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1:59 PM on 12.01.2008

Gears of War So Far: Thoughts.

So after vegetating in my own bodily juices, swapping games around like some sort of protection racket, and slowly running out of money for a couple of months, I finally managed to obtain copies of both Gears of War and Gears of War 2. Oh, and I remembered that I had a Destructoid account, and could spend my time uselessly writing blog posts rather than uselessly playing my 360 online.

Watching a community you're not a part of go nuts about something you have no clue about is a tad depressing, which is why watching the Xbox fanboys go mental about Gears made me feel more than a little left out. Every argument I could formulate in my own head, to convince myself it was okay started to wear thin:

dull colour scheme
generic premise
And rubbish character design.

That's why it was especially surprising to find that Gears of War is actually rather intelligent.

The cover system is somewhat rigid, like the old Pokmon games (and, well, the new ones for that matter) where you could only move in the confines of a square grid. It all works context sensitively, yet there's so many different actions, places to take cover, and paths through a battle field that each encounter, even each retry, results in a fresh, engaging and thoughtful experience. The battlefield is by no means a simple slaughterhouse, rather a series of layers, made up by square pieces of cover. Once a flow of movement from layer to layer had been achieved, and I began to consistently push the locust into retreat, battle after battle, I realised that winning relied on far more than unloading the most bullets at the greatest speeds, but rather on a mix of ducking down, and tactical movement.

Going beyond the gameplay alone, I thought that the environments were absolutely beautiful. A lot of people have spoken out against the grey and brown colour scheme employed in most games nowadays, and I'd usually agree, but it works great in Gears. The colours highlight the apocalyptic state of the planet, as if colour itself is not welcome on Sera. Landscapes are epic and sprawling, stretching for miles in impressive patterns, and each character moves with a great weight, momentum and ferocity. These are two startlingly pretty games.

Even the oft criticized story of the first game I found to be engrossing and imaginative. While it's true that Marcus and the rest of his comically muscular brigade have about as much personality as wet cardboard, I thought that this only helped the story to develop. In the Gears universe, a desperate war for humanitys very survival, it has abandoned any semblance of culture. One poignant moment in the story involves Delta squadron arriving at the old Fenix mansion, abandoned and disused, showing that the symbols of the old world: money, power, and social class hold no dominion in the new one. The only safe way of surviving is the way of the COG, the protagonist army; an army made up of murderous, muscular, personality-void wrecks. In a war for humanity, have we already lost?

What I liked about the storytelling in the first game is that the cut scenes were often empty, using very little exposition and leaving a good amount concerning the setting unsaid. It left room to imagine and take note of as much or little of the story as I wanted. Which is why Gears of War 2 disappointed me a fair bit. The gameplay remained intact and as engrossing as ever, but with a good old dollop of Hollywood cheese spread thick over the storytelling. New players are led into the experience by a new 'rookie' recruit into Delta squad, themes are often expressed aloud on several occasions by characters, the game follows a depressing 3 act structure, and previously uninteresting characters are given some sort of banal, two-dimensional motivation.

Dom, a rather useless character in the first Gears, who existed for the sole purpose of making co-op possible, is now involved in a rather obtrusive sub-plot to find his missing wife. Dom constantly wails throughout about finding his wife, where his wife might be, whether she's still alive, what great breakfast in bed she made, what colour her hair is, how beautiful her face was and that they made great babies. It is incessant and shallow. Rather than being an actually believable character, with wants, desires, thought processes, and flaws, Dom essentially spend the whole time moaning about his wife. He becomes defined as: the one with the missing wife, and never develops further.

Gears of War is a great series with absolutely stellar gameplay, fantastic graphics and emotive setting. However, in the leap to a sequel, its taken a few hint's from the Hollywood action genre, obviously spurred on by the inevitable movie adaptation, and lost some originality in the process.

Hopefully it wont continue that way in Gears 3.

