November 20, 2006

Gears and Guns and Guitars and Stuff

by psu

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.

Posted by psu at November 20, 2006 05:16 PM | Bookmark This

I'm finding the flow of single player Gears far, far superior to Halo 2. Yeah, Gears is kinda linear, but I spent way too much time in Halo 2 just wondering around trying to figure out where I need to be going. I stopped playing sometime when I got lost in the wilderness and didn't know what to do. (This was the second time playing as Master Chief, after being the Covenant guy; I almost gave up when fighting the Flood since that was so annoying).

Gears so far hasn't annoyed me yet, and is doing a good job of letting me know where to go and what to do. The "look at whatever's important" button is a wonderful idea. I'm currently near the end of Act 3, and the length seems about right for me -- I can only play in short bursts these days, so it'll still take me a week or two to finish the single player campaign.

I haven't had the sound issues you describe; it has a good balance for me, and excellent surround effects for locating wretches. And though stupid, the characters are growing on me. Especially the Cole train...

Posted by Adam Rixey at November 20, 2006 10:41 PM

I don't have surround, which is why I think I get wonky sound.

I admit to being overly attuned to Halo because I've played it too much. I find that I like the rythm of the single encounter more, as opposed to the flow of the whole game.

I *hate* sticking to a wall when I wanted to roll.

Posted by psu at November 20, 2006 10:49 PM

I have yet to see a reason to purchase the XBox 360. But Final Fantasy 12 has been reasonably absorbing for me. It has the annoying "You can only save at save crystals" thing, and they are spread too far apart. That is my main criticism so far. I don't think I spelled that right.

Anyway, the funny/bad part is the tall-slender-rabbiteared-fishnetstockinged-spikepumped girl whos rear ends up in your face if the camera swings wrong. And I would think that spike heals would sink into the sand. And that carrying a bow with spikes on it slung over your back, spikes aiming at sensitive bits, would be a bad way to travel. There is a lot of slogging too, just like 10 (which is why I never finished 10). But I seem to sit down at it for hours at a time so it must be good. I guess I really like the license system.


Posted by Doug at November 21, 2006 01:19 AM

I just picked up an Xbox 360 last weekend and I got Gears of War and Dead Rising. GoW is a much better playing experience. Dead has a save point system which really sucks, plus the text is very hard to read on a standard television. GoW is flowing along well.

Posted by ThomasW at November 21, 2006 04:06 AM

You should try Viva Pinata. (Strolls away whistling with careful nonchalance).

Posted by Andy P at November 21, 2006 06:04 AM

Dead Rising makes up for its stupid save system by providing a lawn mower.

Posted by psu at November 21, 2006 07:02 AM

At first I really hated the Dead Rising save system, but I've grown to actually like it. It adds a hell of a lot more tension for me in getting from point A to point B -- if I have to cross the courtyard or go through certain areas, I know there's a real danger. That's good in a zombie game.

And only having one save slot also doesn't bother me too kinda takes me back to the years spent playing Nethack. It's a little aggravating, but I can also understand why they did it.

Posted by Adam Rixey at November 21, 2006 08:02 AM

Damn the final boss in this game was stupid. Oh well.

Posted by psu at November 21, 2006 11:13 AM

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