A Gears of War Trilogy Retrospect

Day 19 technically speaking, and now we come to a new post. After the blowout that was my Halo 5 review, (and its followup) I am deciding to do a sort of series retrospect on another video game franchise that coincidentally changed huge titles and is also exclusive to Xbox. Games like Mass Effect and The Division have emulated the gameplay of this series, and it has defined modern third-person shooters. I could drive the suspense further, but it is Gears of War.

My experience with it begun with the third game in the series back in 2011, but to deter from confusion, I will begin with the first one.

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Gears of War is a phenomenal game. The campaign throws everything it has against the player in a variety of situations, and the game flows seamlessly from level-to-level. It is one of few games I can say I would love to play straight through for that reason alone, but this game is also difficult. Too many games cater to a general audience, but this one knows that immersion must be linked with a game that is both balanced and against you. This game is not here to deliver a story that needs to be told or to impress you with its graphics either. It has both of those, but this game knows that its first priority is to entertain the player.

This is one of the things I appreciate most about Gears of War. Its story only serves as a way to progress through the game, with a likable ensemble of characters as well. It adds a taste of horror here and there, but it is nothing to talk about. Ultimately, the plot only exists as an excuse to kill a plethora of monsters, which is one point I love about this franchise.

The Locust Horde are great antagonists, and Epic Games knows how to do enemy variety. It is baffling that so many games find that giving the same enemy a different gun or more armour is good enough for another enemy class, but Gears of War gets creative with it. It is a shooter with bosses that work, and enemies ranging from the equal-footed Drones to the horrifying Berserker. They act differently and attempt strategy such as flanking players, flushing them out, and taking cover from a variety of angles. The series’ AI has only improved since 2006, and I commend them for something that many other shooters have ignored.

Multiplayer is something that I have never entirely gotten into as much as other franchises such as Halo, but this game fills its own niche. The sheer variety of weapons that all function in unique ways makes every encounter unexpected and the cover-based mechanics add a layer of strategic depth and an element of suspense that is both methodical and very unique to Gears of War. 5v5 may be a little small for those coming off of every other huge shooter, but it works well for Gears’ team-oriented gameplay that suits cooperative and competitive play immensely.

The game also has excellent set pieces that add extra memorability to its campaign, a tense score that adds to the idea that you are in a mad world, and the graphics tell a world of ‘destroyed beauty.’ And before we head on to Gears of War 2, please take a look at this trailer.

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Gears of War 2 is one of those sequels that attempts to 1-up its predecessor, but here it is done very well. The stakes are larger, the scope is bigger, the combat is more epic, and the story is filled with far more drama. Above all, it is a great continuation of a great franchise.

In terms of gameplay, Gears 2 does not remove anything the first game had, but instead it adds far more. We now have flamethrowers, heavy weapons, and an ink grenade to boot against a far more lethal Locust Horde. New enemy types are introduced on top of existing ones, and they compliment encounters and each other to create new challenges that could not have existed in the first game. There are still more intimate sections like the first game, but set-pieces that feature dozens of enemies in the thick of war make this game far more expansive. The pacing may not be as fluid due to some slower moments in the story and a final act that drags a bit, but the story now has actual character motivation and development, as well as very personal moments with one, in particular, being the pinnacle of ‘sad moments’ that this series has seen.

One of my favourite new additions to the series is Horde mode, however. It can be called the forefather of modern PvE survival modes, as is made fun with Gears of War’s unique foes and excellent map designs that make each consecutive wave feel like a struggle for survival with your back against the wall with your friends. I have heard that multiplayer suffers from netcode issues, but I did not play Gears 2 in its heyday so I cannot judge it for this, unfortunately.

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Gears of War 3 was my first Gears of War game, and I can say that it holds up as a sequel to Gears 2. Arenas are bigger and encounters involve more enemies, and the stakes are held higher as well. While this may seem like the franchise is trying to 1-up itself yet again, Gears 3 does not have the epic story of its predecessor. Instead, it tries to tell a story full of emotion and loss.

While it works, I feel as if Gears 3 is a bit distracted in its setting and its tone strays away from the gritty tale of survival in a mad world to instead emphasise on a story of family. The ensemble cast is doubled and feels a bit cluttered in comparison to Gears 1 and 2’s intimacy, which is true for both gameplay and story. A whole new class of enemy is introduced, called the Lambent. These enemies are very fun and are an interesting spin on the Locust Horde but in terms of encounters they did not receive the same kind of dynamic increase that existed from Gears 1 to 2. This is not a bad thing, but it is worth pointing out.

The campaign does not have any weak points unlike Gears 2 this time around, and the final act is as epic and climactic as it should be. The colour spectrum of this game is also bustling with a range that the last two games did not have, and it goes beyond ‘destroyed beauty.’ The score compliments action and story beats as well, and the Gears arsenal is expanded with many inclusions including a machine gun that rips apart enemies as well as a massive sword that slashes foes in half.

Horde mode and competitive Versus modes are expanded immensely in Gears 3, with the new Beast mode that allows you to play as Locust monsters. Fortifications add a new layer of strategy into Horde mode alongside boss waves, and Versus has been refined to a pinch. That is perhaps my favourite part of Gears of War: it does not need to change itself to be fresh. Unlike Call of Duty, though, it does not remain so familiar that a new game is redundant.

Gears is Gears, and it knows how to improve itself and increase its excellence. It is a game that has been replicated too many times, and one that has set the standard for third-person shooters.

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