Gaming, Technology, Uncategorized, Video Games

Gears of War Campaign Review (360): Score of 7.5

Gears of War was a good game; in fact, it was good at a lot of things. The controls were good, the graphics were good (for its time), the level design was good, and so were the guns. But therein lies the problem: the game was just good and it never really excelled toward being great in most aspects. For almost everything GoW did well, I saw many ways it could have done better. With that being said, the game was good enough to make playing the sequel worth my time at some point in the near future, as I hope to see if Gears of War 2 fixes the problems that were presented in the inaugural entry. In the end, I enjoyed Gears of War, and although I probably won’t be revisiting the campaign solo anytime soon, I walk away glad that I took the time to take in this experience.

The storyline follows Marcus Fenix and his small band of allies as they fight back against the Locust. The Locust are a group of alien species that want to kill the humans. They burrow out from underground, and so it becomes our task to destroy their spiderweb of tunnels, thus destroying their infrastructure. We must retrieve a bomb and detonate it, and the five levels in Gears of War (called Acts) take us through the journey from the moment Dom breaks Marcus out of jail straight to the moment when we accomplish the task.

One of the few things GoW honestly excels at is the character development. In so many shooter games, your AI companions are just pawns; some are nameless, faceless Marines (like most Halo characters), but others are just flat characters that are there to die. You feel no emotions for them because they’re not fleshed out. This is not so in Gears of War. Marcus is a gruff individual who seems to be born a leader; he’s focused on getting the job done. Dom is pretty quiet most of the time, and he cracks jokes every once in a while. Baird is a whiny crybaby; he doesn’t like the food, he gets scared when too many Locust are around, he complains that he smells like poop, (when they go through the sewers) and he always seems to have something to gripe about. Finally, Cole–better known as The Cole Train–is my favorite character. With an ego as large as he is, Cole lays down the law and lets all the Locust know just how good he is. At the same time, he does so with enough humor to come off as funny and light-hearted; not a stuck up jerk.

Because the characters are well rounded, sitting through the paper-thin storyline isn’t so tedious. I mean, as far as plot goes, there really isn’t one. I know I was put in jail for being a traitor, and I know Dom is an old friend of mine, but that’s it. From there, it’s a run-of-the-mill, generic plot. Basically, there’s just enough there to explain why you’re going someplace new and doing certain things. On the other hand, I enjoyed listening to the banter between the four soldiers, so sitting through the cutscenes was worthwhile after all. From somebody who’s pretty story oriented, I was very dissapointed, and this was probably the lowest point of GoW for me.

Slightly less crappy (but not by much) was the weapon selection. For a shooter, there really isn’t a lot of variety. There’s a machine gun with a chainsaw, a burst weapon for longer distances, a sniper, an explosive bow, a satellite-guided laser, and a grenade launcher… yet there are three different pistols for some reason, which I have yet to figure out. In any case, with under 10 weapons to choose from, (and only the chainsaw and the burst weapon being the main, easy-to-find ones for most of the game) it gets a bit tiring.

Okay, with my complaints out of the way, let’s get to the things that Gears of War is good at; remember, good, but not great. The cover system was pretty good. I was able to snap to cover on pretty much any object I wanted to. I really liked how I could also click over to a nearby vehicle, wall, or other object, and Marcus would cleanly snap to the new location. It’s quite slick and stealthy, if you ask me; I found myself shooting from cover nearly all the time, and it felt amazing most of the time. Unfortunately, every few minutes I would find that I wouldn’t snap where I wanted to, or I would jump out of cover rather than sliding to a new location. This didn’t happen often enough to mar my experience, but it happened often enough to warrant being mentioned; I’m not sure if it’s a feature with the function itself, or if it’s a problem with not clicking the stick exactly in the way they want you to.

The weapon wheel takes a little getting used to, but it’s easy to master after the first hour or so. Your main weapons are accessed with the left and right arrows on the d-pad, and grenades are up, while the pistol is down. A (mostly useless) squad commanding feature is mapped to one bumper, reloading to another. The rest of the buttons are pretty typical and easy to grasp. I liked the feature mapped to the reloading button. Upon reloading, you have the option to click it again during the reload when it nears a little tick-mark on the loading bar. Hit it in time, and your reload time is cut drastically. Hit it at the wrong time, and Marcus has to deal with a jammed weapon, so reloading takes longer. If you’re right on the money, your rounds for that clip get a damage boost. It’s a nice risk/reward scenario, and I often found that the outcome of a battle depended on how I reloaded; reload quickly, the battle is over quickly. Reload slowly, and an enemy might have the time to jump over your cover and punch you in the face.

