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 fanboy’s 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 Pokémon 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 humanity’s 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, it’s 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 won’t continue that way in Gears 3.