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