Let me be blunt and say this: I can’t believe that Gears of War became a series, and a popular one at that. Well, according to Wikipedia, which probably needs some updating, the game has since sold over 5 million copies as of September 2008–meaning it’s probably much higher–and currently stands as the fifth best-selling Xbox 360 game. Yowza. Really? Really? Y’all on crazy pills.
Gears of War takes place on the planet Sera, but it might as well be Earth. The Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) is a minor political party there, and its soldiers are called gears, despite the obvious coggers sounds a whole lot cooler. The Locust, an alien race, suddenly attacks humanity, a day infamously known as E-Day, and the COG gears do what they can to ensure the survival of human civilization. Flash-forward fourteen years, and the COG is the only human government left on the planet. Former COG soldier Marcus Fenix is reinstated into the military after spending some years in prison for abandoning his military post for…personal reasons. His friend Dominic “Dom” Santiago successfully extracts Fenix from prison, reuniting him with the rest of the Delta Squad in hopes of finding a special device that will help eradicate the Locust’s underground caverns.
So…more or less, the film version of Starship Troopers. Which should not be a problem for me, as I actively enjoy both the film and Robert A. Heinlein’s futuristic military YA romp where soldiers with guns shoot opposing alien bugs. Yes, even the chapters devoted to simply describing powered armor. Alas, Gears of War, despite that grandiose plot summary, is devoid of life, character, characters, and details to make everything greatly interesting.
Right. Let’s do this. I played through Gears of War over the course of several sittings and on the lowest difficulty setting of Casual. It’s highly linear despite the occasional choice of going left or going right, and you, as Fenix, move forward, hide behind shattered walls and car husks, and peek out to shoot at alien monsters also doing the same thing. Once all the shooting is done, you’ll get some story beats, with either a cutscene or Fenix listening to someone tell him what to do via an earpiece. Basically, it’s all about moving forward, finding other members of the Delta Squad–who are constantly getting split up so that it can be just you and one other dude for co-op reasons–eventually leading to Fenix returning to his father’s house to find something a potent anti-Locust weapon. Somewhere in the middle of all that there’s a single vehicle mission, which has you driving and shooting light via a turret at Kryll, highly aggressive flying carnivores that thrive in the darkness. Throw in a couple of boss fights, a few of which don’t actually have you fighting something directly, and that’s the game in a nutshell, replete with a tease for more to come.
Ugh, I don’t know. I just found the entire campaign to be a hollow experience. Fenix and his fellow men are simply big shoulders and massive arm muscles that occasionally grunt and ask a question or make an action movie-like one-liner, but never strive to be real. Fenix, especially. I couldn’t care one bit about him because he just comes across as a brooding mass that refuses to say anything. This was especially apparent when we get to the part where he returns to his family’s home, which is being destroyed by the Locust, and there isn’t a single comment from him. Like, come on. Emote. Be a human being. But no, this is machoism all over again and shares the same problems I saw in Vanquish.
Here, have some positive talk. My favorite thing about Gears of War is the active reload. When you reload your weapon, you have a split-hair second chance to hit the button again and have your gun immediately back in action with a full clip. If you fail this, your gun jams and it takes longer to fix. Each weapon has a different active reload bar, and it made the firefights much more exciting than they actually were, even if it was just a little mini-game between Fenix and his weaponry. I found the sniper rifle to be the trickiest to reload speedily, and that was my key to victory at the end of Act 5.
Strangely, I’m curious about Gears of War‘s higher difficulty settings–Hardcore and Insanity–though I have to imagine it results in just Fenix taking more damage faster and enemies being bigger bullet sponges. I might at least try to play Act 1 again on a higher challenge, to see what that’s all about, as Casual was very much that–an easy walk with the occasional death, mostly because I lingered too long in the open or didn’t run through the Kryll-infested darkness fast enough. I don’t expect to do very well though, but I at least want to try because immediately after that I will be uninstalling the game from my Xbox 360’s hard-drive and moving on to greener pastures. Yes, there’s the multiplayer element to consider, but I was only able to get into one match after many, many attempts, and that’s because I don’t have certain DLC that others do and man, that’s stupid. Borderlands 2 really spoiled me with those compatibility patches.