(Some of the information included could be considered as minor spoilers)
With the release of Gears of War: Judgment on the horizon, I thought it appropriate to write an article on the Gears of War game franchise, as a whole.
Gears of War has been a big part of my life. Literally it has been in my life from 2007 to this very day (2013). 6 years is a long time to have a consistent “relationship” with anything. This may sound sad but you have to take into account that people’s lives have gone into creating this game, which has gathered a dedicated fan base. As I grew into the person that I will be for the rest of my life, Gears was there. It is, in some ways, a reflection of me. It lets me know that I enjoy brutal, pessimistic forms of art. I look on life somewhat in this way. However, it also lets me know that I believe things are bearable as long as you have someone (a friend, family, partner, etc.). It isn’t a shallow or mainstream game. It has meaning and takes effort to be good at it. There are many people who have gotten tattoos of the Crimson Omen and, if I begin to get tattoos when I’m ready, I will definitely get the Crimson Omen on my upper arm. This is a wordy article and I thank you if you take the time to read it all.
The games revolve around an alliance called the COG. This stands for the Coalition of Ordered Governments (it is the government system made up of the Gears, and UIR, when the locust attacked. The UIR were fighting against Gears in the Pendulum wars for fuel; called Imulsion). There are also humans who have decided to fend for themselves. They’re called Stranded. The Locust Horde emerged from beneath the surface of Sera (the planet you’re on) and waged a war against the human race.
The story of Gears has always been dark, deep, depressing, and brutal. That is why I was drawn to it; life can feel like that sometimes. As soon as Gears one begins you realise the world has gone to hell but you have a best friend that will stick by you, ‘til the end (Dominic Santiago). There’s also the love interest of Anya Stroud and the conflict of your superior: Colonel Victor Hoffman. Already you have questions. Your mission is first to meet up with Alpha Squad and then find the light mass bomb to explode the Locust tunnels, in a hope to destroy the alien race that have inhabited your planet (Sera). There are the three side stories – killing General RAMM, finding a missing person that Dom is in search of, and going to Marcus’ house which opens up questions of his family. We talk about characters being the main part of any story, at The Nerd Cabinet, a lot and that is why Gears triumphs. You have four main characters you can identify clearly, due to their one-liners and unique personalities: Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago, Damon Baird, and Augustus Cole. Then there are all these other characters that players love just as much as the main ones (such as the Carmines, Dizzy, and the female characters) and play with them online. Gears one had a shorter story and less cinematics than its sequels but the plotline was well thought out, engaging, and satisfying.
So Gears one set down the foundations of the world, the characters, and their mission (destroy the locust race in order to survive). Gears two sees the COG hit the Locust in their tunnels, to bring the fight to them. Delta Squad’s essential mission is to travel to where the Locust live and, once against, try to commit genocide. So the main story is still to destroy the Locust. However, this game is very heavy on Dom’s story of trying to find his wife, Maria. This is where Gears two came into its element and also slipped up. The scene between Dom and Maria is one of the most memorable and saddest scenes in a video game ever. It’s scenes like that which give gaming a great name. In contrast, how Dom acted in gameplay afterwards, blurting out one liners like nothing had happened, was off putting and unrealistic to the mood. Epic understood this, took it into consideration, and Gears three was improved in this way.
A lot happens between Gears two and three and without having read the books some may be lost. There is an option on the Gears three menu to watch a video in order to understand why the COG is in the state it’s in and why the Gears are where they are. This is all well and good for some but others may find it hard to make the transition. I certainly benefited from reading the books, because my mind set was changed from a dark and dull setting to a bright and colourful one, before I even played the game. This doesn’t take away the fact that Gears three has the best written storyline. I believe this is because the writer and developers put more of their heart into it (Father issues) and with the concluding sequel, to the current story, it all tied up nicely and intelligently.
