Unless you've been living on another planet, between its release in November 2006 and now you will have at some stage heard of, and probably had a play with, Gears of War on Xbox 360. It was a startling success, selling over three million copies in its first three months of circulation, and still remains popular amongst console gamers.
Epic Games has traditionally been a PC-based developer, so it's not really too surprising that they have decided to port Gears of War over to the Windows platform. Since the early days of Jill of the Jungle and Jazz Jackrabbit, Epic has been in the business of fun, creating games that successfully deliver that one unquestionable, undeniable, fundamental necessity of all great games.
The scene is set sometime in the not too distant future on the planet Sera. People go about their daily lives as they always have, drinking coffee and wondering if their favourite TV show will ever actually start answering questions instead of just asking them.
Their morning is soon to be rudely interrupted however, in an event that is later coined “Emergence Day”. Thus begins humankind's epic battle against the Locust Horde, a nightmarish race of creatures that surface from the bowels of the planet.
Fourteen years on, we meet Marcus Fenix. Court marshalled and jailed for attempting to save his father's life, he is released by his friend Dominic Santiago. With the planet in ruins, and almost everyone dead, the desperate struggle for survival has begun -- and Marcus, now leader of Delta squad, isn't going down without a colossal fight.
The OTS (Over The Shoulder) flavour of the third-person shooter has always suited the control method and play style of consoles to a tee. The extra peripheral vision that is afforded to the player removes any feelings of claustrophobia, and lets you easily see what's going on directly around the protagonist.
However, when OTS titles have been adapted for release on the PC, the results have often been less than stellar. Happily, it seems that Gears of War is an exception to the rule, and proof that the OTS format can not just work on the PC, but can actually augment the experience.
After familiarising myself with the controls, I found I was hours into the game without even the slightest hint of frustration at the control method, diving from cover to cover, popping out to snap off a burst of small-arms fire, tossing a grenade out to disperse a group of Locust.
As a PC gamer I have at my disposal somewhere in excess of 100 different keys which, in most games, would be bound to any number of activities. Those familiar with Microsoft Flight Simulator will know that any one of twenty different keys can be accidentally pushed to help your shiny new Cessna occupy nine thousand different parts of terra firma. Games with that sort of complexity usually require you to remove yourself to a deserted island for half an hour to play through lengthy tutorials, educating you in the game's particular control regime.
Gears of War isn’t one of those games. You really need only one special button (space by default) to perform the myriad of in-game interactions such as duck, roll, hide, shuffle, dance, order pizza etc. Meanwhile the remainder of your left hand can instinctively find its way to the well-worn keys that once displayed letters W, A, S and D.
All this means you can skip the boring control familiarization steps that sometimes tend to overwhelm newcomers to the genre, and get straight onto the important matter of disembowelling your alien foe. To be fair there were a couple of other keys needed to kick open doors or look at objectives, but since the HUD tells you what to push and when, it’s really not likely to slow you down any.
I found this game's complete lack of complexity a great success. At no time did I have to ponder any puzzling conundrums. There are a couple of times where you are presented with options to ‘take the door to the left, or the one to the right’, but this doesn’t distract from the linear theme of turning baddies inside out with a generous ammo to alien ratio.