by Marty Demarest & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & arth, as it seems to have been found by the aliens in Gears of War, is a war-worshipping planet. Life is lived by masses of muscle committed to death. Masses of muscle like me: a neck resembling a tree trunk twined with cables, eyes dusky with the death wish of righteousness, a grimy bandana around my head and a chainsaw-bayoneted rifle in my hands.

Throughout Gears of War, life (meaning the pursuit of death) has been designed to be enjoyed by more than one player. I'm always part of a team (my teammates either controlled by the Xbox 360 or by co-op players), and so I always need to be aware of my character, his teammates and the world around them. In order to make this easier, the game presents me with an outside, third-person view.

When I need to shoot a gun, I first clutch the controller's left trigger and enter a perspective alongside my character's head. After targeting my victim, I pull the right trigger to fire. This dual-action shooting is fussy, and it eliminates the possibility of simultaneously running and aiming precisely. It's also cumbersome, and slows down combat in a game in which battles are not as frenetic or exciting as I would imagine a space-age war would be.

I can't jump. Any action other than running and shooting requires a number of real-world actions. Simply taking cover behind a block of rubble requires several button presses and joystick swerves. This makes moving around extremely tactical, and the various battle environments in Gears of War come to reflect this: Almost every battleground has several positions for a squad to entrench itself, and a field of cover for the enemy to advance through.

We enter a courtyard. There are enemies at the other end, camped out behind a large mounted gun. We rush towards them, dodging behind fallen pillars until we kill the gun operator and his henchmen. Then we kick down the door to a nearby warehouse and walk down a corridor, firing at stray aliens at the other end. We emerge in a garage. Enemies attack us in waves. We wait at our end, taking them out as they approach. Then we cross the room and head down another corridor, into another moment of war.

THE GOOD: Gears of War is set in a dozen different detailed and oppressive environments. Rain falls like rusty chains and headlights pierce the smoky air with mote-mottled beams. It's a picturesque setting for committed warfare, and teams of players who want tactical squad combat will probably find the game to be a dark haven in online multiplayer modes.

THE BAD: War doesn't figure into the game as much as it creates the title and setting. Gears of War is primarily an action shooter in which I'm on a quest to save myself. Instead of growing more desperate, however, the game's combat grows increasingly monotonous, capping cookie-cutter skirmishes with boss battles that, instead of requiring me to think, panic or freak out, just require me to pull triggers for five minutes.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Gears of War's elaborately tactical shooting never lets its combat get off the ground.

Book and Brew @ Heritage Bar & Kitchen

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