Best of 2006 #3: Gears of War

Gears of War

Of all the games on here, this is the one that, almost above all, had to be good. Despite positive previews it was really an unknown quantity until launch, and without Halo 3 until next year it was the 360’s big gun for its first Christmas with direct competition. And while it wasn’t perfect, Epic did a fabulous job and laid the foundation for Microsoft’s latest big franchise.

Just to get it out of the way, Gears looks amazing. It’s certainly the technically most impressive console game I’ve ever seen, and until Crysis it’s debateable that even the PC has anything to match it. Look at the caverns in Act 3, and I defy you to tell me that it doesn’t look stunning.

While the campaign isn’t the longest in the world, while it doesn’t act on the potential of its story, and while the macho stereotypes are tired (though slightly tongue-in-cheek, which helps), what it does have is a refreshing take on the usual run and gun shooters and some of the most visceral and satisfying combat in any game, that is even better when played online with a friend. The chainsaw bayonet is an obvious and ludicrous example, but it works in this context where even the destroyed opulence around you is larger than life.

I doubt that Gears will have the legs that the Halo games have had, but nonetheless this is a lesson in how to do a next generation game. After this and Rainbow Six Vegas, expect every shooter in the next three years to have some kind of cover mechanic. If you didn’t like it in this game, you’re screwed.

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