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Critical Reception: Microsoft's/Epic Games' Gears of War

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to the Microsoft-published, Epic Games-developed Gears of War, a long-awaited release that many have referred to as the Xbox 360's first must-have title.
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to the Microsoft-published, Epic Games-developed Gears of War, a long-awaited release that many have referred to as the Xbox 360's first must-have title. Even before the console's release, Gears of War had been hyped as the Xbox 360's killer app. Promises made by both Microsoft and developer Epic Games regarding Gears of War's robust single-player and multiplayer campaigns spurred many gamers into buying an Xbox 360 at launch, even though the game would not be released until more than a year later. At the present point in time, Gears of War is more important than ever for Microsoft. With the debut of Sony's and Nintendo's next-generation consoles mere days away, Gears of War is expected to provide the boost in hardware sales the Xbox 360 needs in the face of intense competition from the Wii and the PlayStation 3. With so much riding on Gears of War's success, it's fortunate for Microsoft that the title has been so well received by the gaming press. Currently pulling in an average review score ratio of 95%, Gears of War is, according to Gamerankings.com, the "best game on the Xbox 360." Gabe Graziani of Games Radar expresses little hesitation in giving Gears of War a perfect score of 10 out of 10. "Blending unmatched twitch-action with an incomparably oppressive atmosphere and multiplayer that will monopolize your broadband for months," Graziani states, "Gears of War is the game the 360 was designed to play." While many gamers were worried that Gears of War would offer pedestrian gameplay underneath a facade of detailed graphics, Graziani believes that this is not the case. "Gears of War doesn't just focus on your standard running and gunning," he says, "but rather delves into some fantastic twists on the tired shooter genre." "We were wary of Gears of War and its hype-fueled debut," Graziani continues, "but actually playing this magnum opus has shoved all doubts from our extremely critical minds. If you own a 360, you owe it to yourself to buy this game." 1UP.com's Dan Hsu was more reluctant to award Gears of War with a 10 out of 10, but did so anyway despite citing a laundry list of issues regarding gameplay. Control quirks, A.I. problems, and bad dialogue are a few of the main offenders cited. "But as I was playing through the game," Hsu explains, "I found one consistently good feature: It was constantly impressing the hell out of me." Hsu is impressed by Gears of War's combat complexity, in particular, though he warns that this may be a turnoff initially for gamers accustomed to the likes of Halo. "You can't run-and-gun like you do in Halo 2 -- you will get slaughtered," warns Hsu. "You have to learn to slide from cover to cover, using the environment as bullet shields. It's not complicated at all -- the 'A' button does pretty much everything -- but tournament-level players won't like things like how you throw grenades (...) or how you use the chain saw on your rifle to melee attack an enemy." Hsu also faults the limited multiplayer options, claiming that "all three modes are just slight variations of each other." Despite this, Hsu gives Gears of War high praise and recommendation, concluding that "you really need to play this visual and visceral masterpiece for yourself." Kristan Reed of Eurogamer was far less impressed with Gears of War than many other reviewers, scoring it at 8 out of 10. "Gears of War is at odds with itself," he explains. "It's a game with the most spectacularly beautiful backdrops and subtle graphical effects you've ever seen in a videogame, and yet within those incredible environments takes place one of the most pure, uncompromising, simple gaming experiences you could possibly have." Reed claims that this is not necessarily for the best, however, concluding that "Gears of War is not doing anything extraordinary or new on any level." Gameplay simplicity aside, Reed was also unimpressed with the game's length, explaining that the single-player campaign clocks in at around eight to ten hours. Reed admits that while Gears of War's gameplay may be fun, he expected much more from the hype. He concludes: "In a sense, Gears of War lives up to expectations in that it's one of the most intensely beautiful-looking games ever made, but is one that plays by the rules in the gameplay stakes." Opinions differ as to whether Gears of War innovates in any meaningful way, but thus far, nearly all critics agree that the title's gameplay is solid and enjoyable throughout. Though some may be inevitably disappointed by its failing to live up to hype-inflated expectations, Gears of War's popularity should prove to be a major advantage to Microsoft in the upcoming holiday season.

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