Saturday, July 6, 2019

Gears of War

By: Patrick Morris

Nobody is impervious to making incorrect pre judgements about a piece of media. Just a few weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I have been believing my own inaccurate judgement of a game for the last 13 years and that stupid prejudice has prevented me from being able to enjoy what I would now call a very good game. This week in the court of appeals I'll be taking a look back at my own mistakes when it comes to Gears of War.

Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. You canm find everything we do over at and that includes our gaming podcast HardReset and our movies podcast NoRefunds the podcast that watches bad movies so you don’t have to! If you like this video don’t forget to subscribe for new content every week. Now lets discuss Gears of War.

For trasparency's sake I didn’t actually play the original version of Gears of War I played the ultimate edition made for the Xbox One on my Xbox One X I'll adress that briefly at the end. I also want to say that I am fully aware that I have been the asshole in this situation and this video is going to be me eating a gigantic plate of crow.

I've been a nerd my entire life and not the cool hip kind of nerd that has sleeve tattoos and wears oil in his beard while sipping on a latte; I've always been the nerdy kind of nerd that wants to talk about the deep lore of the interloper theory on the Zelda timeline and expects everyone to have their computer specs memorized just in case a conversation should come up where we can discuss them. So naturally when Gears of War was announced at E3 2005 featuring meaty no neck soldiers I wrote it off as a game that was shallow and marketed at jocks that probably weren't even going to buy an Xbox 360. And I hate to say it but I held that opinion for a really long time. It wasn’t until Gears 4 came out that I started to be a bit intrigued by the series and after the latest Gears 5 trailer I was ready to set my preconceived notions aside and see what the series had to offer.

Gears of War is a superb experience in so many ways and even in the places where it's not at the top of its game it is still completely competent. Gameplay, characters, story, and setting are all excellent and with pacing that is some of the best I have ever seen in a game even in 2019 this 2006 title stands up to its contemporaries.

While they didn’t invent the cover based shooting mechanic the game relies so heavily on Epic did do it better than anyone had previously and arguably better than anyone has since. Combat scenarios are all extremely well measured and offer incredible variety while utilizing the gameplay driven by what is essentially one mechanic. Epic pushes the player into different circumstances that force them to tackle challenges in one of several ways. Throughout the game youre faced with wide open environments with tons of cover points as a sort of blank canvas to approach a fight in any way you want, narrow corridors with linear cover points that force the player to address swaths of enemies with limited space, multiple pathways allowing for flanking of the enemy or an all out assault, and even explicit choices for the player to make that take the player down one of two different scenarios entirely. Gears offers collectables off the beaten path that in my opinion don’t offer much of a reward but also are so close to the critical path that the hunt was enough reward in and of itself. And some light puzzle solving my favorite being a room comprised of two levels, the top level being a maze in which the floor breaks loose dropping the player down to the bottom level where they are swarmed with  the tiny enemies that explode real easy (sorry I didn’t take the time during the game to memorize what each enemy type is called.) All of this is accompanied by tight controls and excellent gunplay with some really great shooting mechanics to make the moment to moment gameplay fast paced and satisfying.

I've heard that the story and characters are excellent in the later games and I really hope they develop more in 2, 3, and 4 but from what I saw in this game while there wasn’t anything wrong with the character's (except General Raam) there really wasn’t anything remarkable about them either. The four main characters exhibit quite a bit of very unique personality that I enjoyed but they lack any meaningful backstory to make me more invested in their journey preventing them from having any substantial development. Why was Marcus in prison to start the game aside from a cool prison break scene? How long has it been since Marcus and Dom worked together last? How did Cole Train go from a career as a professional football player to an elite soldier? What drives Baird to be such a cocky prick all the time? All these characters are likable and they all have the seeds of a back story planted but no backstory is developed in the first game. Where all the protagonists are good but missing something making them great the villain is bad missing something making him even okay. General Raam has no personality, no clear motivation, and almost no presence in the story. As the game progresses it is made clear that Raam is the big bad guy that the player is going to fight at the end but there is so little engagement with Raam throughout the game that he might as well be a faceless nameless boss fight at the end. The final fight of the game is fun and from a gameplay perspective very cool but from a story perspective it feels hollow because there wasn’t any reward earned in finally kicking Raam's ass.

Where the game shines the brightest is in the pacing. The player is never doing the same thing for to long and the game keeps the player moving from one scenario to the next at a relatively quick clip offering a real sense of progress in a short amount of time. The core experience of cover based shooting in any given environment is excellent and the variations on that experience like I mentioned before keep that core experience from ever feeling stale, but the devs never wanted the player to be playing any variation of that same core experience for to long. So they mix it up. Minecart segments, "puzzles", defend the point segments they all culminate into what is an incredibly fluid and cohesive experience that's hard to put down.

If I had to choose anything to criticize the game for it would be the difficulty spikes. Towards the end of the game there are some major boss fights that I was forced to strong arm via trial and error until I figured them out. Fighting the giant locust dinosaur at the end, why wouldn’t I head for the nearest cover point and start shooting? But that always leads the boss straight into a very small enclosed area where I had no hope for escape. And the final boss fight with General Raam, I hadnt seen the Kryll since the second act of the game where the contrast between light and dark was much more apparent but it took me several attempts before I even noticed there were lights offering cover then a few more after that before I was able to beat the boss. The game features some really stellar gameplay but leaves quite a bit to be desired when it comes to balancing the bosses.

And I mentioned at the beginning of this video that I would be addressing the ultimate edition. My experience with the original version of this game is so limited and so far in the past that I really have no meaningful point of reference to go off of but the quality of life improvements and the Xbox one graphics made the game much more approachable than it would have been had I had to play the 2006 version via backwards compatibility. Visuals were sharp and enjoyable and although I hadnt played the original version for more than an hour 10+ years ago I could very easily tell that they had toned down the nearly sepia tone of that version quite a bit for the ultimate edition. The ultimate edition was a really cool thing to look at because it was so faithful to the original in animations and character models but differed wildly in level of detail, lighting effects, and draw distance that it made it look distinctly like something I haven't seen in six years. Because I have no frame of reference I cant look at the game and say the usual "it looks the way I remember the 360 version looking" and instead I'm left with "it looks the way I remember 360 games looking" which is odd. I felt almost teleported back to 2005 when I first played the 360 after waiting in line for 45 minutes the day EB games got their demo 360 console a month before release. Needless to say if there was some magic machine I could put all my 360 games into to make them look the way I remember games of that generation looking I would be able to die happy.

So overall the lesson I learned while playing Gears of War is simple: don’t be a judgmental dick. Anyone is capable of judging anyone else in a premature and unfair way and because I was unable to see past my bias I missed out on a really good game for 13 years. Gears of War is awesome and when played in contemporary setting it has it's shortcomings sure but it can definitely stand up to the best of whatever 2019 has to offer. If you're like me and you havent played Gears of War because you're a lonely little prick clinging to some pathetic means of self identity based off meaningless shit just go play the game, you'll really enjoy it.

Have you guys ever pre judged a game and later found out how awesome it is? Let me know in the comments down below! And while you're down there don’t forget to hit the like button and the subscribe button for more content out of my face every week.

Thas all I have for you today but check out our website for everything we do all in one spot. I will be back next week and frankly I don’t know what I'm going to be talking about next week yet so until then just go play some games.

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