that’s a good thing.

Overall, I am happy enough with the game that I’m not sending it to Ebay immediately. But, as a reality check, I do have to say that this game is no console-defining franchise. The flow of the single player game is not as pleasing as Halo 2, and the multiplayer is not nearly as polished.

Still, when was the last time there was a shooter on the Xbox that didn’t suck? And the best part is, between matches I can play Guitar Hero 2.

Guitar Hero 2 is as good as it ever was. I can’t disagree with Pete when he says that it’s a better game with music that is not as good. Still, the big Rock Anthems (Freebird, etc) are a blast to play, and the practice mode is letting me get further into Hard than I could have on Guitar Hero 1. I’m 10 songs into Hard and I may yet learn how to shift my hands around fast enough to get through the rest of the sets. But I doubt it.

The co-op mode is also a blast. Pete and I were rocking out on Freebird last night and I thought our drummer really would explode.

In summary, Gears of War is a great core shooter wrapped up in a shell with some problems. Guitar Hero 2 is more fun than should be allowed to be packaged into a single DVD.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can start on Final Fantasy 12.