After our initial preview, this was always going to be a difficult review to write. That first article didn’t exactly prove all that popular, nor were we in the initial aftermath.
Which is a shame because we’ve never been of the opinion that Gears of War is a bad game, nor a poorly made one. If anything, it accomplishes what it aims to do and excels at what it does.
And what it does is (sigh) provide some testosterone-fuelled shooting galleries for one or two players in a fashionably bleak, ruined wasteland.
There really isn’t all that deep a plot or emotional narrative driving the action forward in Gears of War, nor should there be. The action is what drives the action forward. The plot carries you through and keeps you interested, but won’t reduce you to tears or have you screaming.
That’s fine by us. We like that. We’ve made room for that in our universe and our games collection. Epic however are not happy like that and, in an attempt to improve on the Gears formula, have sought to give the story more emotional gravitas than ever.
The fall side here though is that, for the singleplayer campaign at least, the focus on the story has taken time away from the gameplay innovations. You’ve got a few new features, but nothing truly groundbreaking. We’ll come to that in a bit.
The macro-end of the story then is pretty much the same as it ever was. The details may have shifted, but the whole Locust-invasion thing is still very much the same as it ever was. After the Lightmass Bombing of Gears of War, Locust assaults slackened only momentarily. Now, with humanity retreating to the last few cities, the Locusts have taken to attacking the cities as a whole – sinking them into the ground, one by one.
Mankind has only one hope and that’s to launch a last ditch, full-scale invasion on Locust territory. The diggers are armed, readied and sent. Marcus, Dom and the rest of the Gears are all being sent deep underground into territory owned by the Locust horde and Jamiroquai.
Oddly though, that’s not where Epic has chosen to focus its storytelling abilities...or not at the start anyway. While the plot does move to being pretty powerful and epic in the final throes, the opening is actually pretty bland and puts the focus on the micro-end. All the emotion and power is built around the individual characters and how they’ve been affected by the war with the Locust.
Most obviously this is true with Dom, Marcus’ sidekick and partner in war crimes. Dom is desperately searching for his wife, who has been lost in the migrating flock of survivors. Dom isn’t the only one with issues though, as there’s other problems facing the world such as a new disease called Rustlung that may or may not have been caused by the Lightmass bomb.
The story isn’t all that subtle in getting you to see this admittedly, but that’s OK. Like Dom himself, the script is bulky and terse; hitting like a sledgehammer instead of sculpting like a chisel. As we said before though, that’s what Gears of War is really all about; raw, masculine power. All the vehicles in Gears probably run on sheer testosterone alone.
At times though, Epic shows an ability to surprise players by hinting at the depth of the universe. Each level is dotted with extra story tidbits that Marcus can add to his war journal if he wants, each one fleshing out the fiction a bit more for those that want more from the plot or who just obsess about getting all the collectibles.