Mercenary!

I was on the train, fighting against that locust general, trying to reach the solar bomb to get rid of all his vicious breed…Well I did it… at least virtually. I completed Gears of War, game of the Year, winner of several prizes and mentions, and got the status of “Mercenary”. So long, so good. Having played the never-ending Serious Sam (I and II) I expected the game to be somewhat longer, but apparently gone are the times when a game lasted for tens of hours… or maybe I’m getting too good at playing. Unlikely, I would say.
In this game you play Marcus Phoenix that begins his quest in a prison (Unreal, anyone?), freed by an old friend, stating that the army needs his help. And in fact any help is desperately needed – the world has been taken over by the Locusts, a cruel race of creatures resembling of reptiles, they savaged the cities so that the government decided to bomb everything (smart move, isn’t it?). Roughly you have the task of mapping the caves of the Locusts and then activating a “solar bomb” to destroy them all.

The game is a 3rd person shooter and one of the best yet seen. The graphics is gorgeous, really delivering a full immersion to the player, is movie-like quality and the suspension of disbelief is very easy. Classic realtime graphics defects (such as polygons cut by the camera plane, textures revealing their pixel based nature, squared objects) are basically non-existent. For this reason and the abundance of gore, this title is really not suitable for kids.
The only dissatisfying aspect is that bulk objects (such as the choppers) are apparently without mass, their movements is not as smooth and … inertial as they should be. The best bulk “mass” simulation in videogame remains Halo 2.
The camera (aside from never ever letting you down), sports an involving war-footage style.
The game play is slightly innovative, and it is quite difficult given that the genre counts tons of titles. New is the need for the player to look for a cover in a firefight, you have to plan your moves quite accurately if you don’t want to be blown off.
You can carry two weapons. Aside from grenades, there is a basic set of weaponry – the standard machine gun (with a chainsaw), a sniper rifle, a bow with explosive darts, a rocket launcher and a shotgun. You have a non-standard “Hammer of Dawn” which is a targeting device for calling satellite beam attack on your enemies. The satellite attack takes quite a long time for aiming and works only outdoor with clear sky (and satellite coverage).
You have a team, usually just another guy the fight at your side. His AI is pretty brilliant – he usually don’t get into your line of fire and doesn’t stops you from moving around (or worst blocking while you are retreating, as it happened in HalfLife 2). In the beginning of the game he usually hints you for the direction where the game proceed. The game is never too difficult on the brain side, the most difficult puzzle you have to solve is find the switch aside of the door you want to open, nor you risk of getting lost – maps are pretty big, but the path is so marked you have no chance to get it wrong.
The only downside with the gameplay is that occasionally the “take cover action” interferes with the movement, or the crouched-run that you try to save your life. Just occasionally annoying. Also, if you are picky enough you could note some bugs here and there, such as enemy boss that slams into invisible barriers, or the multipurpose floating robot Jack that appears out of thin air. The worst bug I encountered was against a boss, I was expected to attract the boss on a carriage with a gasoline tank, then leaving the cart and throwing a grenade to let the carriage explode with its annoying passenger. Unfortunately the split second I throw the grenade the boss jumped on my wagon, causing the trap to explode and leaving me without any weapon to get him off.
But these are just minor quirks for a great game I really enjoyed.

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