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Why I Hate Gears of War

Cliffy B. can kiss my ass. I mean that in the most polite way possible. Before you start penning the hate mail, take a look at our Gears of War review. That’s right, it won an Editor’s Choice award. So why the venom for Cliffy B.? Because that was the hardest Editor’s Choice award I’ve ever doled out. I literally lost sleep before writing our review, because I couldn’t decide whether Gears of War was really worth the score. At the end of the day, there aren’t any significant faults with the game, and the gameplay mechanics have me itching to play more, so the award was warranted. But the game’s so-called story made it really tempting to score Gears of War an 8.9 out of spite.
If you’ve been to our forums or kept up with my reviews, you know I’m a sucker for a good story. Halo 2, for all the grief it got for its “ending,” had a fantastic narrative thread. Like Halo 1, it felt epic in scope, and there was a grand plan guiding the game’s plot every step of the way. Gears of War has that same background, and you can tell the developers spent time thinking about the story arc, but you only know that because of brief snippets of emotion on Marcus Fenix’s face, not because of any masterful narrative. In fact, by the game’s own admission in its final cut scene, we never do learn why the Locust Horde attacked humanity, and any insight into that has to be left to the sequel.
As a result, Gears of War earning a nine out of 10 goes against everything I’ve held dear for the past several years. In my opinion, if videogames want to be taken as seriously as Hollywood films, they need to present a compelling narrative, not just good graphics. Yet there I was, deciding oh-so-begrudgingly to give Gears of War an Editor’s Choice award when its story was such an utter disappointment. And that’s what I hate about this game: its quality in every regard other than the story earned it a 9 out of 10. Gears of War essentially makes a hypocrite out of my story-loving self, because I was forced to admit that a AAA title doesn’t need a great story to be a great game.
In many respects, Gears of War feels like a prequel, only we don’t have the “original” game’s context to make sense of what Epic Games has thrown at us. This is particularly surprising because Epic borrowed Eric Nylund, the author of the fantastic Halo novels, to help pen the story. In most game reviews, the things I’m about to share with you would be considered spoilers. But, since the narrative is so incomplete and unsatisfying, there’s nothing really in the game to spoil. So here goes.
The Gears of War narrative is so inexplicably incomplete that we have no concept of why Marcus’ dad was such a Locust aficionado. We don’t know whether Marcus leaving his squad in a botched attempt to save his father was related to his old man’s work. We have no idea why Marcus was so enamored with the female helicopter pilot at the end of his prison break. We’re left to wonder how we end up on a train at the end of the game with a special delivery for the Locust. Heck, we don’t even know whose female voice we hear throughout the game until the final cut scene, when we discover it’s a Locust queen about whom we’ve never learned anything — and about whose existence we never even knew! Seriously, the writers for Gears of War can pucker up right now, because the story in Epic’s new title leaves way too many questions unanswered. Cliffy B. may have ADD, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t want some meat with our potatoes.
A brief exposition on the Fenix family’s past, or even some insight into the apparently precious substance Imulsion, would go a long way toward answering some of the questions above. In the process, Gears of War would feel much more epic in scope. The environments are grand enough and the characters portrayed well enough that we can tell there’s a history, but nothing ever paints the Big Picture or explains why we should care about that history. A good narrative fills in those blanks and makes us emotionally invested in a game. Without that narrative, you’ve got “just another shooter.”
But that’s where Gears differs: it offers enough new gameplay elements that it’s not just another shooter, which blows my entire theory right out the window. Result? Cliffy B. 1, DailyGame 0. Gears of War is a great game, but the potential is there for it to have been so much more. And that, more than anything, is what frustrates, confuses and angers me. I, more than anyone I know, want a good story, yet here I am thinking about the next time I can play Gears of War. So congratulations, Cliffy B.; your latest game made me rethink my videogame values, even if just for a moment. But you threw away what could have been, and should have been, a truly epic tale. Stories about self-sacrifice on this grand a scale don’t come around often, and you just watched this one pass you by for the sake of earning another buck from a now-necessary sequel. So you can now do more than kiss my ass; you can pucker up for every writer who recognizes what a great narrative opportunity you just tossed in the toilet.
— Jonas Allen
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