This review focuses on the multiplayer mode of Gears of War. The co-op mode will be included very shortly, but note that for this review only the co-op via Xbox Live has been tested. Gears of War, as many of you know, is one of the most important tiles of the year for Microsofts white box. Single player mode was a dream come true for many, but what about the multiplayer mode? How does the game measure up to the other online shooters?
An indicator of the importance of the multiplayer mode is a comment made by game developer Cliff Blezinsky: ”People come for the single player, but stay for the multiplayer.”
Two’s a Company
The online co-operation experience is one of the most important features in a game for many gamers. Gears of War has this in abundance. The nature of the game changes considerably compared to the single player mode or even the co-op mode from a shared screen. When you cant see what your team mate is doing, it is vital to concentrate on tactics and communication.
The Live co-op functions extremely well. You are able to host a game even with a standard speed DSL connection without the guest even noticing any difference compared to the single player mode. There are however some minor technical shortcomings in the co-op mode. For example, the players cannot see everything the same way: objects that are scripted to explode seem intact to the other player. These are minor problems which you’ll soon forget as you immerse yourself in the well implemented tactical aspects of the game and experience the feel on intense team-based combat.
If you want to allow your friend to participate in your game without restarting, you have to be playing a single player game in the co-op mode. This way the game plays out as a normal single player game, until your friend steps into the boots of Dom Santiago and the co-op can begin. During the game the help of a player equipped with human intelligence is invaluable, especially if youre playing on the more difficult gameplay levels. Team mates can revive each other which takes a couple of hours off the playtime. However, this is a reasonable trade-off since the game truly comes alive in the co-op mode.
Im a lumberjack and Im OK
In the multiplayer mode, Gears of War picks up the pace becoming a game where you have to be on your toes constantly, react more quickly and communicate with your team mates. The game offers nothing innovative or completely new, which really doesnt bother you since the old ideas are realized in a manner that touches on perfection. While the maps are changing, players can chat in a lobby area and get ready for combat. After youve died, you can watch the game unfold as the survivors battle it out, and chat with the other deceased. The gaming sessions are simply fun and your success doesnt always depend upon the swift retrieval of special weapons. In addition, even if your team is outnumbered, with good team play it is still possible to win. Tactical team play is the best way to victory, but exceptionally talented players can turn the tide for their team or themselves.
Gears of War has three game modes via Live. Warzone is the more traditional Team Deathmatch, where you can finish off downed opponents even with gunshots from a distance. Execution is Team Deathmatch with a little added spice: the downed enemy is immune to gunshots and explosives – the target has to be eliminated up close and personal. In Assassination mode both teams select a leader, and by killing the leader of the opposing team you can win the round. Only leaders can pick up new weapons. In the Assassination and Execution modes if downed, you can revive yourself by pressing the A button continuously. No team mate is required for the revival, and the same is true when it comes to your enemies. In the Warzone mode, the player bleeds out after a certain amount of time, if not revived by a team mate. Every multiplayer mode has its perks, but I would have hoped for something completely different as an addition.
In the beginning the players are armed with a shotgun, Lancer assault rifle complete with a chainsaw, a basic pistol and a smoke grenade. Different maps provide different weapons such as grenades, a more efficient pistol, sniper rifle, grenade launcher, Hammer of Dawn satellite weapon and Torque Bow with its exploding arrows. Not all maps contain all weapons, and the placement of the weapons is extremely well-balanced. If one side gets, for example, the Torque Bow, the other side has better access to the sniper rifle.
None of the weapons are too efficient; their power depends mostly on how you use them. If you merely splash around with the Torque Bow, youll not inflict too much damage. However, a careful player with a good aim can wreak quite a lot of havoc. When creating a server, the host can remove weapons or replace them with something else. One minor flaw is that the chainsaw seems to have a lock-on: if you start sawing in the vicinity of your victim and he moves away, youll still continue sawing and, mysteriously enough, your victim will die no matter how far he fled.
There are ten maps in the game and most of them represent the same quality and balance as the rest of the game. Some of the maps are even too balanced, as you can simply end up in a cul-de-sac where anyone who attacks dies. The maps are versatile and completely different from one another. Graphically the multiplayer mode measures up to the single player mode. As with co-op, the basic DSL connection is more than adequate to host an eight-player fragfest without any lag.
The multiplayer is still far from perfect. The most annoying feature is that you cant play Ranked matches with your team, you can only enter alone. This feature was implemented to stop cheating and the distortion of TrueSkill levels. This is completely incomprehensible since the real joy of this game is playing and communicating as a team. Finding and joining a server is also sometimes hard work.
Still, you can always concentrate on the Player matches, but for those looking for Achievements; this wont work as multiplayer Achievements can only be unlocked in a Ranked match. I recommend that you forget about Ranked matches and Achievements and just enjoy the game with your friends in a Player match.
The administrative tools for the servers host during gameplay are sadly very limited. You can only start the match, quit it or kick out a player. If you want to change any other settings you have to start a new server. Luckily you can program the maps to change automatically. The multiplayer also has its bugs. If the server has been up and running for awhile and a new player wants to join in the fun, you sometimes cant hear his voice but he can hear everyone elses. Only rebooting the server will fix this. In addition, the sawing can sometimes make the player get stuck in one place.
Invisible walls are also a source of some trouble. If you see half of your enemys head behind a pillar and try to shoot it, the bullets might stop at an invisible barrier around the pillar. Another rare problem is the so called hitbox bug, which means that the bullet that was supposed to hit, goes right through the target. This occurs especially when shooting with a sniper rifle.
Gears of War offers tactical, brilliant and extremely entertaining Live shoot-outs but as with many other games: the people you play it with make most of the experience. The multiplayer mode is well-balanced and great fun for those seeking tactical team-based action. There are some problems, but improvements can be expected.
This is one of the most fascinating Live games out there and youre sure to find someone to play with even on the quieter days.