Gears of War and chainsaws: a match made in heaven [update 1]

Kevin Kelly
K. Kelly|10.05.06

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Gears of War and chainsaws: a match made in heaven [update 1]
Joystiq attended New Line Cinema and Microsoft's special "A Match Made in Hell" event last night, which could also have been called "Torture and Joy." Torture: sitting through Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Joy: Gears of War hands-on. If you have the means to turn a full-size movie theater into your personal gaming arena, then do it. You'll never look at gaming the same way again.

Only chainsaws link GoW and TCM:TB together. The Lancer gun in GoW has a chainsaw attachment on the end of it that can be used for gore-ific melee attacks. Chainsaw someone in front of you and see their head rip off, their guts burst out, blood spray everywhere. Your opponent getting ripped in half from head to crotch has to be the most dramatic, and you can actually see everything inside. It made the audience scream with delight every time someone playing the game on the big screen would meet their death, or dish it out, this way.

Plus, this blogger has to admit that he was so very wrong about Gears of War. After playing this game in person, I'm a convert. There is something about getting your head chainsawed off on a megaplex screen in front of more than 200 screaming people that can make you reevaluate the gameplay.Load times are very short, in-game menus are simple straightforward, on-screen prompts provide a Gears of War for Dummies primer for the uninitiated. The controls echo most standard FPS-type games, and players who push the start button will get it right when they drop into a game. They'll also find it hard to adjust without a learning curve. Your main gun gives off a ton of recoil, making it tough to stay centered on your opponent, even when at point-blank range. The weapons loadout in multiplayer didn't include frag grenades, only smoke, although the Microsoft rep showed off the single-player level where the frags exploded with a satisfying crump and ensuing debris cloud. Winding-up action of tossing them is still weird, and makes your player look like David trying to take down Goliath.

Several of the in-game actions take a second or two to charge up. Hold down the A button to sprint, or "roadie run" as the Microsoft rep called it, and your character hunkers down and sprints forward like he's changing out a microphone stand for Aerosmith. Sprint kicks in a half-second later, and while running you can't change directions easily or look around. Which is more realistic than your basic run button and makes crossing the map challenging. The melee attack has to charge up as well. You can't just hit the B button and immediately impale someone with your chainsaw. Hold down the B button to activate the chainsaw and then hit it again to attack. Although there is a satisfying bonus of being able to B whenever your chainsaw is on to rev it up and inspire fear in the enemy. The "active reload," which can cut down on reload time and beef up your bullet is the "reload mini game." Hit the reload button, and a bar fills up underneath your ammo gauge. Hit the reload button again when the gauge is in a tiny white area and you'll be rewarded with an extremely fast reload and more powerful ammo. No one paid much attention to this during multiplayer but it is definitely a skill people will want to master once they spend some real time in the game.

Having no radar to tell you where your friends or foes are, adds a lot of suspense. Creep through abandoned ruins, search for the enemy, suddenly hear a chainsaw rev behind you and get your head shorn off. It'll make your hair stand on end when you hear that sound out of nowhere. This makes teamplay extremely important, since you can't just run off on your own and try and find the enemy. You have to provide cover and give constant updates to your teammates about your status. This also forces you to pay more attention to your squad. If you get downed by enemy fire, and a buddy reaches you in time, he can revive you by hitting the X button. However, if the enemy gets to you first, he can also hit the X button and crush your body into pulp with a "curb stomp." Very satisfying.

There were a couple of small bugs in the gameplay. One locust horde (the non-humans) player was hit by gunfire and he started jetting huge sprays of blood from an artery like a firehose. When he crouched behind a car, the blood pumped all over that too. Blood kept pumping for the rest of the match, causing us to wonder how many pints the average locust horde can hold? The guy should have bled out onscreen and been an albino by the time he finally ended up on an opponent's chainsaw. Hopefully that's a quick fix on Epic's part. The duck and run system seemed buggy at first, but once you actually use it a few times, it becomes easier to understand. You use the same button to run and to duck/cover, so if you run too close to cover you'll end up crouched there. Use the sprint feature sparingly, unless you are trying to hit the afterburners and run away "like a chicken!," as one audience member kept shouting.

We spoke with several players afterwards who said various versions of things like "It f*cking rocked!" The only complaints we heard were people yelling at players who couldn't understand the control scheme. Trying to tell someone how to drive from the backseat yields the exact same feelings. We didn't play the single-player version, so I still can't address the issues with the enemy AI, but the multiplayer impressed a lot more than expected. The game ships with eight maps, and Microsoft promises that additional maps will be available at some point for download. The only game type on display was the four on four team deathmatch, but others will be available in the finished product.

We'll pony up the money for a multiplayer map pack or bonus material if it adds to the game, as long as Microsoft doesn't try and slip some Trojan horse armor into the deal.

[Update: remove extraneous paragraph breaks]
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