Games

Why Gears 2's Story Works

A defense of the narrative elements in Gears of War 2.

You've read the reviews. Gears of War 2 has a marked lack of depth. It's relentlessly immature. Its characters are a little corny.

As our own Ryan Smith puts it, "The rating on the game says it's Mature, but half the time it feels like it was the brainchild of a 15-year-old boy."

All of this is entirely true. I have no argument refuting any of it. What I will argue against, however, is the idea that somehow the story (or lack thereof) in Gears of War 2 makes it less of a game. On the contrary, I don't know that I've found a game whose story complements the gameplay quite so well as that in Gears of War 2 in quite some time.

Perhaps it's a matter of expectations. When you pick up a game that says Gears of War on it, to expect any sort of meaningful story is to be asking something of a game that it was never intended to provide. The entire point of the Gears of War series is to blow stuff up and, if possible, look good doing it. If you blast an enemy in the head enough times, that head explodes into a crimson gush of alien blood. If you've got the guts to run up to a baddie, you're rewarded with the opportunity to take a chainsaw to said baddie. Your reward for doing all of this is to fight bigger bad guys and see the sights that new terrain has to offer.

The strength of the "story" in Gears 2 is that it is almost entirely motivated by moving the player from one dangerous situation to another. The game starts in a bombed-out gray 'n brown environment that looks entirely familiar to just about anyone who played the first game, but then you're given an excuse to shoot reavers (giant airborn squid things) in lush greenery. Then you end up inside(!) a giant worm. Then you end up dodging "razor rain" in an all-too open environment. Then you're in a giant temple. Along the way you blast away some humongous beastly looking things, ride a reaver and a brumak, and confront the Locust Queen.

The longer cutscenes in the game do their part in heightening the player's anticipation. A long sequence at the beginning features the gears' commander giving a Big Important Military Speech. Yes, it's a clichéd trope when it comes to this sort of movie or game, but while he's doing all of that, you get these tremendous panoramic shots that convey the scale of the operation you're embarking on. The scripting and the cinematography of the scene is perfect, and it's a great way to get motivated for the operation ahead.

The intimate conversation with the Locust Queen does the same thing, but in a completely different sort of way. Her quiet confidence and the constant presence of the impossibly agile, impossibly strong Skorge by her side as she speaks heightens the dread you feel as you know you're about to face off against the Predator-like beast that caused so much havok early in the game. She's rambling on and on about infected locusts and lambent whatnots and maybe western philosophy and how to balance a checkbook, but it doesn't really matter because, again, the game is not really about the narrative, the game is about look and feel.

Ah, but then there is Maria.

Maria, the captured love of Dom's life, is where my argument is in danger of falling apart. Maria is the closest thing here to narrative for the sake of narrative, because nowhere is the search for Maria truly integral to the progression of the story. Still, in a land where the toughest guy wins, the search for Maria served to make Dom tougher, even as it gave him a gooey center. Maria is his motivation, before and after we learn her ultimate fate. His anger at losing her rubs off on the player, which actually makes chainsawing enemies into bloody giblets even more satisfying. Again, the story feeds the sense of scope, heightening the drama and determination of the player.

Of course this won't be true for everyone; for every player that thinks the story works wonderfully with the game, there's one that thinks it's a distracting mess. I have a theory as to determining which side of the fence you'll fall on: Did you like Independence Day? Did Armageddon make you tear up a little at the end? Did you think The Rock was a cinematic masterpiece? Aside from proving I'd never make it as a film critic, the fact that I can say yes to the aforementioned three questions (or anything similar that relates to big, stupid, Michael Bay-style action movies) has a lot to do with why I find the story elements of Gears of War 2 not only tolerable, but pretty fantastic. The story makes everything bigger, and it gives me even more reasons to enjoy blowing things up. What's not to like?

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image