Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gears of War

When my friend first suggested I picked up Gears of War 2 for my new Xbox 360 I thought, great a 50 dollar game that the best I'm going to get out of it is the ability to play with my friend online who is several states away.

I'm glad I was wrong.

It looks like one of a million 1st person shooters out there in the world. I've played Brother in Arms on the original Xbox and the whole point is move forward, take cover, force the enemy to take cover, flank and eliminate. Very similar concept in Gears, except the enemy seems to know where you are. Machine gun turrents don't blindly attack the men you left behind, they turn to force you to take cover too. Enemies break off to from the main attacking force to meet you as you attempt to flank. Cover is valuable here and being able to move smoothly from cover to cover and charge across open ground into cover are very valuable skills. I went back and played the first Gears of War and found a similar experience. Its as if the game developers scoured every article about games similar to their own and attempted to fix the things people didn't like.

As much as I enjoyed the game mechanics I found myself wanting a little more from the characters and exposition. Someone put a lot of thought into creating a back story to the characters and the world. The environment is rich and while the enemy matches your typical Hell/Zombie/Alien enemy the story that seems to emerge is inventive and different, while following similar lines. While all of this work in back story and characterization seems to be put in place the actual amount of information you are given seems to take a page out of John Frankenheimer's Ronin, the audience's imagination is meant to fill in the blanks.

With the metal case in Ronin I understand, the case isn't important, and not knowing only makes you more curious. In Gears of War the holes feel more like plot holes than things to think on. Its as if the game designer thought up this beautiful story but after a few hours of putting it into story boards decided that was good enough. For Example, in the beginning of the first game the main character is alone, locked up in a jail with no guards because everyone has been pardoned ... wait ... what? So in a prision full of people who have done horrible things, one man is left to be slaughtered by the incoming locusts? All you needed was a few guards and inmates scrambling to leave being wiped out before the players eyes by the locusts. Thats all you need to explain why he was left alone, you could also leave a few other inmates locked in there cells destined to suffer the fate that could have befallen Marcus.

Sometimes the measure of a good FPS is not its story or even the regular game play, but its all in about the multi-player. Gears of War has many unique multi-player levels. My favorite is Hoard, waves of Locusts enemies attack in increasing difficulty and you must band together with fellow XBox players to fight them off. Its not just run around and shoot, tactics are key, find a location set people to defend all angles and be ready to come to the aid of your comrades when the enemy attempts to overrun thier position. I haven't had this much fun playing multiplayer since Goldeneye came out on the N64. In addition to Horde there is capture the flag where the flag is a person armed with a shotgun, Defend the leader where you respawn until your leader is killed, and a standard frag match where you can't bleed out, you have to be executed for the other team to get a point.

Despite the lack of exposition and explanation, I found Gears of War I and II to be exteremely enjoyable games. They are not the innovative experience you might find in Psychonauts, Trauma Center, or Goldeneye, but they are well worth adding to your own experience.

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