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Over a year since his outing on the Xbox 360, Marcus Fenix is back to stick it to the Locust Horde once again on PC...
- Solid new chapters to the single-player.
- Additional maps exclusive to PC.
- The best-selling Xbox 360 title finally arrives on PC.
- High spec PC needed to run it in its glory.
- Eight player online insignificant for PC.
- King of the Hill too similar to the Annex mode.
Gears of War on the Xbox 360 was our second highest rated game of 2006 (see last November's review here). Epic really nailed the console third person shooter, offering a rock hard single-player campaign with superbly balanced gameplay and a massively popular multiplayer game to boot. So popular was this multiplayer game that it stayed atop the Xbox Live chart for the best part of 10 months, until the release of Halo 3 last September.
We've played an awful lot of Gears here at TVG, logging on to Live for chill out office sessions after long days at work. So, naturally, we were eager to see what Epic had done with the PC game to update the title and tailor it for a PC audience. One of the most significant new additions is five previously unreleased chapters for the single-player campaign. Gears' five acts from the Xbox 360 story (with each act comprising of roughly five chapters) provided about ten to fifteen hours of gameplay (depending on the skill of the player and level of difficulty). It was a fairly average length, although perhaps slightly on the short side for more accomplished gamers, so this additional act on the PC game now increases the longevity of the title to a more substantial level, providing an extra 2 or 3 hours of play (again, depending on skill and difficulty).
Central to this new act is the presence of a very nasty beasty (even by Gears proportions) called the Brumak. Similar in appearance to a large carnivorous dinosaur, this member of the Locust Horde is piloted by a Locust Drone and has cannons/rockets attached to its arms and back. In short, it's not a pretty sight. The main objective throughout the act is to re-attach some downed power lines. This of course means ploughing through area after area of tricky set-pieces filled with Drones, Boomers, Theron Guards, Wretches, a couple of Seeders and their accompanying Nemacysts. In other words, this is a level where the difficulty has been ramped up quite a bit from the first couple of acts and, seeing as it is essentially the fifth act (sandwiched between the Fenix mansion and train acts), this all fits in nicely.
It fits in so nicely in fact, that you can't help but feel that Epic had this section of story planned before the release of the Xbox 360 game. After you've detonated the resonator on Xbox 360 Gears of War, you're then confronted by the Brumak but never actually fight it. The next thing you know you're boarding a train where you eventually fight General RAAM. Even last November, this section of plot seemed a bit disjointed. Now, with this new act, it makes perfect sense. You travel through buildings and city streets, while the Brumak is never far from ear/eyeshot. It appears in many sections of the level, until you eventually confront it in a large open area. Marcus has the plan to kill two birds with one stone by re-attaching the power lines, using the Brumak as a resistor, and electrifying the brute in the process. Once the electricity is flowing again, this drops the drawbridge which allows you to get to the station where you pick up the train in act 5 (now effectively act 6).
The level is everything we've come to expect from Epic's Gears of War and rounds off the last part of the story nicely, rather than the slightly abrupt finish to the Xbox 360 version. It's certainly refreshing that the PC port's single-player game has additional content, as many similar delayed ports get away with very little additionally content whatsoever apart from perhaps the odd multiplayer map. We're slightly suspicious, however, that this additional act may have originally been designed for the Xbox 360 game. It seems possible that Epic held it back due to time constraints or the need for additional content further down the line. Nevertheless, Epic is retaining the line that this act has been specifically designed for the PC and won't be available as downloadable content for Xbox 360 users on Live at a later date.
Controls wise, you can always plug-in an Xbox 360 controller to your PC and play that way, but keyboard/mouse controls have been well translated onto the PC, which will doubtless please hardcore PC shooter fans. If you've played Gears on Xbox 360 a lot then the mouse/keyboard controls will seem very weird at first, although you soon get used to them. PC gamers, on the other hand, will find themselves right at home. That said, herein lies the question at the heart of Gears on PC: what type of gamer will it appeal to? You'd have to be a pretty obsessive Gears fan to buy it if you've already played it on Xbox 360, so that leaves PC gamers who haven't played Gears yet. The PC lobbies won't be cross platform, meaning that PC gamers won't be taking on Xbox 360 players and, while Gears' multiplayer game is very good, it does nevertheless only provide for 8 player lobbies. This will be quite a lot less than what PC gamers are used to. Surely many ardent PC fans will simply wait a couple of weeks for Unreal Tournament 3!
However, Epic has added a range of new multiplayer features on PC. First up is the new King of the Hill mode. It's quite similar to the pre-existing Annex mode although, rather than multiple locations to take over on a map, there will only be one that doesn't change for the whole game. Teams have to take over this set location and, the longer they have it, the more points they get. Once a team reaches 120 points, they've won that game. Execution rules are set for King of the Hill, which means players have to be finished off at close range. Additionally, the best weapon on a given map usually spawns in the King of the Hill location. It's very similar to Annex basically, but a little bit more variation never hurt anyone.
All the maps from the Xbox 360 game, as well as the subsequent map packs that were released on Xbox Live, have been made available on this PC version. There are also three new maps - Courtyard, Gold Rush and Sanctuary - which are exclusive to Gears for Windows. Epic has also even given gamers the opportunity to tinker with their Gears of War world with a Game Editor. Perhaps aimed at the more hardcore PC modding community, using this editor should not be attempted without taking head of Epic's instructions here here.
Graphically, you might find that you need to run the game on medium or low settings unless your system specs are particularly hot. The visuals, however, are pretty much the same as the Xbox 360 game, which is no bad thing as Gears on the Xbox 360 remains one of the finest looking games on the next-gen consoles.