Gears of War PC Review
2GB DDR RAM
nVidia 8800GT Video
2.4Ghz Intel CPU
or 2.0GHz AMD
12GB HD Space
nV 6600+ or ATI X700+
WinXP or Vista
When Gears of War was first announced, press releases for this third-person shooter always mentioned that it was from the creators of the Unreal games. And now with the upcoming Unreal Tournament 3, the videos say that it's from the creators of Gears of War. That should be a pretty good clue just how much one game turned around veteran shooter development studio Epic Games. Taking full advantage of the Microsoft hype machine, this Xbox 360 game made the two-year wait between the release of the console and Halo 3 pretty bearable, and now Epic has finished work on a PC port of Gears. PC gamers are always hesitant, at the least, to play a console game ported to the PC, and some will simply refuse to even try such a port.
But while some ports deserve every negative comment they get - Halo is one of the more notable series in that respect - Gears of War does a great job to avoid all that. With a solid interface, all the great graphics, Windows XP compatibility, a solid frame rate (at least, on hardware comparable to the 360's) and excellent controls, Gears feels right at home on the PC. And with a few extra campaign missions near the end of the game as well as all the online functionality - although at a price, literally - of the 360 version, many will consider this to be the definitive version of Gears of War.
The game takes place on a post-apocalyptic planet called Sera where men are very burly and the enemy is a race of creatures that were dormant for many years but have burst out of the ground to finish off those who didn't kill each other already. While humanity has almost wiped itself out with their own wars that have destroyed many of their beautiful Victorian and Gothic buildings, the Locusts coming up from holes in the earth with their new technology has really cramped the poor humans' style.
You play as Marcus Fenix, a disgraced war hero who wakes up in prison to find himself being freed by his old buddies to get him back into the fight. It becomes clear quickly that man's last stand is beginning and you were pretty much the last one to be released. That's how much Fenix is disliked, and as you play Gears he'll start to regain some of the respect he used to have. Over the course of the game you'll start getting hints at Fenix' past, but you'll also have many harrowing battles against the forces of the Locust in a world full of delicious architecture and brutal gore. Toss in some great squadmates to tag along with and a sharp sense of humor at times, and this is certainly a game worthy of being called a classic. For the PC version, the full campaign is here along with a new set of chapters that flesh out the story just a tad and put you into a fight with a boss that you never got to truly fight in the 360 original.
The action in Gears takes place almost entirely in a third-person view with a smoothly moving camera and plenty of opportunities for precision aiming. Even over a year since the 360 version hit stores, this still has the best system for hiding behind cover in any modern action game. You can pop out from behind cover to take out enemies, hold your gun up and fire it blindly (good for taking out enemies hiding behind the opposite side of your own cover) and quickly hop or slide from one spot to another. It's done with a context-sensitive system that works just fine with the mouse-and-keyboard controls, and if you want, you can still plug in a 360 controller and get a perfect setup on it with no configuration required. And in a welcome change from the original version, sprinting no longer shares a key or button with diving for cover. Unfortunately, there's no option for manually saving your game, so you're stuck with the checkpoint system. It seems most PC gamers have found their peace with this, so for some it's not a deal-breaker, but PC-gaming purists should keep it in mind.
If you've played the game on an HDTV already, then you might be wondering if the PC version looks better at all. It does, but that mostly comes through with higher screen resolution with the same level of detail. The 360 is two years old but it's still powerful hardware compared to many of today's PCs, so you need to have a fairly decent machine with a solid video card in it if you want the game to look remotely similar to what it did when the original was released. No, the minimum requirements aren't really that demanding, but if you want Gears on PC to look like it did on the 360, then you will need to exceed the minimum requirements by a good chunk.
When you're going online, you'll find all of the multiplayer modes that were seen on the 360 - including online cooperative play - along with all of the original competitive maps, the ones that were made downloadable (even the ones that cost money), and three new ones for a total of 19. Modes like Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are made more interesting with the cover system and the option to have to finish your opponent off with an up-close kill to stop them from getting back up, and other modes like Annex and King of the Hill add just a bit more in the way of tactics to the action. But with a stifling eight-player limit and online play through Microsoft's system where no dedicated servers are allowed, this feels like a bit of a step backwards in the PC realm.
Online play is free, but you need to pay for a Games for Windows Live subscription (which is either $10 a month or $50 a year) for matchmaking services and "ranked" online play. The subscription covers other games, but for now that really only gives access to Halo 2 and Shadowrun for online play, neither of which are very popular to PC gamers. This pay system is almost a good idea, but MS will have to do better if they want to convince PC gamers to want to shell out cash for any features in any online shooter. It's fine if you make a console and get people into it from the start, but PC gamers are not accustomed to paying anything for online features in a game like this. At the very least, the game doesn't restrict you to Vista; it runs wonderfully in DirectX 9 mode on Windows XP. In fact, the DX10 mode in Vista is only used to enable antialiasing (and 4X only), and doesn't improve the graphics in any other way. Conversely, there's simply no way to turn on antialiasing in XP. I'm pretty sure there's a rant I could brew up about DX10 being mostly hype, but I'll leave it for hardware sites like [H]ard|OCP to explore more thoroughly.
Despite some complaints with the multiplayer mode and Windows Live quibbles, Gears of War is still a damn fine PC port of an excellent action game. It even includes a level editor so aspiring mod-makers can start fiddling with all kinds of custom content, and with all of the multiplayer maps and an extended campaign, it's hard to go wrong here. Sure, many of the problems of the original game are still here, like the strangely incomplete narrative and satisfying but confusing ending, but you will have a hard time caring when your assault rifle's attached chainsaw is ripping a Locust soldier into several pieces.