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I reel back in my chair, chuckling, as a group LOL breaks the silence in Epic's dimly-lit testing room, twinkling with the LEDs of 14 state-of-the-art games machines.

We're playing the Gears of War PC's new King of the Hill mode, which has just seen myself and four other players kill each other viciously from behind one after another in a hilarious cartoon chain of death.

As the legendary lead designer CliffyB said to me earlier in the day, the new multiplayer game is indeed, "f****** hilarious."

Gears of War has shifted over four million copies on Xbox 360 alone, won countless Game of the Year awards and become one of the most popular online shooters of all time.

Until Gears' console release this time last year, developer Epic was more famous for Unreal Tournament and the all-conquering Unreal Engine 3, used as the de facto modern game engine to build titles such as BioShock.

Now the company is preparing to unleash on PC not only the hugely entertaining violent blaster Unreal Tournament 3 but also Gears of War - a massive game event that we're marking with a studio visit and hands-on feature of both games, as well as unique cover art specially created for us lucky buggers here at PC Zone.

OK, I'm assuming here that you know what Gears of War is about - that it's a third-person action shooter starring Marcus Fenix and his three Coalition of Ordered Governments cohorts taking on the evil Locust menace yada yada yada.

So no faffing about here - I wouldn't be the bluff Yorkshire chap that tells it like it is if I continued to blather on round the edges like xa News 24 reporter filling between bulletins.

Gears of War, a game that was built for the Xbox 360 from the ground up, is enormous amounts of fun to play on PC, with a host of new single-player missions, mouse/keyboard support, a new multiplayer mode, three brand new maps and co-op play over Games For Windows Live.

My first experience of Gears on PC had to be the new five single-player missions built around the Act V encounter with the infamous Brumak beast, which CliffyB succinctly described as "four storeys of teeth and guns," and was only previously viewed in a brief cutscene on the Xbox 360 game.

The new level is unlocked from the beginning, so if you want to jump in and experience the Brumak battle immediately from the off, you can. Although be warned, it appears near the end of the game, so if you're new to Gears, you will be pwned...

"The Timgad level was always an idea early in development, but ultimately you have to decide how much to bite off and still keep the quality you want," said senior producer Rod Fergusson. "Also you get the biggest bang for the buck with the Brumak. No‑one was really asking for new weapons or a new character, they were all like, "I want to fight that thing!"

You begin the level at a drawbridge (apparently based on London Bridge) that shorts out, meaning you and the team have to get power to the sector, just as hordes of Locust enemies descend on the area - including the Brumak - kicking off a manic shootout that eventually splits the four-man COG team in two, taking you and partner Dom into the grim nether-regions below the structure.

The Brumak is a dominating presence throughout the levels, so even though you don't get to take it on until the fifth chapter, the hefty beast will never be too far away, trying to smash its way down through the girders of the bridge to your position below, or cutting off your escape route with collapsing concrete.

The new sections have some memorable set-pieces, including my personal favourite - a shootout in an old theatre overrun with sniping enemies in the balcony, scuttling Wretches on the stairs, and an insect-like behemoth Seeder in the main stalls. Still, I'd rather face all that than a Royal Variety Performance.

After a further series of intense firefights with the Locust, you and your team eventually come face-to-face - well, face-to-ankle - with the Brumak, the frightening Rancor-like monster, loaded with multiple gun/rocket launcher installations and controlled by a grunt atop its head.

I won't reveal any spoilers here how you see off the lumbering piece of alien filth, but suffice to say that taking the Brumak down was an immensely satisfying boss battle, and I felt like the tearful, sobbing Rancor-keeper in Return of the Jedi when I walked away from its massive, lifeless corpse.

Gears looks fantastic on PC - crisp, hi-res visuals with great scalability, from mid-range cards to DirectX 10-compatible behemoths that'll run 1920 x 1200 pixel resolutions and above, for life-like facial animation, smooth movement (caught in the Epic mo-cap studio just around the corner) and beautiful-but-war-torn architecture of a civilisation torn to shreds by a brutal alien invasion.

Epic have also succeeded in making the transition from controller pad to mouse/keyboard really smooth too, giving you the option of traditional keyboard mapping, with the space bar used for the action button for going into cover and running, or using a nifty double-tap Advanced mode - hit W twice quickly and hold down, for example, and Marcus will run forward using that trademark over-the-shoulder 'war reporter' shaky-cam.

After a few minutes of the latter combined with mouse-look, I'm confident you'll never need that Xbox 360 pad for Windows. Although the dynamic context-sensitive on-screen prompts will cleverly change from mapped keys to buttons automatically if you do prefer to plug one in. You big girl.

Onto multiplayer, and it was here that I had a thorough thrash of the aforementioned new King of the Hill mode on the three brand new maps specially created for Gears on PC by People Can Fly, the Polish developers responsible for the Stakegun-powered shooter Painkiller.

They are: Courtyard, a city park with some great high areas to use the awesome Hammer of Dawn orbital laser weapon; Gold Rush, an industrial level set on an emulsion drilling platform at the bottom of a massive crater; and Sanctuary, a very gothic 'non-denominational religious building', with atmospheric, creepy lighting.

