Sunday, June 29, 2008

Gears of War

Gears of War is innovative, visually stunning and tightly executed, but it lacks that certain something that would make it truly immortal.

By now, pretty much everyone alive has already played Gears of War. Those who haven't are probably huddled under a log somewhere in the depths of the third world, possibly wishing they'd bought a 360 instead of a PlayStation 3.

So I probably don't need to tell you that Gears of War is a third-person shooter developed by Epic Games for the XBox 360 and PC, most notable for its gritty visual aesthetic, its warzone-style shaky camerawork and its snap-to-cover mechanics and squad-based combat.

It's a game that's received a lot of bowing and scraping, and for good reason. The gameplay, graphics, and level design are all first-class. This is clearly a game at the top of its genre.

But it's missing that special something. I have revered games like Half-Life and Max Payne long after I first played them, but I doubt that I'm going to include Gears of War in their ranks. I think it's the Hollywood factor. Half-Life and Max Payne were interactive narratives; Gears of War is merely an immersive one.

In Gears of War it feels like the player is being swept along by the flow of events. There's really only one way to play the game, and only one pace to play it at. It's a hell of a way, and a hell of a pace, but it's always clear that you're having a story told to you, rather than helping to tell a story.

Max Payne, by contrast, let you dictate whether you had a shallow or deep experience. You controlled much of the pacing. You could blast through area after area in a hail of bullets, or stop to watch the television segments and explore the environment for hidden content. Half-Life and its sequel let you pick and choose what areas to fight in, what weapons to fight with, and to what extent to rely on the environment. There were extra conversations to hear, extra sights to see, and humerous consequences for unexpected actions. The game could as easily be a black comedy as an action spectacular.

In Gears of War every player will have almost exactly the same experience. Achieving that in a game of this complexity is actually an amazing technical and game design accomplishment, but it's probably an accomplishment that shouldn't have been aimed for.

It's also a little disappointing that there's a fairly large chunk of the plot missing from the XBox 360 version, which would have sat at the start of the game's final act. I understand this chunk has been put back in to the PC version, but it's disappointing for console players who'll likely be left in the dark as to exactly how the fairly lackluster story concludes.

While the storyline may be weak and the ending unsatisfying, the moment-to-moment dialogue is first class. The four main characters really come alive through their squad-based banter, and the voice actors are absolutely beyond criticism. This chatter does a great job of adding life and character to levels that would otherwise consist of a lot of repetitive run-and-gun gameplay.

Minor complaints aside, this is a phenomenal game that any dedicated gamer simply has to play. Experiencing it now will leave you well-placed for the arrival of the sequel this November.


Nismo said...

In terms of plot and appeal, I have to say I agree completely with the things you have said.

But then again, how can I agree when I quite happily dedicated 7 or so months of my gaming life on the quest for the 'Seriously...' achievement? Yes it's true, I played the game every night for ages building my kills up for that achievement. I did it for the achievement obviously and I go for achievements because I'm a completionist. It was hard at times playing the same game so much, but even after spending so much time with it I definitely think the game is enjoyable and I still love to play multiplayer from time to time.

Multiplayer is different to the single player though, so I guess it's a subject for another day. The whole 'Destroyed Beauty' art direction and theme the game has though is one I like a lot, and the over the top gore is sadistic in nature but fits within the world wonderfully. There has been comments suggesting that Gears 2's story will be more emotionally involving (which I assume is alluding to the story of Dom and his wife), with some places even claiming it to be more involving than BioShock. As a massive (and I mean massive) fan of BioShock, I'm not so sure Gears is the sort of game that could portray an experience like that but if it can, then I by all means welcome it and look forward to experiencing it for myself.

I'm not really preparing myself for Gears 2's story though, no, I'm preparing for another Seriously achievement...

Greg Tannahill said...

I meant to ask, you're not the Nismo who wrote some of the Gears FAQs that are up on GameFAQs, are you?

I'd be very skeptical of Gears 2 having any particularly deep story, given how totally non-interactive Gears was, and given also that it's a game whose core gameplay is big, square gringos chainsawing bugs to death. That won't stop it being a potentially awesome game, though.

I used to be a completionist, until I realised that I honestly enjoyed playing ten games to the credits roll more than I enjoyed playing a single game to death. Now I just pick up whatever achievements are available on a single playthrough.

Nismo said...

No I'm not Nismojoe although I am well aware of him. Not because of his guides at GameFAQs though but because of the various videos he posted on his Youtube page.

Unfortunately for me, a LOT of people I bumped into while on the quest for Seriously claimed that I got my name from him, idolised him and wanted to be him and well as you can probably imagine, it annoyed me a bit. I never had any disrespect towards him because I don't know him and all, but the way some of the people out there idolised him because of his videos was a bit beyond it, if you ask me. Course whenever I mentioned that, everyone just said I was jealous. In other words, I could never win. For the record, I've had this name for about 6 or 7 years.

Anyway, I have always been a completionist as long as I can remember. In fact, I'm not sure I have ever played in a different 'style' as all I have ever known is to aim for the 100% completion (or whatever it was) in any game I can. Achievements came along and added to it the way I did things anyway, I guess. Only difference is now my completionist habits are public.

When I get my PS3 I am totally going after those Trophies...

Greg Tannahill said...

Not a lot of trophies to be had just yet. Only three games retroactively have them, with two more being patched next week, and then only like eight games in development using them. Plus there have been problems with the firmware update and they've pulled it back in for review, apparently.

Saying anyone on the internet stole their name from anywhere else is pretty stupid. I suspect there's a couple hundred Nismos out there if we look, possibly more.

Nismo said...

Given that Nismo is the motorsport division for Nissan, you would be quite correct.

I only use it for blogging because I am used to it being my online name (NismoR34 - for forums and stuff). That said, I'm considering changing it and using my real name for my blogging. Not sure yet, though.