Monday, November 24, 2008
Too dumb for print
In writing my upcoming Gears of War 2 review, I started down a path of inquiry and then quickly retreated. It wasn't the kind of thing that would make sense to a general audience, I didn't think. Also, it was kind of half-assed. But I thought I'd run it past you all and see if you think there's something to it, or if it's a load of bollocks.
I was trying to figure out why the campaign seemed a little lackluster to me. Partly, it was easy to determine: a few too many turret missions, a bland vehicular sequence, and, ultimately, too many parts where the game got away from the thing it does so well. But that really wasn't all of it. I think the kids call it "ludonarrative dissonance," but I have a habit of picking these things up and misusing them later.
Here's how I see it: Gears' gameplay is essentially defensive. Taking cover well is more important than having crackshot aim. Using the environment, not targeting your enemies, is the skill you need to master in order to progress through the game. Most of the times I died during the campaign, it was because I had mistakenly dug in too close to the line, and was swarmed by foes. I learned to stay back as much as possible.
The storyline, though, puts the COGs on the offensive for the duration. It's all rah-rah, take-it-to-'em stuff. You get all geared up to fight, pardon the pun, and then spend all your time with your head down. That doesn't make sense.
I didn't feel the same way during the first one. In the original game, I felt very much on the defensive, overwhelmed and outgunned at all times. It made more sense for the story that I was playing it the way I was. The incursion into the Locust caves was presented as a suicide mission. In Gears 2, for whatever reason, the characters just don't seem to mind as much to be heading down there by themselves. That never struck me right. You could say it's because they know they have no other option, but I don't know if that's good enough -- even if it is the case, no one ever communicates it.
(Slight tangent: The sequel does a slightly better job than the first of making it seem like you're a small part of a bigger conflict, but why do they keep giving the most important jobs to just two guys? Is that some kind of advanced military strategy, giving your enemies as few targets as possible? Think of all the lives that could have been saved on D-Day if we'd had Marcus and Dom fighting for the Allies. "You two take Omaha Beach, and Baird and the Cole Train will take Utah." "Woo-woo! Pain train's coming!")
Like I said, it's a little half-baked and I'm not sure how much I even believe it, but there had to be some reason why the Gears 2 campaign didn't seem as gripping as the first. What do you think? Am I grasping for something that isn't there?