When I say they might come to punch you in the face, I mean it. One good whack can kill you on the medium difficulty. There are two difficulties available at first: Casual and Hardcore. Beat Hardcore, and you unlock Insane. On Hardcore, a couple Troika rounds (mounted turret) will kill you. Likewise, one sniper round will eliminate you, and there are a host of other quick ways to die. Sometimes this annoyed me because it came off as cheap, but then I thought about it, and it really wasn’t cheap. Unlike some games where I’ll come around a corner and instantly get sniped by an AI with perfect aim, I actually made mistakes in GoW that warranted death. Whenever a Troika would kill me, it’s because I tried my luck and stayed out of cover too long. If I got sniped, it was because I stood in one place for too long, which I shouldn’t have done, because the snipers were usually pretty visible. Of course, there were a few instances where I just sat there thinking “really… really?” For example, a horde of maniacal Wretches would overpower me, or maybe I wouldn’t snap to the right bit of cover and one of the larger enemies would take the opportunity to throw a fatal blow at me. These instances happened occasionally, but usually, I died because of my own stupidity.

The level design in GoW was pretty good as well; each Act took me to a different venue that provided a nice change in scenery. At one point, I was in a huge mineshaft. At another time, I was traipsing through an abandoned city during the dead of night. At another point, I was storming the Fenix Estate. Basically, I liked that I wasn’t just looking at the same thing over and over and over again. Furthermore, I really liked the second level in particular, which took place in the dark. Step into the darkness, and the Kryll will swoop down from the sky and shred you. Blow up the propane tanks to create light and move from place to place. It was like a puzzle, and it wasn’t as tedious as it may sound. Truly, it was enjoyable. But, just as with most other aspects of Gears of War, there was an improvement to be made. The color scheme was horrendous. I’ve never seen more white, gray, brown, and sickly green in one game in my entire life. It was terrible.

As for the enemies, I couldn’t help but draw so many comparisons to Halo (and this extends to other aspects of GoW as well, but that’s for a different day). The Wretches were basically Grunts, the Theron Guards were bessentially Elites. Bererkers were like Hunters, and the main GoW pawns were very similar to Halo Brutes. Don’t get me wrong, thsi isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it takes a different strategy to defeat each opponent type. It just disappointed me that the two games were so incredibly similar in that aspect.

I do want to take a moment and expand upon the Berserkers, however. There are three Berserkers in the campaign, I think. There may have been four, but I can’t be sure off the top of my head. Every time I saw a Berserker, I knew I was in for a puzzle. You see, they can’t be killed by normal weapons, so you have to do something else to kill them. Maybe you use your environment to your advantage, or maybe you just have to get some good timing. I don’t want to give it away, for anyone who hasn’t played GoW yet, but I looked forward to the Berserker sections because each one was unique and they made me think about how I was going to succeed while I was at such a disadvantage.

Finally, I must comment on the boss battles. Each level ended with a boss battle or grand, amazing ending of some sort, and none of them felt gimmicky. All were difficult, and all made me feel like a total boss after completion. For example, the first level ended with my first run-in with a Berserker. The final level made me face the main antagonist, who required a decent amount of planning and skill to defeat. I don’t want to give a lot away, but you’ll have to think about your past experiences and use what you’ve learned in order to beat this guy; you don’t just shoot him until he dies, and there’s not just some cheap way to drop something on his head or trap him in a room or anything. I liked that there was a legitimate way to beat him that focused on the content of the game to that point; it come across as well thought out.

So, there you have it: my GoW review. As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed my time with the game, and I’ll definitely play the sequel. Although Gears is good, it isn’t great, and it has areas it can improve on. Nonetheless, it’s a title that a 360 owner shouldn’t skip out on, and I can see why it would have been a hot commodity at release. If you’ve enjoyed this review or you’ve found it helpful, please leave a like or a follow. Check out the LP channels in my “Links” tab if you’d like, and I’ll see you later.

Peace
Matt

P.S. The music was nothing to note; it was basically nonexistent, and I didn’t comment on it in the review because I didn’t think a decent soundtrack would have really added much to the experience anyway.

P.S.S. I’ve decided to play Portal first from the list of the four I mentioned. I just ordered the Orange Box bundle on eBay since Portal was never released standalone for the 360. While I wait for it to ship, I’ll be starting my playthrough of Outlast, and by the time this post is up, I’ll have already started.

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4 thoughts on “Gears of War Campaign Review (360): Score of 7.5”

  1. “Gears of War was a good game; in fact, it was good at a lot of things. The controls were good, the graphics were good (for its time), the level design was good, and so were the guns. But therein lies the problem: the game was just good and it never really excelled toward being great in most aspects.”

