I finished Gears of War again at the weekend (yep, Game Pass strikes again!). I hadn’t played it since the original release and, this time, I’d played the Ultimate Edition which adds in further stages, which previously only appeared in the PC version of the game. Not only that, but the whole game has been given a lick of paint and looks as gorgeous as a grey and brown game with copious amounts of desaturated blood can look.
I was never a fan of the first game. I got it during release week on the Xbox 360 and really struggled to get through the single player campaign; I found it dull, repetitive and far too linear. It shone for me in co-op, however – though multiplayer was populated with very toxic individuals and, as a consequence, was something I stayed away from once I’d had a few bad experiences of online play. I do recognise that, though the multiplayer wasn’t for me, this is where most of the game’s reputation comes from – it was, and is, an incredibly popular aspect of Gears.
I did have fun with some of the setpieces though; it’s just that they get very repetitive, very quickly. One of the biggest sins that Gears commits is the lack of visible impact from your weapons; filling an enemy with bullets is met with so little physical reaction – from the creatures you’re firing at – that the gunplay is way less satisfying than it should be. At least until they die, at which point they hilariously – and often inappropriately – flail and fall with a seemingly random ragdoll animation.
I do find it a little depressing that the first game’s campaign is held up as some sort of masterpiece (though I can see where it would have been more fun in co-op and at a higher difficulty level); it was undoubtedly a technical showcase in its day, but this came at the cost of exploration of what looked like expansive environments, but which were – in reality – littered with invisible walls and obvious obstacles to keep you on a narrow path. The near-instant deaths of the Kryll section – and the awful vehicle section that accompanied it – was frustating rather than tense and the final stage on a train, culminating in a dull boss fight, also left a lot to be desired. Checkpoints were unevenly placed and often resulted in whole sections of unskippable dialogue having to be replayed over and over again (though, in fairness, playing through on Casual meant that this didn’t happen too often).
To add to this in my opinion the story only gets interesting in the closing moments of the game, with the appearance of *SPOILER ALERT* a previously unseen and somewhat human-looking Locust Queen.
Despite that, here I am – having completed it for the second time. Despite how much of a slog it felt, I can’t deny there were moments where I had fun and I can see where it would have been a lot more satisfying to have played in co-op at a higher difficulty level.
I’ve moved on to Gears 2 now – playing it for the first time ever, it must be noted – and I’m already finding it to be more enjoyable, with more open level design and a more engaging setup, carrying on from the first game. The subtle splash of blue colour on your armour already adds a welcome flourish too; the first game feels incredibly dull visually, even though it’s technically impressive – and looks almost monochrome in many areas.
I’m glad I refreshed my memory with the first Gears, but I’m also really glad I don’t have to play it again. People quite commonly say that it hasn’t aged well, but my opinion of Gears of War hasn’t changed in the 13 years since it was first released; it’s a game that thinks it’s scary, edgy, badass and testosterone-filled – yet is unintentionally funny in every single one of those areas.
I can’t deny the impact it had on third-person shooters in general, with some absolutely superb games following in its wake: Space Marine, a Warhammer 40k tie-in, is a great example and is an apt one, considering how much Gears was clearly influenced by Warhammer in the first place. Another are the War for Cybertron/Fall of Cybertron Transformers games; the first of which was good but not great and the second – Fall – being an absolutely stunning game, especially for those of us well versed in Transformers lore. Uncharted is another series that seems to have taken cues from Gears, albeit with a style that is a lot more open and well designed, in my opinion.
The other area in which Gears – or, I guess, more specifically, the Unreal Engine-powered games – had a huge impact was in the standard grey and brown look to many last gen games. I certainly don’t miss being unable to tell what FPS or 3rd person shooter game I’m looking at because it looks exactly like tens of other games on my console.
I’ve been told by some reliable sources that Gears of War 2&3 really improve on the formula; on current evidence, having played through the first few chapters of the much more enjoyable part 2, I’m inclined to believe them – and I’m now, finally, looking forward to working my way through the series. I’m especially excited to make my way to Gears of War 5, the release of which has prompted my desire to catch up with the series in the first place. I’ll be sure to let you know how I get on as I continue.
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