Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #12: Gears of War

Gears of War, Microsoft Studios/Epic Games (2006)

The first I, like most people, heard about the Xbox 360's first big shooter, it was in a cinema as a preposterously burly man ran through a darkened cave to the melodramatic tones of Gary Jules' Mad World, the emo cover of the Tears for Fears song that had made Christmas #1 in the UK three years earlier.

The juxtaposition of post-Schwarzenegger brawn with an angst-ridden song about social alienation and psychological breakdown was irresistible. Though it looks like a blunt instrument, Gears of War actually maintains a deft balance between strong art direction, a sharp, character-driven script and extreme violence.

The first and most influential of the generation's uniformly grey post-apocalyptic worlds, Gears of War may have a grim aesthetic legacy but its original vision was both pure and powerful. Sera was once a beautiful and prosperous world, but it was built on shakey foundations, both literally and figuratively. Mankind's achievements were fuelled by a potent (and glowy) energy source called "Imulsion", but in the process of mining it they awakened the Locust, a race of insect-like monsters living in vast colonies underneath human cities.

This simple plot is a sturdy frame for the action, in which gruff Marcus, sensitive Dom, cynical Baird and entertainingly moronic Cole stomp around Sera slicing through hoardes of Locust with chainsaws. The combat is gory, tactile and fast while the one-liners flow as thick and fast as the viscera.

While these are fun on your own, they're best enjoyed with a companion, and Gears of War makes my list because of the happy memories I forged playing it with the person who would eventually induce me to write this. The strong characterisation, hyperbolic violence and frequent beer breaks make it the perfect co-operative experience, proof that a game about severed limbs and bursting heads can give you the same feeling as a mug of cocoa and a hug.

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