Thursday, November 16, 2006

Too dumb for print

So Gears of War is good. Really good. I think it's going to topple a lot of 360 fence-sitters, and it should. It is the rare sort of game that absorbs you so fully, you tend to forget you're playing a game at all. The immersiveness isn't due to any reinvention of the wheel. In many ways it is "just a shooter." But every aspect of the gameplay experience has been tweaked to perfection, mostly due to fantastic controls, and as a result you barely notice the conduit between your brain and the screen. In the course of writing a laudatory review, though, I wasn't able to mention some of the problems I did have with the game. Gears is top three of the year, for sure, but it also suffers from its designers' inability to rein in some of their more unfortunate impulses. To wit:

- One of the most stereotypical black characters I can imagine. He's a former pro football player nicknamed "The Cole Train," and is given to whooping things like "Yeah, baby!" As if all that weren't bad enough, the song that plays over the end credits is not the kickass orchestral score you're treated to for the rest of the game. Instead, it's one of the worst rap songs I've ever heard, which samples the Cole character saying things like, "This my kind of shit!" My girlfriend came home while this song was playing and I turned it down because I was embarrassed. It's that bad.

- The most cynical sequel tease ever. Usually they at least wait until after the end credits to say "But wait, the war isn't really over!" Here they do so before you even have a chance to savor your victory. Not that I'm terribly concerned about revealing spoilers, but without going too deeply into detail, the massive, Locust-exterminating explosion has barely stopped echoing before we learn that the Queen is still alive and well. Lame.

- Don't put the gun on the mantle unless you plan to have it go off. While Gears delivers on its share of big moments, there was a strange bit of foreshadowing that went nowhere. Near the end of act four, you encounter the most massive enemy yet, which lumbers around on many legs and has guns the size of ranch houses mounted on its back. After successfully escaping it, I assumed we'd meet again, mano a mano. Didn't happen. Why not?

- Oh, also during the end credits, there are pictures of the entire GoW development team along with yearbook style quotes. Frankly, I feel like Epic has been congratulating themselves on this game since well before it came out. Sure, it ended up delivering on the hype, but show a little modesty, guys. I don't need a toothy picture of Cliffy B saying he can't believe he gets paid to make games.

Glad I got that stuff off my chest. It's way too nitpicky to include in a review, and like I said, the game is phenomenal. I'll cap this post with a list of awesome things that I didn't specifically mention in the review (review will posted next week, btw):

- One class of enemy, called the Kryll, can only move in the dark. One act takes place at night; you have to constantly remain in the light, and find flammable things to light up otherwise impassable areas. Otherwise you die pretty much instantly.

- Great sound design. The shrieking wretches are a highlight in this regard. Overall I think the game does more with the sonic environment than anything I can think of other than Call of Duty.

- The emphasis on flanking and lines of fire manifests itself in so many unique ways. One of the great things is taking cover behind a column or pedestal and getting the drop on an advancing foe (and bisecting him with the chainsaw bayonet, natch).

- Shooting General Raam in the head until his face collapses.

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