Gears Of War - Agree To Disagree

FBT grinds his gears, while TheMorty gears up in an Agree To Disagree review.

FBT - Over the years, there’s been a few console exclusives that almost got me switching my PC Rig for an XBox or PS; Red Dead Redemption, Black, Uncharted, Saints Row I, Halo. But it was Gears of War that nearly swung it for me back in the day. Described as a quantum leap in gaming, it was the critics’ darling, the reason to own an XBox ... and TheMorty was constantly smug about how he could play it and I couldn’t. Now a remaster is available on PC - time to see if it's Top Gear or if TheMorty was just on some top gear.

Humans settle on a planet, where aliens known as the Locust Horde attack. Enter Marcus Fenix, a disgraced soldier reactivated to fill the dwindling number of troops, who has a personal score with the Horde. That’s a standard shooter plotline, nothing wrong with that, and we don’t want to confuse the XBox players with anything more complicated than what you’d get in Saturday morning cartoons, but the whole thing just feels so seen-it-before, even in 2006; we’re just a grunt vs. shouty mutants. And I really don’t get why that grunt is so revered.

Marcus often appears in best hero lists, but I guess XBoxers doesn’t have much choice. To a PC Gamer, he’s the monosyllabic grumbling squinter we left behind years ago. And just how big is he and everyone else in his squad? It’s like watching WWE unless I’ve got the monitor on stretch mode; are XBox games in 4.3? And the low-slung ‘roadie run’ they do, a crouching scuttle across the battlefield, it looks like they’re desperate to find the loo.

The game’s show-stopper, the Hammer of Dawn sounds like it should be in a Games Workshop store, XBox nerds; you only really use it on mini-bosses who are static obstacles; trying to use it in a firefight isn’t worth the time. Marcus’ main weapon has a chainsaw for a melee but it’s fussy to use and what’s with the timed reloads? I thought this was a fast-paced shoot or die game, fighting the Horde is a bit of a faff as it is. They’re brutally accurate, and steroid-bloated, armour-clanking Marcus can’t take much before it’s ‘reload checkpoint’ time especially if you're manually equipping and aiming grenades or the Horde are breaking the laws of physics.

And how easily distracted are XBoxers that they never noticed GoW never really progresses beyond the first level - play that and you’ve played the game. GoW just doesn’t feel progressive; on PC we’d already had FEAR, with it’s terrifying AI/Scripted Replica soldiers, deep plot and a nerve-shredding J-Horror little girl haunting us. When FEAR was released on XBox it not only had reduced graphics but reduced AI - sounds about right.

I was expecting a game that, while dated, would make me lament never getting an XBox but it’s not a glimpse into the future like Half Life was. The remastered version has an altered final scene tying it into the subsequent games’ deepened narrative, except that GoW II & III aren’t on PC. So that’s a waste of time then. I’ll admit the plot does have some twists, and that it’s from here that the mighty Gears 4 and 5 arose, but I missed nothing. Xbox players might have been smug about GoW at the time, but to me, it looks like they were just really easily amused. PC gaming rules. Now I don’t even care I missed Halo.

TheMorty – Every so often there’s an FPS that comes along and defines a console. Goldeneye on the N64, Timesplitters 2 on the PS2 and Halo on the original Xbox, they all did just that. They were grandstand games that pushed the console onto the map and, above all else, they were social… your mates would come around, you’d each pick up a controller, go split screen and chase each other round daft maps, firing-off rounds into each other’s skulls in a seemingly endless battle that always ended without a loser. I don’t expect FBT to remember this as nostalgically as I (presumably Mr Grumpy doesn’t have many friends) but this was the golden age of social shooters.

If you want to replicate the experience today, you must be sat drinking on your own in your bedroom, headset on and trying to time insults across a laggy network… “I’m a what? Who’s a dick? I’ve lost you mate… try restarting.” It’s either that or each of your friends must come around your house and bringing their own console and their own Flatscreen TV. Social gaming has changed and the last Bastian of that golden genre was Gears of War.

The melee function of the COG Lancer was hilarious. Who knew you could have so much fun sneaking up on an unsuspecting enemy and chain-sawing through their face, blood splatting on the screen in levels of gore not seen since Soldier of Fortune. I can see how a reload function where you actually have to time the clip going into the gun could be irritating to someone who’s used to playing his shooters on ‘Novice’ but in the middle of battle when you’re taking cover against an enemy horde every second counts and having an added skill level in there separates the COG Specialists from the PC Privates.

Fenix is a bit cliché - an artillery Brock Lesnar and he does have a Direct-To Video, ‘Expendables 5’ persona about him, but that’s what the Earth needs right? If a Locust Horde was to strike us tomorrow, who’d you rather have strapping a machine gun to their chest - Cumberbatch or The Rock? Wait, did I forget to mention the Rock would have the iconic, grizzled voice of John DiMaggio? I mean, Bender with a semi-automatic chainsaw… no-brainer!

Gears’ exceptional multiplayer function proved it was worth the full release price, but its single player story isn’t as far behind as you’d think. Okay each level is linear, but weren’t all the great legacy shooters in their day? Modern Warfare II was extremely linear and it’s down as one of the greatest shooters of all-time. Despite the linear nature, the game progresses nicely – it’s not all ‘duck ‘n’ cover’, there’s an amount of strategy to it. You’re not Lara Croft – who at 5ft 6in and a slender 8 stone can carry 10 weapons and an unlimited stash of ammo in her tiny backpack, you’ve got to choose your loadout wisely. Ammo is scarce and holding onto the Hammer of Dawn for too long can be game-ending in an ambush but dropping it too early and that Beserker will be the end of you.

It’s not a 10/10 game and its biggest downfall is it’s glitches, but let’s not forget processing power has come on a long way – weren’t all games back then? Still, there’s something quite nostalgic and funny when you play the original release and see flying car wreckages overhead.

I think there’s only one way to settle this FBT. My house, crate of beer, Lancers. First one to 100 kills is right.