Please?   read

5:23 PM on 09.02.2008

Feel The Hatred: Cutscenes

It’s dark. Each step echoes through the seemingly endless corridor before me. I don’t know where I am, and I don’t know where I’m going. I continue moving forward. I look in my bag and see that I’m running out of ammo. If something jumped out now, I’d be screwed. I look back. I have to make sure nothing is behind me. I have no idea where I’m going. I am terrified; In fact, I’m proper shitting myself. I see a door. I walk up to it and… my character turns round suddenly.

‘Hang on a minute’ I think. ‘I didn’t do that’.

The camera then swings round to show that it is dark, and that I am in a corridor, and that the protagonist doesn’t know where he’s going. Then SUDDENLY A zombie moose jumps at the main character. He dodges, flips over the monster, fly kicks it in the face a couple of times and makes himself a nice cup of tea in a state of complete apathetic badassness. If I had been in control, I would have been mashed into a thick, bloody pulp by rather blunt antlers, so it’s nice to know the game put me in a corner for a minute while it takes care of things. I mean, I don’t even want to fight Zombie Moosses (Meese?) anyway, right?

But that’s the thing: I do. It’s infuriating and embarrassing that videogames have been around over 40 years, yet still rely on these cutaways to tell a story. Books don’t have DVD’s lodged in the pages halfway through, simply because it’s too hard to express certain things in written word, so why do games?

Sometimes, Games don’t even use them for the story. Let’s just say there’s a switch and a door. In the same room. Next to each other. The door Is closed. The switch is red. The door is red. There is a sign over the switch saying ‘opens door’. A sign over the door says ‘push switch to open. Press said switch and… Control is taken away to show that, yes, the switch did indeed open the door. Well, duh.

I fire a shell at a cracked wall. The wall breaks to reveal a hidden alcove. The game then plays a cutscene showing that the wall is broken, and there is a hidden alcove. Because my eyes must not work properly or something.

It’s downright patronising. The only reason these you-just-did-something-aren’t-you-clever cutscenes are here is to confirm that you, the player, is doing what the developer wants. Randomly hitting a fish with a hammer for 20 minutes doesn’t bring black bars on the screen and play a cutscene, so that must be WRONG, and YOU are a complete MORON. What the game doesn’t realise is, I don’t care if the developer approves what I’m doing, I just want to do it.

Does anybody remember the Revolver Ocelot fight in Twin Snakes? Snake walks into the room where Ocelot is waiting, holding Baxter hostage, twirling his gun around. Snake notices that Baxter is hooked up to explosives, so he needs to be careful. Suddenly, Ocelot shoots at Snake - the bullets wiz past our hero as he lunges into the air, ready for battle.

And then I start playing.

This amounts to little more than running around the room in circles, trying to shoot Ocelot. Like some sort of perverse disney cartoon - which is honestly a bit pants. Why aren’t I dodging bullets by jumping 10 feet in the air like Snake just did? Why couldn’t I have noticed the C4 on my own? Couldn’t Snake have noticed the C4 and told me whilst I was playing? It’s like being a child, not being allowed the model train to play with. Because you are simple, wouldn’t know what to do with it, and would probably do it wrong anyway. Or so Mr. Kojima says.

Oh, and immediately after the rather pitiful boss fight, Snake has a kung fu battle with a ninja. A cyborg ninja. A cyborg fucking ninja. Which is just bragging about what he can do and you can’t.

Don’t get me wrong though, I don’t hate Metal gear Solid, nor do I think every game that has cutscenes in it is bad, because that would be stupid. But like I said: it’s downright patronising; Snake is going to talk to Meryl now, so were taking control off of you, because you’d probably only shoot her in the face anyway. Well what if I did, huh? Make it My Problem rather than yours. Create a story that’s memorable, well written, and above all engages the player, and you wont have to police them into moving forward with cutscenes.

And for fuck's sake, I can think for my self from time to time, Thank You.   read

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