Reviewing Gears of War is a lose-lose situation for video game fans. If you say it's one of the greatest games ever made you'll be labelled a fanboy who has fallen for the hype, but say it's just a good action game and you'll be called clueless and an obvious Microsoft hater. I might as well stick my fanboy hat on then, as Gears of War is everything Microsoft wanted it to be. Contrary to some opinions, the next generation of gaming clearly starts when Epic says so. Game of the year? Quite possibly.
There's a war going on and the planet is in desperate need of soldiers to fight the Locust (a lizard-like alien species) army that has risen. The humans are completely outnumbered, but you work with an ever-changing squad of men that are more than up to the task of kicking Locust butt. These aren't any ordinary men; they're almost caricatures of beefed up soldiers, with biceps the size of trucks and necks that are ten-feet wide. The story is a simple one, but it's as dramatic as they come, with some stunning cutscenes and plenty of banter between squad mates giving you little glimpses into the back-story.
Despite Epic Games' pedigree in first-person shooters, Gears of War is a third-person shooter with a strong emphasis on cover. As the brute-like Marcus Fenix, a tougher than tough soldier, you must utilise the environment (and many conveniently placed concrete barricades) to stay alive. The 'A' button is the key to this, throwing Marcus into a wall if he's close enough, popping him out to new cover or for making him roadie run (a crouched run). It takes time to get the hang of, but after an hour or so you'll be throwing Marcus around with a swiftness that defies his immense size.
When in cover you have a number of options. If you're taking heavy fire from nearby enemies you can blind-fire, causing them to retreat to a more manageable distance, but the most effective technique is to peek out and take aim. This obviously puts you in danger, but Marcus is a strong guy and as long as you don't take sustained fire, and duck back behind cover after each spent clip, picking off distant enemies isn't too tricky. An excellent sniper rifle makes the job even simpler, and numerous other excellent weapons all have their uses, including a helping hand from up above and an under-gun chainsaw.
Slight problems with the checkpoint system when playing alone aside, it's hard to see how another game could come along and better what Gears of War does. Played with a friend, on Hardcore, Gears of War is simply an astounding game. Yes, it has the best visuals ever to grace a video game, but it's how these are used to create an intense shooter that make it so good. Add in the best competitive online experience on the Xbox 360, and there's little doubt that Gears will be remembered as a true classic. And true classics only deserve one thing.