Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gears of War 2

Note: This review is not meant to be an attempt at doing something cute or counter-cultural. I've had this game for many seasons and with the final chapter arriving, finally, I felt the need write (and test) my method for analyzing media.

Gears of War is a series of games produced by Epic Games exclusively for the Xbox. It’s lead designer and creator is Cliff Bleszinski. It is a third-person shooter mainly set in an the fictional planet Sera, where battled solders called Gears fight a seemingly never-ending flood of The Horde utilizing innovative duck-and-cover techniques to advance through firefights.

I’ve had this game for several years, in many ways. I first owned it as a part of a re-attainment of an Xbox 360 which was, in itself, undeserved and unneeded considering the state of financial affairs at the time. Playing Gears 2 at that time meant I had time for myself away from my ex-wife, which was pretty much all the reason I needed. Could have been Cooking Mama, for all I cared. Thinking back on it now, there’s no way my first experiences with this game could have been anything better than a useful distraction. I don’t even remember if I enjoyed playing it, at all.

I next owned it as a newly separated bachelor. Playing this aggressive, violent, loud and grotesque (at times) game was a release. Using that gnarly chainsaw to split enemies in half was a gratifying fucking experience, and cranking the sound up to hear chain guns ripping apart hordes of drones felt too good to be real. Getting over life events, however, put the game on major hold.

The third and final time I owned and played this game was my next apartment. Everything inside of it was new. Everything was mine, and I played this game because I wanted to enjoy the visuals, audio and it’s style. I should state that I am extremely biased in this review, as I have loved this series from the moment I learned about it's promise. Yes it has faults, as any other game, but they are so minimal and instantly forgivable that they almost mean nothing. This series, to me, is the perfect gaming experience.

To say this is a gorgeous game would be doing it a disservice. It is fucking beautiful. The art direction and design of every reaver, COG, Wretch, Seeder and every other character is detailed and animated pitch-perfect. Gears themselves always appear to have real weight, as if they would crush a Honda Civic simply by sitting in one. For entities that don’t really exist, their gait and presence inside of this universe gives the impression of just how tough and immense they are, which is perfectly balanced with the much more organic and fluid motions of the Locust Horde.

Speaking of this universe, the environments must be praised. The game takes you through vastly different areas, from outdoor winter wonderlands to the inside of a giant worms intestines, and even when it should be disgusting it is still exquisite (in the way a Frank Fosco illustration can be grotesque yet beautiful). Every act of the game is separated by distinct looks, and moving between them is a huge part of the fun of it all.

The music used in this epic tale of epicness might as well have been composed by Steve Jablonsky, and with good cause. This much action, violence and cheese needs an appropriate soundtrack dripping with melodrama. Kevin Riepl did a wonderful job bringing the spirit of an interactive, modern-day Commando to life. Sound effects are perfect; the crush of skulls under a heavy boot, the squishiness of blood splattering from direct gunfire and the chains of thousands and thousands of bullets falling to the ground all add to the complete immersion of the players head in this beautiful symphony of savagery. If a surround-sound system with extra bass is available, this is the game when you crank that shit to eleven.

My favorite part of any game is the presentation. From the moment the first credit is splashed onto the screen, the personality of any given game is being shown. Gears of War is in a class of it’s own, here. Yes it’s grungy, as many future-marine tales tend to lean toward, yet the style of the menus and buttons always seem to feel classy. Everything makes just enough sense.

My least favorite part of any EVENT game, on the same token, is the packaging. The “Collectors” or “Ultimate” or “Hardcore” editions have become so overblown in recent years that there has become a very clear line between types of gamers. It seems as if the nicer packaging with beautiful attention to detail in the casing and cover art is reserved for the kids camping out at Best Buy for midnight releases, and wouldn’t appreciate it as much as the set who are busy sleeping because they have a career to tend to. Yet those of us who are gamers but can’t hang out at parking-lot-raves are stuck with generic casing and artwork which seems purposely designed to be banal. I’m not claiming that any of it is BAD, however the packaging for the limited edition of GoW2 would look so much nicer on my shelf next to my first editions of The Modernist and several issues of the Photography Annual from Communication Arts.

That aside, the level of elegance in this series is still great. It all feels so very graceful at every opportunity it is given, and I appreciate that.

Gears of War 1, 2 and, I venture to assume, 3, is the perfect video game triology. In all honesty, any of them is the perfect video game, period; horror, action, melodrama, style and grace all come together in a wonderful package Joel Silver would be proud to produce the fuck out of. If the magic machine called Hollywood does eventually bring us a full-length feature film based on this series, I only hope they retain the same character of it’s spirit, for that is truly what makes these games so unique and special.

Five out of Five

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