"King of the Hill is sort of a spin-off from Annex, where you're taking over territory, but instead of it constantly changing, there's only one bit of territory per round and one team member has to be in that circle to score points," said Fergusson.

"Also you play 'execution rules', so if you snipe someone in the circle from afar, and he goes down injured, he's still in there getting points! You have to move in there and finish him off."

This, combined with the fact that Epic have also added instant breaks, so that any opposing team member making a suicide run into the circle can drain it to a neutral status immediately, means you get some hectic, thrilling and very funny matches that can be won or lost right up until the final few nail-biting seconds.

Multiplayer is locked into Games For Windows Live, but before you begin to ready those fingers for forum flaming, it'll be completely free to play. All you have to do is sign up for the Silver package, and the Gears of War multiplayer modes are also compatible with Windows XP as well as Vista - no-one will miss out as with the Halo 2 and Shadowrun debacles.

All of the new maps are fantastic with King of the Hill four versus four, but Fergusson assured me that every multiplayer map featured in Gears of War PC (that include the additional Map Packs 1 & 2) are compatible with other modes - and of course, you'll be able to play with a friend through the entire single-player missions co-operatively.

Gears of War will also ship with an editor, although don't expect to completely overhaul the game with a new mod, as the utility has been tailored for creating your own multiplayer maps - the PC-from-the-ground-up title Unreal Tournament III is Epic's flagship mod-maker.

Gears of War is not your typical PC blaster - being a third-person action game described by CliffyB as "the iambic pentameter of shooting" and built specifically for the Xbox 360, the game wears its console heritage on its bloody sleeve.

However, Epic have looked to have created an excellent PC version of Gears, complete with new single-player content, new maps, better mouse/keyboard control and free integrated Games For Windows Live co-op and multiplayer across as many different PC configurations as possible.

As Epic gear up for development on the game's inevitable sequel, it's great to know that PC owners will finally get to play this killer series, and face-off against the Brumak beast - a fight that Xbox players can only wet dream about.



Gears of War - The Story
Product Overview:
“Gears of War,” a Games for Windows title, features the amazing tactical action and multiplayer excitement found in the critically acclaimed “Gears of War” for Xbox 360 that sold more than 4 million units but also a variety of all-new content, including three new multiplayer maps, a new multiplayer game type, Game Editor, five new campaign chapters and DirectX 10 support.
“Gears of War” thrusts gamers into a deep and harrowing story of humankind’s epic battle for survival against the Locust Horde, a nightmarish race of creatures that surface from the bowels of the planet.

With “Gears of War,” Epic returns gamers to the massively scoped worlds, memorable characters, co-operative gameplay, and hyper-realistic combat that gamers have come to expect from the franchise, plus a few new surprises.


Frag-filled new content. “Gears of War” will feature locations that are unique to the franchise and the genre. Players will encounter all of their favorite foes from the Xbox 360 version; however these intense encounters will take place in some new environments and allow players to manipulate the new game modes and technology found only in a Games for Windows title. Boasting three new multiplayer maps, a new multiplayer game type, Game Editor, five new campaign chapters and DirectX 10support.“Gears of War,” will challenge and push the limits of the PC gaming experience and provide an unparalleled visual presentation.

Engaging and disturbing cinematic story. Movie-like cut scenes, cinematic camera moves and in-game storytelling bring the brutal, emotionally charged narrative to life. Gamers control Marcus Fenix and his fire team as they pit advanced technology against the overwhelming and horrific Locust Horde.

Unmatched online gaming. “Gears of War” will tap into the power of Games for Windows — LIVE to deliver online matchmaking for its Gold account members. The service will enable gamers around the globe to connect via their PCs allowing players to experience individualized matchmaking, view player statistics, earn player Achievements, customize games and create personalized profiles.

New Game Editor. The game will also feature the all-new Game Editor, guaranteeing new user-generated content in the future. The “Gears of War” community will be able to tap their endless creative potential to develop an unlimited number of user-created levels through complete access to the Unreal Editor. Players can now import custom artwork into the engine, create particle systems, scripted encounters, cinematics and more.

Astounding visuals in next-generation gaming. “Gears of War” ushers in the next generation with incredible visuals, pushing DirectX 10 visual designs and bringing out the smallest details in the largest battle. Gamers experience a rich dynamic world with a supreme level of detail in resolutions up to 1920 x 1200. Characters come to life with unbelievable model quality and a physics-integrated animation system that has them truly reacting intelligently to events as they unfold around them.
Hyper-realistic and intense combat. In “Gears of War” the battlefield is a lethal place — to foolishly stand out in the open is to invite an untimely demise. To survive, gamers must employ strategy, take cover using the interactive and dynamic environments and suppress the enemy with blind fire, using their weapons and teammates to outwit and outfight their terrifying enemies.

Minimum system requirements:

OS: Windows XP or Windows Vista
Processor: Intel 2.4 GHz or AMD 2.0 GHz or higher
HDD space: 12 GB
Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce 6600 or ATI X700 or higher
Online multiplayer: Broadband Internet connection and Games for Windows – LIVE membership (Gold membership is required for matchmaking and multiplayer Achievements)

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