I have this urge to start flexing...
There are feminine things in this world, like makeup, absorbency pads (a disturbing thought) and high heels. There are also manly things, like beer, guns and high explosives. Things that make any healthy bloke grunt with glee. Things that separate being men from being male.
Video games are the same way. There are your feminine games, such as Barbie’s Horse Adventures (another disturbing thought), and then there are your manly games, like Gears of War.
The story of Gears of War goes like this: Big evil alien things pop out of the ground, take a whole bunch of cities and stuff. Humans converge on the one safe zone, then go out and fight the aliens. Cue big war. You play as Marcus Fenix, an incarcerated soldier who is in prison for dereliction of duty, which you did to try and save your dad. Turns out they need new guys in the army, and you get given a giant suit of armour, a gun and you get told to shoot things.
That’s it. No more story. I guess it went out the window to make room for the combat.
Which, by the way, is bloody awesome. Awesome, in that the gun-play in Gears is naturalistic and solid, and bloody in the way enemies burst into blood and bodily organs when hit with anything that has enough grunt (read: some weapons, any explosives). The game is split into 5 acts, all of which are blended together and flow really well so you don’t really notice when one ends and another begins, aside from the small text that starts each of the chapters in the acts. The chapters act as the levels, with plenty of checkpoints in each one.
The controls in Gears are pretty damn tight. You hit the red button (I forget what button means which letter on the 360 controller, as I hardly look at the controller while playing) for mêlée strikes, right trigger for shooting things, left one for aiming, the green button is the ‘combat utility’ button, allowing you to take cover, dash and leap and the blue button is the ‘other utility’ button, allowing for other things, like wheel turning and car pushing. Basically, there will be few times you can blame the game controls for dying.
Which you will do. This game is extremely tough, tough enough that even Epic, the games developers have said that ‘they set the bar too high’ in terms of difficulty, and are fixing it in the sequel (that’s in the works, by the way). There are three difficulty modes: Casual, Hardcore and Insanity. For my first playthrough, I chose Casual, though I since finished that and have moved onto Hardcore. It’s really tough so far. It’ll make a man of you yet (or a sailor, depending on how much you swear when frustrated).
Ok, I’ve beaten around the bush enough already, so I’ll just come out and say it. At the beginning of the second segment of the first level, you get the Lancer. If you have heard anything about Gears of War before, it’ll likely be about this gun. Because, dear reader, the Lancer has a chainsaw bayonet attached to it. A freaking chainsaw! You use the mêlée button to rev up the ‘saw, and when you get close enough to a bad guy you will bring the saw down upon their right shoulder and cut your way down to their left hip. Brutal. Getting shot at whilst revving the thing will lower it, though, so it can get hard to land a saw on a guy when you’re playing on one of the higher difficulties.
It gets easier when you get a friend in over Live or with a second controller to do the mission with you. Gears of War has a pretty damn awesome co-op mode, in that when you ‘die’, unless you get torn to pieces, you collapse like your teammates (repeatedly) do in single player, and the other player can come to your aid like you do with your teammates (repeatedly) in single player. With the really tough difficulty setting, it really adds to the manly factor.
It’s also pretty manly in its gore level. The gore is less than subtle, to say the least. Blood will cover the camera whenever you get too close to the badguy you shoot, and exploded guys will fall apart into large, nauseating chunks. Meaty.
Just like the rest of the game, really. Gears of War is one manly package. From the big muscular lead characters who define the word ‘badass’, to the aforementioned co-op, difficulty and the Lancer, this game has testosterone all over it. Someone once said that ‘a chick flick has one person dying very slowly, a man’s film has many people dying very quickly’, and Gears of War, though it is a game, fits this to a tee. In fact, I’d describe it as the game equivalent of a beer-drinking, muscle-building kegger of liquid steroids. On steroids.
However, like those steroids, the game isn’t without its unpleasant side effects. For one, the difficulty curve is rather unpleasant at the best of times, and down-right cruel for the most of it. Even on Casual you’ll find yourself respawning a lot.
But the major gripe is the length of the single player campaign. It’s just too damn short. Honestly, it’s so short that I finished the game in 3 days after purchase, even with a faulty 360 that, most of the time, would think the CD was a DVD. If you don’t have Live or a second controller for split-screen, it’s just not worth it.
Still, if you’ve got a buddy to go along with, Gears of War is worth it for the adrenaline-fuelled combat. Gear up, soldier, there’s a war going on.