Gears of War

I wrote the majority of the following two days after Gears of War launched. It has since been sitting in limbo. Might as well just get it out now:

After playing a portion of the single player (and co-op) campaign in Gears of War, I tried my luck in the multiplayer. It was surprisingly smooth. It ran without any connection problems or noticeable lag. Once my feet were wet on the multiplayer mechanics, I jumped into the a ranked match. It wasn’t as smooth. For some reason, two thirds of the games that I tried to join I couldn’t connect to (addendum: apparently, if a room fills and you try to connect, it doesn’t tell you that — just that you couldn’t connect.) and two thirds of the games that I did complete weren’t recorded for my overall stats (not surprisingly, the one game that I got totally murdered in did record!) However, that first game that I did play in ranked mode was quite the showcase for Gears’ multiplayer.

It was an “Execution” match in “Canals.” I didn’t realize at first that it was set to be a “first to win 19 rounds” marathon but once I clued in the game was already in progress and I was going to see it through. It’s a game so there’s no point quitting. The first four rounds went well enough. After a close loss to The Cog, in the second round we (The Locusts) rushed along one of the side routes right into an intense firefight with the entirety of the Cog team. After a long exchange of bullets, one of the Cog was dead, one was bleeding on the ground, and the other two backed off to regroup. I reloaded my gun and ran through the open to get to the bleeding Cog and, without hesitation, curb stomped his face. It’s definitely gratuitous and meant to appeal to the highest levels of testosterone, but for the gameplay it was a necessary measure — in “Execution” mode, if a downed player isn’t killed off they will revive and you can only kill them up close. After those two were taken care of, we rushed after the other two and eventually got the victory.

We exchanged wins for the next two rounds. After four, tied two to two, it looked like it was going to be a long, long match. I was wrong. I can’t explain what happened exactly but the other team became better organized and better shots while our team, well, didn’t. I’d rush down the river to the main chokepoint with someone behind me, exchange fire with a Cog on the other side and then, to my surprise, get a chainsaw to the back of my head. Thanks for the support there, bud.

That would continue round after round. After round. After round. For the next ten rounds, I think I managed two kills (compared to some four in the first two). My team didn’t fare any better so they quit. Near the end, the score was 18 to 3 and I was the only Locust left, outnumbered three to one. It was almost over. One more round and I could forget the massacre.

Then it happened. Not having any teammates to consider, I adjusted my game. I pulled out the shotgun and ran to the middle of the map taking cover along the way. I needed to be more cautious so this was the best place to be to get a good idea for what the other team was doing. As long as you watch that they don’t come up the middle, from that point you can see any flanking maneuvers and hide if needed. Surely enough, I noticed one of the Cog running across the side towards the back near my spawn. He was alone so I carefully worked my way back and onto a stairwell. He was right above me so I took cover along the stairway, high enough to be able to strike but not low enough to be in the open. This was it. I readied, jumped over the corner and… BAM. Shotgun to the face. He was dead instantly.

I expected the other two Cog to be covering him so I doubled back across the map, took cover and looked behind me. No one was there. I slowly worked my way around their side of the map until I spotted one sole Cog scouring near to the spot where I got my kill. The once unified team was now divided into three individuals going their own way, fanning out in search of one easy target: me. If the remaining two were together, I’d have no chance in a close battle. That’s the thing about Gears, when you’re double teamed by two competent players you don’t stand a chance. But here was the Cog, all divided and one man down.

Cover to cover, always checking my six, I worked my way towards one of the centre chokepoints. That’s where I saw him. That’s where I waited. As he slowly advanced on me, cover to cover always checking his six, my heart started to pound. The ambush would work only if I get off a perfect shot and only if his partner doesn’t sneak up on me from behind. I waited. Waited. Then, when he was within spitting range, I blind fired the shotgun around the corner and… BAM. In the face. Two down, one to go.

After a while, I was near the last guy. He did not see me, but he was being careful. I was too, so I wasn’t going to blindly jump out from a distance and charge him. I was waiting to see what his move was going to be so that I could surprise him, but then I noticed that the time on the round was running out. After all this effort and all this losing, I was going to settle for a tie. “Screw it!” I reloaded, jumped out and rushed him with the shotgun in hand. Fired. MISSED. Oh shit. He fired. He missed! I shoot again. He shoots. I jump back and flank a little and fire. He fires then jumps away. I jump toward and to the side. He fires. I fire. He dies and the instantly the screen comes up: “LOCUS WIN”. I won. YES!

Now I was only down 18 to 4.

The next round started and I stuck to my strategy. I killed one guy. I killed another. Holy crap, can I pull this off again? No. The last guy got me. The game ended. Cog won 19 to 4.

It was an ass kicking and I was on the receiving end of it, but those last two rounds were tremendously exhilirating. I could feel my pulse and the hairs on the back of my neck rising. Shortly after the game, I received a voice message from one of the players on the other team commending me for sticking with it and not quitting the game, making that whole asskicking that much more worthwhile. These kinds of messages, though rare, are good reminders that not everyone on XBox Live is a douchebag.

Everything multiplayer (co-op included) in Gears (save for the actual match-making service, which is archaic and, for ranked games, deeply flawed) is finely polished and deserving of praise, it’s just a shame that the single player game sucks. Linear, cliched, horrible writing inside of a nonsensical, poorly elaborated story, generic characters, weak AI, lame game devices (WHY does a game with a strong duck/cover mechanic have a stupid on-rails vehicle sequence?) and very obvious and predictable scripting (in one game, me and my co-op partner got stuck in an area with nothing to do — turned out that I had to return to a room where I picked up ammo and pick something up a second time to trigger the enemy attack).

But that’s OK because if you can get into an even and fair online match, there aren’t many games out there that match Gears of War. Some new (free) maps would be very welcome now, though.

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