Gears Of War 3 – impressions…

I have somewhat mixed feelings regarding the Gears franchise.  Arguably one of the flagship game series on the XBOX 360, this guns and brawn third person sci-fi shooter is perhaps at times a little too macho and gory for my taste.  Yet I played and completed Gears 1 & 2 and still managed to get a lot out of them.  Their gameplay mechanics especially the combat, is superbly realised, but at times the series has let itself down badly with unnecessary (and badly implemented) vehicle sections, and a steep learning curve.  Gears is bad-ass hard at times.  It’s also probably the loudest, noisiest game currently available, something that again can make playing it an uphill struggle.  I’ve rarely been able to play a Gears game for more than half an hour at a time.

Gears Of War 3 however comes to us with little of the fanfare of the previous two, and from what I have played so far, feels much better realised, from a story and gameplay point of view, than the two previous games put together.  It seems clear to me that developer Epic games has honed their craft and delivered what could be a gaming masterpiece, at least on this generation of consoles … with action, character and a cleverly written narrative coming together to pull me into the franchise like never before.  It also has to be said, that along with games like Crysis 2 and the forthcoming Rage, this is visually of the top tire of XBOX 360 games, with stunningly detailed environments, excellent character models and a wealth of effects, showing that when it comes to Unreal Engine 3, creators Epic Games sure know how to pull out all the stops.

In addition to the lengthy campaign (touted as the longest in the series) there is a plethora of multiplayer modes.  Now multiplayer Gears has usually left me cold, mainly down to its round-based gameplay with no respawning.  This means if you die, you have to sit the round out until either team dies or wins.  This means for a novice such as myself, it’s very hard to get good at the game, with many long pauses between play.  Epic have listened to us tried and tested deathmatch fanboys however, and this time given us a traditional, respawning team deathmatch mode, and when you put this alongside other modes such as capture the flag, as well as the acclaimed Hord mode – this is a game that even once the single player is beaten, should last you for months.  I must also add the single player offers four player co-op, and all the multiplayer modes can be played on your own against bots.  In other words, this has it all.

An essential purchase.


Gaming musings 2011

The year ahead does look very exciting for gamers.  Some very big hitters are just on the horizon, either coming our way in the next few weeks, or making an appearance sometime during 2011. 

Of the ones I’m looking forward to the most, I’d have to place Crysis 2 as my most eagerly anticipated game this year.  A sequel to a game I never got to play but heard a great deal about.  A first-person shooter set in New York City during an alien invasion where you play as a super soldier with a specialist suit that gives you superhuman strength and other special abilities.  Developer’s Crytek have promised an open-ended game world where you can approach any situation from a variety of paths and tactically use your suit’s abilities to infiltrate, creep up on and generally overthrown the alien scum.  As Crytek are renowned for their expertise with graphics and artificial intelligence, from the brief snippets of gameplay and leaked footage I’ve seen, this could very much become a classic in the industry.

Another game that has got me excited is the Rockstar Games developed L.A. Noir.  Sort of Grand Theft Auto meets LA Confidential where you play through a rookie Cop’s ever evolving career as he rises up the ladder solving crimes and taking down bad guys.  The game is revolutionary for its use of motion capture facial animation and promises to change the way you play games with gameplay mechanics such as looking at a witness’s face to figure out if he’s telling the truth or lying.  This looks kinda like this year’s Heavy Rain with its deep movie-like storyline and fleshed out characters, and will certainly be one of the more unique games this year.

Epic Games returns with the latest entry in its gung-ho shooter series, namely Gears Of War 3.  Although I had a few issues with some of the gameplay and level design choices of Gears 2, I will still be picking this up just for it’s unrivalled shooting action, it’s never-bettered cover system and it’s stunning visual design, something which is a given when the game uses Epic’s much celebrated Unreal Engine 3 technology.

I.D. games makes a comeback too with open-world shooter / adventure Rage, a Mad-Max inspired post-apocolyptic actioner with ground breaking graphics and industry applauded design.  I.D. have rarely disappointed in the past, considering they were behind such classics as Doom and Quake, and with a helluva lot to prove considering their long hiatus, this will hopefully be well worth the wait.

Portal 2 will also be a sure bet when it arrives, coming from the genius game designer’s at Valve, the guys responsible for my favourite game of all time, Half-Life 2, and following on from the highly regarded, brilliantly designed Portal, this promises to be an evolution in the puzzle game genre, with as expected Valve’s unique sense of humour, gifted story telling and superb game mechanics. 

So to conclude.  2011 look like being a classic year for video games.  Some of the titles mentioned could well go onto to be award winners and looked back on as milestones in their field.  I will hopefully be getting my hands on all of them in the months to come, so expect my usual impressions when that happens.