Friday, November 11, 2011

Lazy Impressions: Gears of War

** Originally posted on **

I’ve gotten Gears of War for the Xbox 360 recently. Not the new one, but the oldest version you can possibly buy on the free market: Gears of War 1. This is a pattern with me, I will overlook a series until it comes full circle and joins the halls of the great trilogies, then I will recognize the series as something worth checking out, and finally begin the descent into whichever universe has captured my attention. I mostly attribute this phenomenon to my general laziness.. Anyway, I’ve gotten Gears of War recently.
I’m honestly not a big fan of the genre, so please take this article with a grain of salt, but this game sticks out for me as one of the better ones. The reasons why I don’t like this kind of game are plentiful: The machismo doesn’t appeal to me; the blind, senseless killing; the facelessness or de-characterization of the enemy; the narrow range of view; the recycled, ineptly written storylines; etc, etc. There are so many ways I could pick the entire genre apart, though instead I’m going to focus on how this particular title rises above the rest.
The Locust are your enemy. They are alien and faceless, but they are interesting. They’ve come from under the ground and don’t fit into any of the archetypes you find in literature about aliens. I suppose they’re not really aliens at all, but they are very, very strange. Seemingly made up partly of clay, mechanical parts, and human bits with an exoskeletal casing. They seem to stagger under their own weight and the weight of their enormous guns. This last point is simply part of the universe though, since the human Gears also look genetically engineered to be able to lift buses.
gears of war box art
The universe in Gears is gritty. Not slick, nor shiny like a few FPS I could name, everything seems crafted for war, even the people. The Locust and the Gears are pock-marked, scarred, seeming to belong to one another, though their conflict is one fuelled by blind hatred and genocide. I can only imagine the heartbreak on Emergence Day (the day that the Locust first sprang from the ground,) when Seran civilization fell. The survivors on this world adapting from life-as-we-know-it to military rule as a means to see another sunrise. Gears of War seems to successfully capture the visceral feel of an invasion of a once beautiful planet.
The environments are beautiful. The crumbling, Roman-esque architecture of Sera, dotted with future detail and symbology, is a pretty playground for the Locust. The levels run through piazzas and overgrown courtyards that naturally compliment the strategy of the Locust. That is until Delta Team goes underground and your environment becomes a drab, grey-brown experience in which the Locust stick out like sore thumbs. The Gears seem to belong more to the underground environment than the Locust do. Up to that point it’s a very attractive looking game.
This kind of game always lends itself well to multiplay, and Gears is no exception. While I don’t play much competitive, firefight-style games, I’m always down for co-op campaign gaming. The co-op campaign is exactly the same as the single-player campaign. Your characters are always in the story, interacting in the same ways even if Dom (read: P2) is controlled by the second player. The fear and panic that two people feel as they come up against insurmountable odds is binding and I wouldn’t change that about Gears. I’m happy that they kept that 2-player format throughout the series, rather than increasing the amount of player characters that can be busting heads at once. This is going to be a bit of fun.
So, having ripped the genre, and putting Gears of War on a pedestal amidst the detritus, I feel it deserves a play-through. If I, a self-professed critic of macho firefight gaming, can get so much enjoyment from this franchise, then I think it should be on everyone’s radar. I hope that Epic Games releases more titles in the franchise and expands on the existing storyline in the future.

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