I can safely say that Gears of War has revolutionised third person gameplay. They have the most fluent and smooth third person movement of any game; it just hasn’t been beaten. Mass Effect 3 uses the Unreal Engine and is third person. However, you cannot slide in and out of cover as easy and you definitely can’t wall bounce. The main aspect of the Gears of War franchise is the gameplay (which should be true for any game) and Epic executes it fantastically. Way back in 2006 when Gears one came out it was, arguably, the best game on Xbox 360; there wasn’t many out and it was produced way better than any of the others. Gameplay played a big part in this. The cover system is ingenious and opened up a whole new type of game to players. It allowed Epic to create a game where you had to take into account the size of the character you’re playing with, and where you’re standing. It allowed for various types of sequences (one part you may have to run from crumbling brick to crumbling brick, another may be in a fountain defending against multiple emergence holes). The active reload is another trait that Gears has introduced. The power you feel when you hit that active reload mark and the orgasmic sound it produces… Anyway, the philosophy behind it is basically if you’re on form and focused you can add a little more power/punch to your weapons. The chainsaw lancer was a very unique design that has seen so much fame I feel I don’t need to mention the importance of it!
Not to mention the fact that Epic technically created the new mode of Horde with Gears (although they had something similar in Unreal) that other games welcomed (Halo 3: ODST with Firefight). Gears of War is a lot of fun and can be played over and over. That’s why I was able to complete the first two games on Insane difficulty solo (currently working on the third). It was so fun. That is why I could repeat sections over and over and over without getting bored, find patterns, and then pass them. However, Gears of War: Judgment has a unique spawn system that will get rid of these patterns, making it harder but even more fun.
Gears of War’s visuals have always been of a high standard for their time. Gears 1, 2, and 3 have consistently been stunning looking games for the year they were released. The absolute best graphics to a game would probably be Crysis with the Crytek engine. However, the Unreal Engine is popular among developers in the gaming industry. It has been going since 1998 and runs games such as: Mass Effect, Mortal Kombat, Dishonored, DmC: Devil May Cry, Borderlands, Batman: Arkam, BioShock Infinite, and many, many more. For a full list, follow this link. This is because Tim Sweeney (creator of the Unreal Engine and Epic Games, Inc.) knows what he’s doing. This man is extremely intelligent; you only have to watch one of his talks to understand that. Even without the Gears of War franchise, Epic Games, Inc. would still be in business and making a lot of money. The Unreal Engine allows for diverse environments, various interactions of different textures, and a lot more visually stunning surroundings. The element of realistic lighting is a key factor in the visuals of Gears of War and the Unreal Engine is one of the best in executing this trait.
The Gears of War franchise is unique for having big, bruiser males in thick armour smashing against solid rock and fighting these thick skinned monstrosities (sounds kind of kinky when I put it like that). Chris Perna, the lead art director from Gears one all the way up to Judgment, is responsible for this design. If you haven’t noticed he’s pretty hench himself. It makes sense that the characters are as big as they are. If you have read the books it details how thick skinned and strong the Locust Horde is. If Gears weren’t huge, or didn’t have thick armour, they’d get annihilated pretty fast. With that said, it is sometimes hard to take the emotional moments of the franchise serious (Dom and Maria) when the appearances of the charters affected are over manly. The art of Gears of War is gritty and brutal but also professional and breath taking.
The voice acting is a huge part of Gears. With a cast that includes John DiMaggio (who voices Bender of Futurama) as Marcus Fenix and Carlos Ferro (voices Leonardo da Vinci in Assassin’s Creed) the games take the voice acting seriously. The harsh monotone of Marcus, the emotional cries of Dom, the pepped up enthusiasm of Cole and the crazy, sarcastic rants of Baird make for a unique and diverse voice acting experience. Most of the Locust Horde is voiced by Fred Tatasciore (who voices Baird) and a few other people. They use the vocal technical of screaming (Vocal Fry or False Chord) to achieve the brutal sounds of the Locust. Then there is all the gun sounds, the moving, the executions, etc. Every gun and execution is made even more satisfying by how well they’re sounded. Likewise, when you hit into a block of rubble with your metal armour it sounds realistic. This transports your mind into the action more, allowing for deeper immersion into the games.
A film would be dull without a soundtrack, come to think of it life would be dull without music, and therefore a game would be less engaging without a film worthy score. Gears started out as a smaller project than what it ended up to be. This is why the first game’s soundtrack was by a less acclaimed composer, but it was still a brilliant soundtrack and gave Gears its base music. Along came Gears two (when the franchise got bigger) and Epic were able to employ Steve Jablonsky (composer of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Transformers) for both sequels. The skill and talent was there more so than with the initial composer and this gave the game a more blockbuster feel. It fit in with advancements in other areas. Gears two is my favourite soundtrack. Some awesome tracks to listen to from all of the scores are: Gears of War; 14 Years after E-day; House of Sovereigns; East Barricade Academy; Train Wreck; Hope Runs Deep; Armored Prayer; Hell Breaks Loose; Finale.
