Friday, September 07, 2007

With apologies to CliffyB

I'll get right to the point.

I finally got around to playing through Gears of War this afternoon. I have concluded that it is an overhyped, overrated, poorly-designed piece of shit.

There, I said it. I just trash-talked the most popular game on the Xbox 360. In fact, I beat the final boss not two minutes ago, and I am typing this entry as the ending cutscene plays. The game left me so unfulfilled that I didn't draw any satisfaction from beating it, other than that I won't have to play it again. It embodies virtually everything I hate about "twitch" shooters.

For starters, there are several insta-kill encounters that give you very little hint about how to beat them, so they turn into trial and error. Nothing breaks game immersion nearly as much as having to reload every time you make a single misstep. And the save system is non-existant; Gears uses a checkpoint system, so there's absolutely no way to backtrack or save right before a difficult encounter if the Console Gods didn't decide to put a checkpoint where you'd like.

Take, for example, my second encounter with a Berserker. There's no clue about what you're supposed to do, but through trial and error (and a few reloads), I figure out that I'm supposed to get him to charge at me, destroying columns and making the roof collapse. Okay, the problem is that the movement/cover system is so badly designed that half the time when you try to roll out of the way, your character takes cover on a nearby obstacle instead. Which results in getting trampled, which is insta-death, which makes you reload. Again. And again.

After several tries, I finally kill the Berserker, and I notice that there's no obvious way out of the room. I scout around for a few seconds, and I get a helpful little hint that there's a way out -- I hit the Y button, and my view focuses on a flaming hole in one of the walls. Well, fire is bad, but after all, the game told me that this is the way out. Besides, it's not much fire, so I can probably roll through it if I move quickly. Right? No. Insta-death. And what's even more fun is that the previous checkpoint is before the infuriatingly annoying boss fight.

This is pretty much par for the course throughout the game. Almost every boss fight is a stupid gimmick encounter, often where the enemies are magically immune to all of your weapons.

The final boss (and I hope I'm not ruining this for anyone, but it's not much of a spoiler) is a mean-looking guy with a swarm of bats swarming around him. He's completely immune to weapons when the bats are with him. They can be dispersed with explosives, but you have a very limited amount of explosive ammo. I have no idea how you'd even beat him if you didn't hoard your explosives during the level leading up to the fight. Occasionally he'll throw his bats at you, and if you're in the wrong spot, you're insta-killed and get to start all over. Fun.

I'm not opposed to creative boss fights. I loved Shadow of the Colossus, which consisted of a variety of encounters with giant golem-like creatures. Each fight was completely different, and you often had to figure out how to use your surroundings to win. The problem with Gears is that the sudden change from "shoot hordes of identical enemies" to "figure out how to defeat this giant oops you're dead" was too jarring and just didn't flow well. If you give me a small arsenal of destructive weaponry, let me use some of it to defeat the big nasty guys, okay?

I'm sure you've heard the stupid joke about the man eating at a restaurant who responds to his companion's complaints that the food is poor: "Yes, and the portions are so small, too!". So I'm hesitant to complain about the game's length. However, it took under four hours to complete the entire campaign, even with frequent reloading. To clarify: this $60 game can be completed in an evening, with time to spare for dinner.

I guess most people are drawn to its "hardcore" multiplayer mode, but given that the sum of my experiences with the Xbox Live population consists of being called racial slurs and/or a homosexual (and often both at once!) by hormonally-challenged thirteen-year-olds, the multiplayer aspect doesn't seem too attractive to me. So, instead, I'm putting it up for sale on and chalking it up as a reminder on why my normal policy is not to buy games without playing a demo first.


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