    It isn’t appropriate to use a positive term in place of a neutral term if what you really mean to demonstrate is a statement of neutrality. In other words, a game cannot be ‘just good’ and ‘never really excel’ at the same time. A game that is good, despite flaws, will excel at points and will look like it can take those points further but simply does not. It seems that what you’re looking to do is call the game ‘solid’ but that’s not at all how you’re setting things up.

    “Because the characters are well rounded, sitting through the paper-thin storyline isn’t so tedious. I mean, as far as plot goes, there really isn’t one. I know I was put in jail for being a traitor, and I know Dom is an old friend of mine, but that’s it. From there, it’s a run-of-the-mill, generic plot. Basically, there’s just enough there to explain why you’re going someplace new and doing certain things.”

    Don’t say ‘paper-thin’ and ‘run-of-the-mill’ to describe the same thing. To be generic or cliche is different from being barely there, as a story can be very solid but generic as all hell. You need to be more responsible with your adjectives.

    To be honest, I stopped reading this review when I hit the second quote here. I did this because I couldn’t be sure of your language and that means that I can’t be sure if I will be getting a really critical review. The language is just too loose and this is a problem that you really need to get a handle on much sooner rather than later in order to differentiate yourself amidst a swath of video game commentary.

    1. I knew I would have issues writing this review from the very start because of the word “good,” but I couldn’t find a way to remedy it. I hate using “good” becuase it’s so weak, vague, and non-descriptive as opposed to other adjectives. The problem is that the other adjectives demonstrate a higher level of positivity. For example, great is better than good, exemplary or amazing is better than great, and perfect is the most positive word that I can think of (of course, this is my opinion, but I’m sure you can see what I mean here).

      But when I say GoW is good, I truly do mean it; it isn’t neutral or just mediocre, but at the same time, most aspects of the game aren’t great; they don’t excel past simply being good. Of course, I did mention that the character development was more than just “good,” and there were other aspects as well, the majority of GoW was just… good. I can’t really find a better way to explain it without either a) writing a 3 to 4 thousand word review, or b) making the game sound better or worse than it is.

      And as far as the storyline goes as paper-thin or run-of-the-mill… well, it’s both. I definitely know that paper-thin and run-of-the-mill describe two different aspects of the storyline, but this one truly was both. It was paper-thin because there was only enough dialogue and development to get by without the storyline being non-existent, but it was also generic and run-of-the-mill because there wasn’t really anything unique about it. “There’s aliens. You have to kill them. Blow them up with a show of grandeur. Save the world. The End.”

      Of course, I could have expanded more on my description of my adjectives, but then again, I could have been writing another 1000+ words to create a review longer than the script in the game itself (exaggeration of course).

      I do think that it’s now necessary for me to write a loose rubric or set of criteria to show what a review score means to me. In my head, (I just haven’t written it down) Scores 7-10 describe different levels of positivity, (7 for good, 8 for great, 9 for amazing/near perfect, and 10 for perfect) 6 is neutral, 5 is borderline bad, and 1-4 are different degrees of crappiness. The reason GoW has a 7.5 is because most aspects of the game are just good, not great. However, certain aspects excel past that a bit, and negate the other aspects that drop below adequacy.

      Your comment really brought the need for written and visible guidelines to my attention.

      1. I would like you to go back over your review and look at how the term ‘good’ is used to denote something less than positive. I’m reading/hearing people say ‘decently good’ and I want to break either their jaw or hands with the Oxford English Dictionary.

        Dark Souls, for example, is a solid game but I would not call it good -even though others would call it amazing. I would only call it solid because there are too many problems in the game, especially compared back against Demon’s Souls which is similar enough to draw a strict comparison. It seems to me that to call the game good would be to miss what it is, a continuation and exploration of the Souls framework. Were it the first game in the series it would be good and not just solid, but it’s not and, as such, it’s just not good even though I find it very enjoyable to play.

        Reviewing things is touch because it demands a high level of attention to detail, careful word choice and the ability to sensibly compare the reviewed item to similar items when necessary to deepen points.

        I know you can do better than this and creating a rubric is a step in the right direction. I suggest keeping this review, creating your rubric, then re-writing this review and holding the two up side by side for a comparison.

        As a final point of note, I’d like to think this shines a bit of a brighter light one why I think that ‘worth playing’ and ‘not worth playing’ is the best way to go. Here, it seems, you find Gears of War to be worth playing and would recommend it as such while not being interested enough to play through a second time for quite awhile. At the same time you would also be willing to admit that there are things that would draw certain people to play through multiple times if that’s their sort of thing. Justifying something as ‘worth playing’ or ‘not worth playing’ is significantly easier to do than justifying a numerical grade and it allows for much more and appropriate interpretation of just why a given game is or is not worth playing.

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