Sunday, November 20, 2016

Gears of War: Ground Gained and Lost

 Gears of War: Judgment

The game that induced me to buy the arcade version (read cheap) of the Xbox 360 was Gears of War. Gears looked great and the play style was exceptional. I often have trouble with anything first-person and this was a third-person shooter. Its cover-fire system was unique and instantly copycatted by others in the industry. Your character felt heavy and each action required planning and skill. If you ran up to your Locust enemies, you’d be shot to bits. And to go along with that Gears of War effortlessly pulled its audience into a unique post-apocalyptic story about a planet called Serra. Characters had unique voices and characterizations.

Gears of War 2 could be argued as an improvement on an excellent first game. The game play was polished and levels required deep strategy if you played on higher difficulty settings. The story was enhanced with a huge war effort against the Locust threat that felt risky and important. Characters drove the story at nearly every important stage of the title.

At the same time Karen Traviss had been hired to right companion novels. And at first blush I figured this would be little more than a money grab. But Epic gave her free reign to enhance and expand the world. The first two books are really good. She was involved in the writing for Gears of War 3 and it shows. It has more story nuance than some RPGs. The game play in Gears of War 3 wasn’t quite as epic at 2, but it still felt good. And it tied up all the loose story ends.

And then somebody decided we don’t need a serious campaign or characters, and we got Gears of War: Judgment, released on March 19, 2013. This consisted of a main campaign and a smaller mini campaign. Our lead character is Baird, the usually douchey and always sarcastic guy who’s been in every title. He’s stripped of his rancor and it’s explained that this story is before he got embittered. Cole joins the team but he lacks any of his old energy. The other two I can’t even remember their names; stock Slavic guy who’s done evil and stock woman with a pony tail. And this is all framed around a trial being held by an obnoxious colonel whose main accusation against Baird seems to be how he chose to fight. How dare he use Locust weapons! Oh, I think they stole a hammer of dawn and used it without permission. Anyway the story felt small and petty just like the colonel.

Let’s talk game play. Remember how Epic revolutionized a cover-fire system that made each action feel vital? Well, gradually designers let that slide. This title rewards people who charge up and attack. The mini campaign had more traditional levels, actually.

And then to underline how truly unimportant those two whose names I can’t recall were to the designers, Beard bumps into them years later in the mini campaign. And this was the element that irked me. So apparently stock woman took up with stock Slavic guy, for reasons that are never explained or implied. And then she’s on patrol and gets abducted, Slavic guys thinks by COG members. The implications here are unpleasant. He’s unable recover her.

That conclusion felt pat and disappointing. Gears of War always presented an unusually egalitarian message. In the books it’s explained that woman are too valuable to fight, but as the situation grows desperate they can and do. It’s not a huge setback, but I didn’t understand why she couldn’t have fallen in a shootout or something.

From what I hear the new Gears of War game is much better. I didn’t preorder it though and I’m waiting for the price to drop. The series needs to rebuild my confidence.

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