Video games love shooting. Second only to possibly jumping, shooting is THE go-to mechanic in thousands upon thousands of games.
Why? Lots of reasons. Shooting is inherently simple. Aim at a thing and shoot, hit it and good stuff happens (for you anyway). Early games saw spaceships shooting asteroids, then side-scrolling soldiers shooting bad guys and even actual guns that you shot at the screen for all your duck hunting thrills. Then iD software came along and basically invented the genre of first-person shooting with games like Wolfenstein and DOOM. Sure there were FPS concepts like Atari’s Battlezone, but video game shooting was defined by iD. The genre absolutely exploded in the 90s and early 00s. Then it got a little boring.
What was there for people who simply didn’t like FPS, but still wanted the time-honored glory of shooting stuff? Wasn’t there room for a different kind of shooting game? Maybe even a whole genre?
Gears of War debuted for Xbox 360 in November 2006 to near-perfect reviews and almost immediately changed our perspective on shooting in video games. It was a third-person cover shooter. While not canonically the first game to use those mechanics, the devs at Epic perfected them in such an addictive, white-knuckle fashion they soon became a template for a whole genre in the years that followed. Franchises like Mass Effect and The Last Of Us owe a debt to the creativity behind Gears of War. History aside, the most tangible evidence of Gears of War’s impeccable design is how ludicrously fun it still is to play.
For the unfamiliar, Gears of War is very much a war story. It takes place on the planet Sera (not Earth!) 14 years after an event called Emergence Day. What emerged? A race of humanoid creatures known as the Locust come out of the literal ground and begin destroying humanity. You learn one-quarter of the population died on day one, and it got worse from there. Because the game takes place deep into the war, the vibe is post-apocalyptic in all the best ways. Crumbling ruins, bleak horizons and plenty of uber-badass soldiers including the iconic Marcus Fenix, your character throughout the game.
Marcus is a bit of a loose cannon, evidenced by the fact that he is in prison at the start of the game. You have to be very extra to get arrested amidst a planet-shattering war, and it doesn’t take long to figure out Marcus is every bit the soldier they say he is. His character model alone is ludicrous, he’s basically just a giant neck muscle on legs a.k.a. Dave Bautista.
Those hulking shoulders crouch nicely, as you’ll spend the game participating in some of the most exciting run-and-gun shooting in the genre. The big breakthrough in Gears of War is allowing players to sprint from cover position to cover position, resulting in pitched gunfights where you battle for flanking positions. Another skillful touch is the reload system. Instead of just socking in a new clip, you have a small meter with a targeted sweet spot that you need to land a cursor in when you reload. Hit the sweetspot and you get a little buff on your shots, fall too far outside and your gun jams up adding crucial seconds to the reload. It may sound like a small detail but it adds another satisfying layer to the combat. It’s immensely rewarding to hit a perfect reload and use those last few bullets to take down a foes. Everything about Gears of War is designed to push your adrenaline into the stratosphere, and its no surprise this game got the franchise treatment. Revisit where it all began. It’s worth a shot.
Gears of War is available now on Xbox Game Pass.