I’ve threatened/promised to cover a series of films or games from beginning to end on a number of occasions, but as of now the only complete (so far at least) film series I’ve managed to complete is Jurassic Park/World – but I’ve also recently completed my series of Gears of War game reviews too (aside from Judgment, which isn’t a numbered release – and is a bit of a departure from the mechanics and storytelling format of the main series). Always technical showcases for their respective platforms, the Gears games have never struggled to impress from a visual point of view and that’s continued throughout the series, with the latest game – Gears 5 – being absolutely astonishing game from an audiovisual standpoint.
I thought it’d be handy to have links to them all in one place – so here we are, beginning with the Ultimate Edition of the first game!
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the first Gears of War. It was overhyped, it was the very definition of style over substance, it was unintentionally funny and it even put me off competitive multiplayer for good with its toxic community. Yet despite that, there’s still appeal to the cover shooting setpieces, even when they take place in one grey and brown environment after another. It goes on far too long and vastly outstays its welcome, but there’s no denying that it was an influential game that paved the way for many other beloved series – as well as setting the scene for its far more ambitious and enjoyable sequels.
Immediately dropping you into a much more colourful, varied and more open campaign than anything in the original game, Gears of War 2 improves upon the formula in almost every single way. The notable exception to this is the accidentally hilarious attempts at badassery, as well as a late game attempt at tragedy working well but falling prey to some serious ludonarrative dissonance. Much like the first game, the final act drags on for far too long and becomes dreadfully dull, with some terrible on-rails sections that could have done with a lot more polishing. The Locust Queen showdown is completely squandered too, which feels like an all too transparent attempt to drag the thinly plotted story out for a third chapter. That said, it’s a much more enjoyable game and very little is missed if you start here, rather than the underwhelming first game.
With a much more squad-based feel and a pretty definitive end to the story, Gears of War 3 is a much more satisfying game than either of its predecessors. It definitely has the most interesting variety of environments and enemies to face, as well as some interesting story beats. It does have a major tragedy for our heroes, but the scene felt laid on incredibly thick in order to force it to feel like a bigger deal – and unfortunately, the dissonance between what we’re told a character’s feeling and how they act through the interactive segments still looms large here. That moment isn’t the only tragedy, of course – there’s a few of them here – but it’s definitely the one that lingers longest in the memory. It was good to see female members of the squad at last, though a romantic moment at the climax involving two of our soldiers doesn’t ring true at all. Still, there’s some breathtaking set pieces in Gears of War 3 and the campaign – for once – is just the right length. Though the issues with the bro-tastic action and unintended humour still remain, Gears of War 3 is most definitely the high point of the Xbox 360 trilogy.
Set 25 years after Gears of War 3, the fourth game puts us in charge of JD, a former COG soldier who has deserted to join a community of Outsiders that live beyond the now-fascistic confines of COG-controlled cities. It’s a much more intriguing setup with much more in the way of grey areas than the jingoistic machismo of the original trilogy. The mechanics have barely changed and, from a gameplay perspective at least, Gears of War 4 plays it safe for the most part – though some wave-based stages add a decent level of variety, as do the more open entanglements you have with enemies in general. The story comes to a halt just as it feels like it’s got going, but the ending is a real gut punch and – in a first for the series – is an emotional scene that really works, setting us up nicely for Gears 5.
Without a doubt the most radical shake-up of the Gears formula to date (going even further than Judgment, even dropping the ‘of War’ part of the title), Gears 5 puts us in charge of former Outsider Kait Diaz for the majority of the campaign. With big open world sections, side quests and even genuinely enormous interior stages, there’s a much more expansive feel to the game – and the story, set up very well in Gears of War 4, is brilliantly told. There are some truly epic scenes here, with some jaw dropping revelations, a genuinely creepy detour and a devastating choice to be made in the final act. It’s all superbly handled, with none of the weaknesses of previous Gears games. The only complaint I’ve seen is that the campaign is too short, but I disagree; the story doesn’t outstay its welcome and isn’t padded out to the point where it becomes dull to play through – it may not be the longest campaign in the world, but the story lingers far more in the mind than any of the other entries in the franchise. Brilliant stuff.
So there you are, a quick round up of the numbered Gears games – though I haven’t ever been the biggest fan of the series, I’m glad I stuck with them for the last few entries. Loose ends are tied up, stories are continued and concluded – and we even have the door left open for a conclusion to the second trilogy. I never thought I’d be looking forward to a Gears of War game, but the last few chapters in the series have converted me.
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