Gears of War is one of my all-time favorite games, and to me it's one of many that makes a very strong case for the pro side in the silly "Can Video Games Be Art?" debate (of course they can). And please, before you, dear Lunchster, jump to any conclusions, I do not propose that GoW's incredibly detailed and fully-realized production design make it a work of art. Nor am I positing that the clunky premise and macho narrative—the story—qualify it as such either. Folks who try to defend games-as-art often miss the point: it isn't necessarily the game's look or the story that should be the focus when deeming a game artful, at least not yet. Games haven't quite matured enough in the storytelling department to compete with the best of other narrative-based media (like novels, comics, or really good movies). Might happen in the future, but so far not so much. And like I said, it's beside the point anyway.
Where the focus should be (as far as considering whether a game is artful or valid as an aesthetic experience) is the simple mechanism—the core gameplay element—that makes a game unique, innovative, addictive (gulp), or beautiful, even. And fun. Let's not forget that. Tetris is a wonderful example, and so are other games like Katamari Damacy, Pac-Man and (on the analog side) Chess. Tetris in particular is an amazing game built around a very simple, primal desire: To Organize Space. The graphic simplicity of it is part of what makes it work; the game is essentially abstract, like a Piet Mondrian painting in motion. Yep, I said it.
Which brings me back to Gears. The beauty of this game lies in what I have narrowed down to 3 well thought out, well executed elements:
-The "stop and pop" method of fire. This little in-game function lets you move your character behind an obstacle to find cover. Depressing the left trigger "pops" you up or to the side for a quick look-see while also zooming you into a reticle. Releasing the trigger "pops" you back down to safety.
-The "active reload" system. Difficult to explain but basically this is a function that lets you control the speed at which you reload ammo, rewarding you if you do it perfectly with a boost in firepower. It's like a small game within the game.
-Implementation of multiplayer "versus" mode. Also hard to explain briefly, but trust me when I tell you that the team play element of the game is very well balanced while encouraging teamwork and communication. It's not completely as innovative as "active reload" or "stop and pop," but I feel the multiplayer experience is still head and shoulders above most other console shooters out there (except for maybe Halo). The new "Horde" mode in Gears of War 2 adds a wonderfully fun gametype where a team of up to five friends work together to survive wave after wave of aggressive, zombie-like enemies.
So while I do not think that Gears deserves a place in the permanent collection of the World Art Museum of All-Time Great Games, I do believe its 3 above mentioned gameplay elements are incredibly well-designed and in short, little works of art. If anything, Gears of War could be in one of the smaller, local "low-brow" art galleries that specialize in representational, macho stuff.
PS I'm a wimpy pacifist and yet I find the more aggressive, violent aspects of this game to be a complete gas, I'm ashamed to admit.
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About the reviewer
John Pham (SuperPhamicom)
Dec 19, 2008
Nov 29, 2009 09:34 PM UTC
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Gears of War, an Xbox 360 exclusive game that blends tactical action with survival horror, thrusts gamers into a deep and harrowing tale of humankind's epic battle for survival against the Locust Horde, a nightmarish race of creatures that surface from the bowels of the planet. The storyline plays out like a Hollywood blockbuster -- lead character Marcus Fenix pits advanced human technology against the overwhelming Locust Horde. Built around a revolutionary third-person tactical combat system and breathtaking, high-definition visuals from the Unreal Engine 3,Gears of Warimmerses you in a horrifying tale of war and survival.
Gears of War is harrowing tale that pits humankind against the Locust Horde.
Marcus Fenix and his team battle nightmarish creatures. View larger.
In Gears of War, you must take cover to survive. View larger.
Gears of War presents a focused and well-paced cinematic experience. View larger. The gameplay is focused on a fire team co-op so advanced that your A.I. teammates are indiscernible from human players. Voice recognition and real-time lip synching heighten the absorbing experience. The Unreal Engine 3 technology brings out the smallest details in the largest of battles. With GOW you're sure to experience a rich, dynamic world where characters spring to life. Speaking of life, the battlefield is a lethal place. To survive, you must suppress your enemy with blindfire, take cover in interactive environments, and use weapons and teammates...