Saturday, November 24, 2007

Gears of War (PC) Review

Without question, Gears of War (Xbox 360) is one of the top titles to own for the Xbox 360 console. It provides gamers with great gameplay built upon a cutting edge graphics engine, and is a real adrenaline rush from start to finish. Now, one year later, Gears of War has made its way onto the PC, and not only does it feature the same great game that Xbox 360 players have been enjoying these last 12 months, but it also features additional Single Player content with an extended Act V.

Since the PC version is very much identical to its Xbox 360 counterpart, reviewed here, I'm not going to rehash everything I've already said. Instead, I'm going to focus on the exclusive PC content, and the overall quality of the PC port itself.

The PC version of Gears of War uses an enhanced version of the wonderful Unreal Engine 3, and for those of you with high-end PCs, you'll be able to play Gears of War on a level of graphical beauty that is not possible on the Xbox 360. When all's said and done though, a game's overall fun factor is more important than its pretty pictures, and the real trump card for Gears of War (PC) over the Xbox 360 version is the controls and how well they've translated over to a mouse and keyboard.

Like most other shooters, the mouse and keyboard is simply more precise than the Xbox 360's controller, particularly for tracking targets and for precision shooting. One problem I often had in the Xbox 360 version was with Wretches and dealing with them when they got in close. I would have to resort to Melee attacks because they were simply too fast to get a bead on when at point blank range, but with the quick response of a mouse, I can blast those pesky bastards no matter how close they are.

Another hitch with the Xbox 360 version was that the final Act of the game, Act V, started off rather strangely; it felt like the story had jumped forward just a bit and didn't flow perfectly from Act IV. Well, as it turns out, there really was a bit of the Act missing. Not just a bit, actually, as it looks like Epic Games cut out the first two thirds of Act V, and now the Act is presented in full in this PC version.

The main focus of the new Chapters of the extended Act V is restoring power to a bridge that Delta Squad needs to cross, climaxing with a final confrontation with the Brumak, the large bipedal monster that was advertised everywhere, but that players never got to combat in the Xbox 360 version.

Having just gone toe-to-toe with the Brumak today, I can say that he is the second most challenging boss in Gears of War, and was a lot of fun to fight. The rest of the extended Act V, however, was more of the same in terms of gameplay, and while there was a few cool moments, it didn't really enhance the story that much. Basically, if you already own the Xbox 360 version, the extended Act V alone does not warrant the purchase of the PC version of the game.

The PC version also suffers from the exact same God-awful Checkpoint save system featured in the Xbox 360 version, and was once again the cause of much cursing and swearing on my part. Unlike the Xbox 360 version, however, the Checkpoint system is not the game's fatal flaw, rather the quality of the port itself holds that honour.

In this earlier post here, I describe many of the technical problems I've had with Gears of War (PC). While Live was interesting and naturally very similar to Xbox Live, I had a very difficult time getting it to recognize my Xbox Live account. Not only that, but the game itself seems very poorly optimized, and is riddled with bugs.

Gears of War (PC) has constant stuttering problems, which can make that lovely precision shooting very difficult. Load times are long, there's a known crash bug if you start the game from the DVD's splash screen, and simply being logged into Windows Live has crashed the game numerous times. I've had lock-ups, crashes simply from pressing Esc to get to the in-game menu, and I've also heard of other people having sound issues, magically loosing save games, etc.

My system meets all of the game's system requirements, and actually exceeds most of them, so I should be able to play Gears of War smoothly on all the Low settings, but no, she'll still stutter along the exact same as if she were set to Medium. For that reason, I did play through the game on the Medium Video settings, and it overall looked like the Xbox 360 version.

In truth, for such a high profile title, I simply can't believe how poorly optimized this port is, and that's a huge, huge con for the PC version of Gears of War. The bugs, crashes, and issues with general playability are so bad, actually, that I can not recommend the PC version of the game over its Xbox 360 counterpart.

I'm telling you right now, if you don't yet own Gears of War and you can purchase it for either platform, I suggest the Xbox 360 version. Though possessing a few less Chapters, the game will play smoothly and you simply need to pop the DVD into your Xbox 360 and play.

The sloppy nature of this port is such a shame though, because beyond its problems, Gears of War (PC) is one hell of a fun game. The rush it gave me several months ago is still there, the glee I get from using the Chainsaw bayonet is as fresh as it ever was, and watching a Drone's head explode after a well placed sniper shot is a bloody treat.

If you don't have an Xbox 360 and you are looking to pick up Gears of War for your PC, I'd suggest waiting for Epic to patch the game first, as it sorely needs it. If they can smoothen out it's performance, than Gears of War will be the blast it was meant to be.

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