Superb visuals in gory Gears of War

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Here’s one of the latest games available.

Gears of War, from Microsoft Game Studios for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $59.99. If it were not for this game’s incredibly cinematic, groundbreaking interactivity, which throws players into a sci-fi universe devastated by a subterranean species, I might just pass on it. I have seen this type of brutally violent scenario too many times before for nearly every entertainment console, and I am not sure how many more extraterrestrial entrails I can wade through before I need a psychiatrist.

Despite my reticence, any serious gamer older than 17 who is of sound mind will appreciate being thrown onto the planet Sera and taking control of a hard-core, bullet-spitting soldier named Marcus Fenix as he and his squad annihilate an assortment of cybernetic freaks called the Locus Horde.

The mix of enemies looks as if it were culled from a genetic mix of “Starship Troopers,” “Resident Evil” and “The Fifth Element” bad guys. They constantly challenge Fenix as he becomes the focal point of an unprecedented immersion into a five-act, 30-chapter saga built upon nasty guerrilla warfare.

This third-person adventure sends a solo player on a harrowing journey through dreary outdoor environments, cathedrals, prison corridors, tombs and mining tunnels with an unimaginable amount of spectacular visual and auditory effects. They made me feel as if I were looking through a blood-splattered window at the lifelike carnage.

The player will embrace slabs of concrete, well-fortified door frames and burned-out vehicles as he constantly batters the A button to hug them, take cover and then quickly return fire, either blindly or targeted.

His arsenal is another dazzling part of the Gears of War experience. The standard-issue assault rifle, the Lancer, is equipped with a chain-saw bayonet that will cause squeamish players to cover their peepers as they slice and dice.

The Hammer of Dawn weapon is a marvel that delivers a powerful laser from the sky when Fenix gets his enemies in the open and can aim an infrared beam at them.

Additionally, a new wrinkle in firearm usage comes via a metered system called the Active Reload. Players who click at the right time as a bar fills up are rewarded with an immediate reload and added damage to enemies. Miss the mark, and Fenix offers an obscenity as the gun temporarily jams and puts him at considerable risk.

The action challenges at three levels of difficulty and looks incredible, from the wafts of fog and dust found nearly everywhere to a hand-held camera shot used when Fenix moves quickly through the terrain.

To extend the level of replayability, Microsoft generously provides not only a three-tired cooperative mode accomplished via split screen, system link or Xbox Live servers, but also the brilliantly lag-free multiplayer mode, which enables players around the world to go online and virtually murder one another — one level requires close-range executions on the path to victory.

I can appreciate the artistic and technical wizardry found in Gears of War, but as a parent and member of the human race, I am beginning to feel uncomfortable with the constant and ever-more-realistic levels of violence found in the entertainment medium, especially as visuals reach higher levels of definition.

Just as with R-rated movies, when it comes to M-rated games, viewer and parental discretion must always be advised. I wonder, however, if game developers really need to give a planet already filled with unspeakable real daily violence even more interactive ways to slaughter.

I do not have an answer, but that chain-saw weapon sure is way cool.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@ washingtontimes.com).

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