Throwback Thursday: Gears of War

gears-ultimate-edition

Left to right: Anthony Carmine, Marcus Fenix and Dominic Santiago

Gears of War

Released: November 7, 2006

Ah, the days when there was an Xbox 360 in my house. Even though it was the console that originally kept me from getting The Last of Us (2013), I had a lot of good memories with it. Namely, two of the biggest game series that were exclusive to the Xbox: Halo and Gears of War. My first experience of Gears of War was watching my brother and one of our neighbours playing it. I had absolutely no idea what to expect with the game, as I thought it was just another shooter. Little did I know that this game had the ability to scare the living daylights out of me. Looking back on it now, the game is not that scary, but there are plenty of moments that still cause me stress and panic. The horror aspect of the game was definitely toned down in the later games, which probably made things a lot easier for me to handle. I screamed several times while I was watching the game unfold, much to my brother’s distress as he’s not good with horror and jump scares, so my girlish squeals unsettled him quite a bit as he tried to play. A few years down the line and I found myself buying the game with my dad (after failing to do so by myself, as I was underage at the time), and my brother immediately forced me to be player 2. It is an unwritten rule after all that the eldest sibling gets to be player 1, so I took my place as the bottom screen player with next to no objection.

I usually give a short summary of the games I review, but as this game is a franchise I will only focus on the story of the first game. Taking place on the fictional planet Sera, Gears of War‘s universe is rich in its history. A liquid called Imulsion became a source of energy after a scientist deduces how to harness its power, leading to wars that lasted for 79 years. These were known as the Pendulum Wars, which broke out between the nations in their attempt to gain more Imulsion. Following the wars, a subterranean race called the Locust emerged and began their onslaught on the human race, which is referred to as Emergence Day (E-Day). What was left of humanity fought back against the Locust horde and the remaining government figures formed The Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG), and introduced their military force, the “Gears”. After losing the battle against the Locust again and again, the COG decided to use a weapon known as the Hammer of Dawn on cities inhabited with humans to put an end to the Locust invasion. The first game of the series begins 14 years after E-Day, with the Locust returning and calling for war against the humans. The player takes control of Marcus Fenix, a Gear who has been imprisoned for 4 years before the beginning of the game for abandoning his post in a selfish act to save his father, Adam Fenix. Marcus is freed by his good friend and fellow soldier, Dominic Santiago (who player 2 controls in co-op mode), after the call to arms is announced. Marcus is reinstated into the military and is quickly informed of the COG’s plan to use a device called the Resonator, which will map out the underground tunnel system that the Locusts have formed over the years. By doing this, the humans will be able to strike back at the Locusts from the very heart of their enemies’ underground civilisation, the Hollow.

Initially when I played this game, I paid no attention to the story whatsoever. I was far more interested in running around and shooting things, because that was the objective of the game. There was nothing more substantial than that for me to sink my teeth into. The only supply that I had to keep an eye on was my ammunition, which is not that hard to come by in the story mode. As far as I remember, your comrades cannot die unless if they are controlled by another player, so when playing on single player I didn’t even have to worry about other people. They would become ‘downed’ and I would have to help them back up, but I only did that whenever I needed the extra firepower. When playing on co-op however, if one of the players were downed, there was a limited amount of time that the other player or one of the NPCs would have to be able to revive them. This was good to create a sense of urgency, as you had to drop everything you were doing to help your comrade, otherwise you would have to start again from the last checkpoint. Annoyingly enough, sometimes the NPCs wouldn’t help me when I was downed, both on single player and co-op mode. On these occasions I felt as though I was being cheated, as the deaths were unfair and just frustrating to witness. It definitely put me in a sour mood whenever this happened, which either motivated me to continue killing every enemy I saw, or I would just put the controller down and call it a day.

After playing the Halo franchise for a long time, I had become used to playing first-person shooters but Gears of War threw me into third-person. I think it was because of this game that I actually came to prefer the third-person perspective as I like to see as much as the camera can allow and not to be restricted by the character’s peripheral vision. Also, another thing that I prefer in Gears of War over Halo is the fact that I had to think a little more tactfully. I found that in Halo, I could run in guns blazing and most likely survive (not so much on the Legendary difficulty). In Gears of War, I was forced to use cover strategically and figure out my way around enemies to flank them, rather than facing them head on. However, Master Chief in Halo moves at a pretty impressive speed considering the fact that he wears the MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armour. The characters of the Gears of War franchise do not have that luxury.

One of the things that I still find hilarious is the fact that each of the characters are giant, burly men. I mean, these guys are absolutely huge. It’s no wonder you can’t sprint; they’re carrying so much weight around and that’s not even including the armour they wear. There is the ‘roadie run’, which just makes the player duck and move faster than usual. It is quite helpful when you’re trying to get into cover that is a fair distance away and at some speed, so it does have some kind of purpose. I was happy to see the introduction of female Gears in the third game but after seeing Marcus and the rest of the hulking men, the women looked slightly out of place due to their much smaller physique. Either they should have toned the men down to begin with, or the women should have been a bit bulkier just to even things out a bit. Then again, these games are about anything but realism. There’s a chainsaw bayonet on one of the guns. Need I say more?

The characters are colourful in their personalities as well. I have a real soft spot for Damon Baird, despite many people thinking he’s a sarcastic cynic, but I think he’s extremely funny and he brings a bit of lightheartedness to the game. Out of the members of Delta Squad, I found Augustus “Cole Train” Cole to be the most annoying, but that’s just my personal opinion. I know a lot of people like him, but his constant whooping and acting like a child irritated me. I enjoyed the voice acting throughout the game, and I found it hard to believe that it was John DiMaggio who voiced Marcus as I knew him as Bender in the TV series Futurama. Out of the 3 games (not including Gears of War: Judgement), the first installment of the franchise is most definitely the best one. Unfortunately, it is probably the one that I have played the least. I still panic whenever I get to the part with the first Berserker, so that’s one aspect of the game that puts me off from playing it, but that is through no fault of its own. That’s just due to my brother having traumatised me.

It was a widely anticipated game in 2006 and won Game of the Year for obvious reasons. The story was exciting and compelling, the setting and history were well crafted and, in all honesty, there is something very satisfying about running around as a huge guy with a chainsaw/gun hybrid, mowing through enemies like soft cheese. It was something new, and I’m always up for a good co-op game. I have made it abundantly clear before that I love to play local multiplayer games and I much prefer them over online gameplay. The campaign is long enough to be able to really get stuck into it and it feels like a real achievement when progressing through it on the hardest difficulty. However, on co-op it is possible to set the difficulty differently for the two players, making it much easier. In a way, it is cheating but after all of the unnecessary deaths I suffered, it is fair to say that the game owed me a few favours. The game definitely encourages teamwork, with a lot of the levels designed to force players to think of strategies as a team rather than just the individual. As a person who greatly appreciates co-operative play, I enjoyed this aspect of the game whether I was playing with another person or just the AI.

This game is brilliant, but while I have some fond memories of playing the game, it doesn’t stick out to me as one of my favourites of all time. I talk about Gears of War positively but it is not nearly as impressive as some other games that I have played. That being said, it is enjoyable and definitely worth playing if you enjoy shooters and an emphasis on co-op. Of course, you can still play it as a single player but remember that you’re only as good as the team around you.

Rating: 7.5/10

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