OK, everybody calm down, we know you have been eagerly waiting, and now the wait is over for the biggest reason to join Xbox Live since Halo 2. Microsoft, in conjunction with Epic Games, has given us, the Xbox faithful, our first taste of the future of video games.

Epic, using their highly respected Unreal 3 game engine, have developed a third-person shooter starring Marcus Fenix. Marcus is an imprisoned Coalition of Ordered Government soldier (known as COGs), set free to help the remainder of the COGs eradicate a subterranean threat, ‘The Locust Horde’.

By moving away from their first-person and into a third-person perspective, Epic have been able to make Gears of War a far more tactical game than they have in the past. Now the player has the ability to use cover to either advance relatively unseen to your enemy, or shoot from safety. However, what you can do so can your enemy. So whilst you are ducking for cover and trying to outflank your enemy, you can bet your bottom dollar they are doing the same to you.

This tactical way of thinking offers up plenty of ways to play the game. For example, you might be hiding behind a small broken wall, so you lean up with the Lancer assault rifle loaded. Two things happen: first of all, you can now see your target so you start to shoot, but your target can now see you, and shoots back. You empty your rifle which now gives you more options, and when you reload do you try to nail the active reload which gives a damage boost on the newly replenished ammo, and a faster reload to boot, or go for the safe reload, which won’t jam if the timing is wrong.

After the reload has finished, do you look over the wall again to finish off your enemy, or wait till your health has regenerated? If you wait for the health to regenerate, you will loose the advantage of the active reload. So you could start the reload as your health has nearly finished replenishing, but in that time your adversary may have moved. All this within the space of two seconds.

During the single player campaign, the Locust will come at you from emergence holes in the ground from where they have burrowed up from below Sera’s crust (the world in which Gears of War is set). They are a finite enemy and after you have killed enough for the particular event you have triggered, the hole will close over, leaving a crater in the ground as a reminder of the battle you won.

You can, however, stop the Locust in their tracks. By throwing a frag grenade, it will seal the hole and no more Locust will emerge. Again you are faced with a choice: hang back and shoot the Locust from a distance, or try to get within range of a grenade throw to seal the hole. Before you make that decision,though, if you try to seal the hole and you squad mates become incapacitated, who will give you covering fire? But worse still, upon whom else can the Locust fire?

If (we should really say when) a squad member is incapacitated, he can be revived by pressing the X button when you are close by. You can’t do this when in cover mode, so you will have to be exposed to enemy fire. In one such battle we experienced, the squad had advanced a little further than our man, and were taken out. As the chapter involved traversing an exposed bridge, with an enemy-held Troika (mounted gun) at the opposite end, and two or three emergence holes that open up sequentially at the other end, we had to let them be.

This was almost our undoing. After emptying the Lancer assault rifle (660 rounds) then refilling it only to empty it again, we started using the Boomer rocket launcher. Then, after using our four frag grenades seal a hole we couldn’t even see, we had to resort to the pistol with a total of 40 or rounds or so and eventually finished the last of the Locust with six rounds spare. At least in this situation, because there is no enemy to respawn, your squad is automatically revived.

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