This week Zero Punctuation reviews Gears of War 2, but only for all you big manly men.
I've been sitting here sticking Skittles up my nose for half an hour, and I still can't decide if I like Gears of War 2 or not. It's an over-the-shoulder shooter lovingly rendered in every colour of the dirt spectrum, featuring the adventures of a bunch of insecure, faux macho twats with necks like upturned mixing bowls saving the free world with two handfuls of hot, completely hetrosexual lead while wearing half a car and verbally swinging their alpha male cocks around in voices like broken JCB engines. You know, the kind of thing that makes me so bored that Skittles shoot out of my nose.
But as much as I try, I can't convince myself that it's a bad game. The gunplay works pretty well, and it's broken up often enough with nicely varied set pieces that it doesn't get tedious. But more importantly, you get to kill armoured dinosaurs with orbital lasers. Plus, there aren't any quick-time events. Oh wait, actually there is one. A little one. I guess that means I have to hate it then. Yeah, let's go with that. Fuck you, CliffyB!
You play the blatantly misspelled Marcus Fenix, fresh from the nice, firm handshake he received for successfully blowing up half the planet at the end of Gears of War 1 and is continuing the campaign against the Locusts, a proud race of extremely thick aliens who remain convinced of humanity's inferiority even after you've killed everyone they've ever met. He's aided by his best friend - and nothing else - Dominic, who has a missing wife, something which by god he is quick to remind everyone. Odds are, she's dead, because happy endings are for girls, and this is a game for big, manly men with pecs like paving slabs. Anyone who shows any emotion besides grim determination or detached gallows humour is going to either die or get his balls kicked so hard that they blast out of his ears. Other ways to tempt fate in this universe include wearing a helmet, not having a sense of humour, and basically being anyone but the kind of person who'd replace their genitals with a minigun if they thought they could get away with it (and found something else they could piss out of).
Another thing that characterizes the Gears of War universe is chest-high walls. The two opposing armies have both realized that chest-high walls are the key to victory. Every single battleground is littered with chest-high walls, everyone's bombs seem specifically designed to reduce buildings to chest-high walls, the Locusts have developed technology to make chest-high walls rise out of the ground, and if all else fails Mother Nature herself will step in and make rocks fall from the ceiling forming chest-high walls!
The reason for all this is that the gunplay in the game is based heavily around taking cover, although at times the necessity of it is a little questionable. Of course, taking cover is very smart in real-world firefights, but your characters can regenerate health by channeling the sheer manly power of their unfeasibly huge shoulders, and their giant masculine chins have the properties of Kevlar. So often it's quicker to just trudge right over to the enemies, soaking up all the damage, and carve them up with your absurdly overcompensatory chainsaw gun. Even if you lose your health, you'll still be all right if you can drag your chin over to your friend, who can restore all of your health by lovingly tussling your hair, but that's not something you want to rely on in single player, because your NPC allies traded in their brains for some baseball cards and shiny objects.
Yes, the A.I. is a bit dodgy all around. Not the funny kind of dodgy where they run around in circles or poo their pants, the frustrating kind of dodgy where they fail to notice that your lungs are poking out of your ears. So you have to crawl over to where they're hiding, and then they run away, because a sparrow farted next to their head. So you die and you have to start the encounter all over again. Or where they stand perfectly still, telling you to get on a bloody crane when you're already on the bloody crane waiting for them. Then you have to reload your last save and hope you can get past the bloody crane bit before his brain falls out.
I said the game was nicely varied, and it is. The ongoing chest-high wall sight-seeing tour takes you through many interesting locales and is broken up by entertaining little asides and the occasional giant vehicle rampage. But at the same time, all the different levels give a glaring sense of inconsistency. A nicely created squishy level taking place inside a giant worm (rather Fruedian in many ways, fnarr fnarr) is immediately follow by a weak psuedo-horror chapter in an abandoned laboratory complex, reminiscent of many Shocks of the System and Bio variety. It's got this whole thing going on about classified military research and supermutants, but it doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the plot and doesn't go anywhere. It's not even made clear why you have to go there in the first place - something about a computer with the location of the Locust HQ on it. If some lone scientist was able to figure this out and stick it on his LiveJournal, surely an entire military organization can gather enough intelligence to take a rough stab at it. The story is a little hard to follow. It all reeks of design by committee. In fact, design by several committees, all given one mission to do and all locked in different cupboards.
Gears of War is second only to Halo in terms of big-selling Xbox franchises, and at such you can't get much more mainstream without having Simon Cowell sitting on the end complaining about your chainsaw technique. And if something mainstream wants to stay mainstream - that is to say, making more money than a triple-cunted hooker on the day the troops come home - then it has to stay as safe and homogeneous as possible so as not to scare off those emotionally fragile retards who make up 75% of the world's consumer base.
So we have noble space marine goodies versus monstrous alien baddies, and not a single challenging thought or deed from title screen to end boss. And the tone flits randomly from comic relief farting about to whiny drama (typically whenever anyone brings up Dom's cunt wife). But while Gears of War 2 represents everything that's wrong with mainstream gaming, it does so many things right you can't help but respect it. It's worth remembering that sometimes popular things are popular for a reason: because they're good. Or because Will Smith is in it.
Wouldn't last five minutes in your world: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I wish there were some kind of award for world's most pretentious trailer