No one will be able to take away the memories I have on Gears of War one’s multiplayer. Those were the days. When I had less to worry about and I could stay up all night, with my best friend – at the time, and hardcore game on Gears one. Some nights we would spend it doing sniper battles, others, “MLG” tactics (not that we got into MLG), improving our combat skills, glitching, or just pissing about with other players. Seriously though we spent hours and hours simply doing Kung Fu Backflips, Crabwalking and Skydiving (true Gears one fans will know what I’m on about). Yes, it was all about the Gnasher shotgun but we liked it that way. The maps were rather small but that was amazing for fast paced action and my favourites were: Fuel Depot, Gridlock, Clock Tower, Canals, and Escalation. On the other hand, this is why Epic had to up their game. Gears two leveled out the weapons and the maps. This was a key development decision which kept Gears, as a gaming franchise, in the fight for gamers’ time. It was still very fun, different but fun nonetheless. My friends and I would still spend a lot of our time on it, in the beginning, and tried to achieve the top rank. Notable maps were: Jacinto, Blood Drive, Pavilion, Avalanche, and the return of Gridlock and Fuel Depot. Gears 3 then leveled it out even more with the maps and guns, new weapons were introduced, and different types of moves (bag and tag, retro lancer charge, vault kick, etc.). This game has dedicated servers too. This means minimal lag; it really improved gameplay and restored payers faith in the franchise. No maps really stuck with me though.
You may have noticed I missed some extremely important information from the above paragraph. Yes, I know each Gears online had faults (although I hate to admit it) and I will discuss them now, to my shame. Gears of War one had a host advantage. This means one player, with the best connection, would host the game. They’d have the fastest connection and therefore more “powerful” guns (the hit detection would be faster for them and all that). Gears of War two was so laggy that games were unbearable. Also the ranking system started off unfairly (it depended on your team winning and not your personal skill) and then high ranks would get reset in the race to 100th. Gears of War three was just not as fun. This was proven by how many people stopped playing so quickly after release.
All in all I’d rate Gears of War, as a game franchise, 8/10. I’d love to give it 10/10 but then I’d be a blind fool. Epic have made some mistakes with it. I’m not talking about the change of scenery (from Gears one and two to Gears three) or anything else subjective. I mean developer mistakes. Gears of War two’s online was a shambles (lag) and they found it hard to meet tense action with sadder moments in the story (both Cliff Bleszinski owns up to). Some don’t like the third person gameplay, or how big the characters are, or the fact that you have to work for kills online (unlike CoD). However, these are all based on opinions and I do not share them.
The strongest developed game in the franchise is Gears of War 3. Every category I’ve mentioned has been improved in Gears three. The story is more leveled in terms of emotion; it has more depth, and is written much more fluently. The visuals are undeniably improved due to the engine and the cinematics are much more like a blockbuster movie. Audio is more professional (although the least memorable for me). Multiplayer has been balanced more with weapons and maps and has dedicated servers (which means minimal lag). Taking all that into account my favourite in the franchise has to be Gears of War one. This has everything to do with it being the best game around in 2007, for me, and having the most initial impact on me. Currently it comes down to nostalgia; the memories cannot be taken away and will not be replaced by any other game.
Gears of War: Judgment is a prequel to the franchise. It takes place before the first game but after Emergence Day (the day in which the Locust Horde burst from the ground and waged war against the human race of Sera). You play as Damon Baird who is leader of Kilo Squad (including Augustus Cole). The game’s story uses a framing device. It begins with Baird in a court room on trial and all the gameplay is in flashbacks (Baird is being held for a number of reasons including treason). The reason the game is centered on Damon Baird is because the other games didn’t tell his story in much detail. Judgment looks to be the best in gameplay but not in story. There are new control functionalities (D-Pad gone, you can use bumper for grenades, jump from ledges, etc.) and new game modes (such as Overrun and Free-For-All). The spawn system is also random in this game. This means I won’t be able to find patterns in gameplay to get past sections, making it more fun and replayable.
Look out for my review of Gears of War: Judgment most likely a week after release date; it releases 22nd March 2013 in the UK. Pre-Order Gears of War: Judgment here.