A screenshot of 2nd player character Dominic Santiago, showcasing the GoW engine's capabilities. (The 3rd person camera in the game rarely allows you up-close shots like this, alas.)
To go along with its graphical wizardry, Gears of War also employs a couple of nifty gameplay innovations. Most shocking, you can't jump. Almost every game since the days of Super Mario Bros. has permitted players to hop around, even if there's no compelling reason to do so. In Gears of War, however, pressing the "A" button sends Marcus Fenix diving into cover. He hides behind pillars, cars, couches, walls, and any other obstacle you can find. In the game's manual, Bleszinksi says the design was inspired by a game of paintball, during which he realized that the run-and-gun tactics of most shooting games did nothing to approximate the duck-and-cover tactics of a real (or at least a paintball) firefight.
It's funny, until I read this article I did not consciously notice that GoW had no jump functionality. I suppose that's because the level designers were very good about making sure that anything you might want to jump over, you can instead climb over. For the most part, environment obstacles in GoW seem to come in only two flavors: small enough to climb over, or big enough that you wouldn't expect to get over them even by jumping. Further, I can remember only one place ever where I wanted to be able to jump down, but wasn't able to do it. Also, the levels tend to be well-connected: anywhere you would truly want to go for gameplay reasons, you can usually walk to. I'm sure this was all intentional.
In case you've been living under a rock, Gears Of War is either the very best, or 2nd best only by the slimmest of margins, game for the Xbox360. (The top spot might have to go to Oblivion.) And it is non-stop entertaining, one of those games that makes you wonder how it's 2am already. As the article says, it's nothing revolutionary. But it is the most instantly fun game for the 360, bar none. And while by no means flawless, if it does make game of the year, it will have earned the top spot on merit.