I wasn’t really looking forward to writing about Gears of War. There’s something about it that’s too big-budget blockbusterly for me to get excited about putting in my two cents on it, because so much has already been said about it. Come to think of it, though, that applies to pretty much every game on this list of TSM’s favorites, so I think the real reason is that it’s the newest game on my entire list of 30. I get a bit uncomfortable writing about a game that new. But I digress. Gears of War 2 is sweet.
My first experience with GoW2 was when I was a theater tech in high school. Me (the sound guy, of course), the lighting people, the stage manager, and our assistants all worked from this little booth at the back of the auditorium with windows so we could see the stage. We spent a lot of time in there, so we had posters and christmas lights and jamboxes and more mixed in with the tech equipment, including an XBox 360. We also had a lot of downtime during the average rehearsal, because the cast and crew typically took a lot longer to get ready than the techs did. So we played a lot of GTA III and Gears of War 2. I remember playing it all the way through over the course of a week of five-hour sessions with a tech friend – we’d finish and be totally burned out and bloodshot-eyed, and we’d just come back the next morning, not say a word, and turn on the console. I’ve played it through one other time since then (last year lugging my roommate’s 360 and my friends’ huge TV all over the floor).
This is probably the bloodiest game I’ve ever played…at least I can’t think of any others in which it’s a relatively common activity to chainsaw the crap out of an enemy’s neck while blood sprays all over the camera (see screenshot). Mortal Kombat: Armageddon might win, but the blood in that game is so horribly rendered in this awful cartoony style that looks completely fake, so while there may or may not be more of it in MK:A, it definitely looks loads better in Gears of War 2. I’m not going to say that the blood is why I love this game, but it’s certainly a contributing factor. This really goes hand-in-hand with the more overarching reason, which is that playing GoW2 has a certain feel that, I believe, other games have tried and failed to replicate. In Gears of War, you can practically see each bullet leaving your gun, since they glow orange. The camera reacts to your character taking damage in such a way that it feels much more visceral than the typical analogue in a first-person shooter. The camera wobbles and drifts as if it’s handheld as you move through the environments – what I’m trying to say is that this game has a raw, visceral gameplay experience that’s unlike anything else I’ve played. You feel like you’re there.
I never had too hard a time finishing Gears of War 2; honestly it’s not really as difficult on normal as I expected it to be. Getting the hang of the controls was really the only hurdle for me (and I love to complain about how hard games are). And I’m a big fan of cover-based combat (meaning I’m a big fan of this franchise, essentially). Gears of War 2 will always be around for me if I need to let off some steam and chainsaw some alien dudes, or fry them with a giant sky laser, or just shoot them with my future shotguns. Honestly, this game probably didn’t make the list proper because I have a thing about how a game needs to be seen with a good deal of hindsight before it can really be accepted into the canon (or whatever), but this is really a good game. You’ve probably played it more than I have. But if not, you should play it. It’s really great, guys.
Next on the list of four honorable mentions: a racing game.