It could have been a contender, but Gears has a cog loose and so doesn't quite run like clockwork
by on February 9, 2012
It’s sometimes easy to think of humanity’s failings and rapidly find yourself in a facepalm loop, but things could be a lot worse, if Gears is anything to go by. In the game’s futuristic setting, the population has ravaged the planet and set up home in a shiny floating city. Sadly, whoever was entrusted with designing said haven was, to put it mildly, an eccentric buffoon of the highest order.
Rather than humanity’s last viable home being powered by, say, a nice set of solar panels on the roof, its working mechanisms involve massive gears that are helpfully located in perilous surroundings. Cue: worldwide earthquakes, ancient machinery damage and quite a lot of panic entering the story. And, of course, instead of being able to repair everything by flicking open a hatch and fiddling with a screwdriver, the entire fate of humanity rests on a ‘repair sphere’. The sphere’s job is to trundle around the behind-the-scenes engines of the stupid humans’ home, grab power gears and deposit them in collection funnels, presumably digitally tutting while doing so and wondering if there was any way whatsoever in which mankind’s survivors could have made things any more needlessly complicated for themselves.
The answer, clearly, is no, and Gears is not by any stretch of the imagination an easy game to get to grips with as you try to coax the sphere around each level, grabbing power gears and reaching the exit. The tilt controls are a total disaster, like trying to roll a marble carefully around a tea tray made of ice. But the swipe controls are better, enabling you to use subtle flicks to move your sphere short distances and large flicks to fling it into the air. The second of those things might seem reckless, but we ended up doing this quite a lot, due to regularly finding ourselves snarling at our device, thinking the sole remnants of humanity deserved to perish, given the crackpot design of later engine layouts. The problem is that the 3D nature of the landscape is often not terribly obvious, resulting in the sphere plunging to its doom time and time again. Coupled with controls that aren’t quite tight enough and levels that require more precision than is really on offer, Gears is often a frustrating experience once you’re past the first few levels, and especially once you’re immersed in trying to get through the Rivers of Magma and maze-like Cavern of Omens. In addition, even the Normal difficulty level is saddled with an insanely tight time limit to proceedings, which can mercifully be turned off if you decide to wuss out and opt for the Easy mode.
Despite the brutal nature of Gears, it still draws you in. On the iPhone or iPod touch especially, the early levels’ steampunk labyrinth and dexterity-oriented gameplay, along with the Danny Elfman-like score, put you in mind of a Burtonesque take on Marble Madness or Super Monkey Ball. Through sheer bloody-mindedness you’ll find yourself bludgeoning your way through the game, emitting shouts of victory when you beat a level, because, frankly, you deserve those end-of-level trophies after all that hard work. But at every point, you’ll also be thinking the game should be a bit more fun than it is; and although the intro movie, soundtrack and setting try very hard to place you in magical surroundings, the Dark Nebula games succeed in the ways Gears fails. So if you fancy a steampunk dexterity-test arcade game, those are a better bet; but if you completed both Dark Nebula titles with your eyes closed, you’ll find Gears a much sterner test.
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Review courtesy of Tap!