Guns, Guts and Geekery
by Solomon Philbrick
I got depressed last week and bought an Xbox 360. Don’t try to make sense of that sentence; it won’t work. When I told my friend the same thing, he asked why I was depressed. “Dude, that’s not the point,” I told him. “I bought a 360 and it’s fucking awesome!” Now, what’s odd is that I was going over the FTTW archives this morning (specifically Meg’s columns) and I found a comment I wrote that basically said I would never buy a third-generation system. Well, as usual I can now say that I made a dumb statement, because the damn Xbox is sitting on the VCR right where my Ps2 used to hold its little throne. Do I regret this? Perhaps when the credit card bill comes in the mail, but for now I am in the midst of a blissful honeymoon with my brand-new overpriced and insanely impractical toy. So I am writing this column today in the midst of rapturous geeky enthusiasm instead of my usual cranky “What can I complain about today?” mode. We shall see how well this works.
My gaming life, much like my love life (when one exists) is usually intense short-term serial monogamy with the vague and unlikely possibility of a romantic flare-up after we have gone our separate ways. With this in mind, allow me to introduce my new sweetheart, Gears of War. It has been around a while and has quite a few other lovers, but I am nothing if not forgiving, especially when the love of my life is such a hot little package. Gears of War, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
As far as I can tell, the plot goes something like this: the main dude, one Marcus Fenix, is serving a jail sentence for defying military orders when the earth is overrun by big, ugly mutant subterranean bug thingies generically called “locusts.” Marcus is let out of jail because he’s a kickass soldier and the planet needs all the help it can get. Marcus is a big dumb crazed oaf who teams up with other big dumb crazed oafs in order to rid the world of the mutant menace. That’s the plot. Nothing more. This game is pure action porn, with none of those damn twenty-minute cut scenes (unlike that bitch Metal Gear Solid,) so there is no huge conspiracy that you have to piece together while playing the game and there is thankfully very little downtime. Mutant bad. Marcus kill mutant. Marcus like guns. Grunt. Snarl.
Gears of War owes a lot to the classics like Doom and Quake, which have similar plots, but the gameplay isn’t run and gun like the oldies. Instead, the player has to rely on a take cover-fire-kill mutants-take ground system that the designer apparently thought up while paintballing. He thought that this would make the game seem more like a “real” firefight, though whether or not that is true is up for debate. I won’t speculate because I know that a lot of the readers and contributors here actually have been in real firefights and I frankly don’t need to be told that I’m full of shit, so I’ll just say that the system is very satisfying from this gamer’s perspective.
For the most part, the weapons are fairly typical for a shooter: there is the shotgun, the pistol, a burst-fire machine gun, grenades, and a sniper rifle. On top of that, though, Marcus occasionally gets to use a weapon called the Hammer of Dawn, which fires a huge laser beam from the sky and fries large enemies. There is also the Torque Bow, which fires arrows with explosive heads. Eat your heart out, Ted Nugent. Finally, the gun that is used most often is the Lancer, a really big machine gun with a fucking chainsaw attached to the end…Sorry, I had to stop typing for a moment. This attachment is very handy at times when an enemy gets too close, as Marcus can lay into a mutant with this little bayonet and spray gore all over the camera. When he or one of his AI buddies uses the chainsaw, one of them will often grunt something along the lines of, “That saved some ammo.” Yep, these guys are that cool.
Even on my low-definition television, I can see the difference between the second and third generations of game platforms. The frame rate is pretty amazing, especially when Marcus is running: the camera goes into a sort of handheld mode and he runs fast. The novelty of that alone still hasn’t gotten old, and I have put plenty of hours into this thing. Secondly, I know that if I had a stereo system the sound would be incredible. The mutants let out some amazingly creepy sounds, especially the “wretches,” which are some kind of mutated dog-lion things that emit a blood-curdling screech before attacking. The only things that are stopping me from going out and upgrading my entire entertainment system are my bank account, my studies and every last bit of restraint. (These same things have kept me from upgrading my DSL and buying the wireless card, incidentally.)
In conclusion, I’d like to give all due apologies to the Wii partisans here at Faster Than the World. I have found my system. I’d also like to extend a big hearty “fuck you” to Sony, who just lost a customer to Microsoft. Yeah, that’s right. Microsoft. Here’s an idea for the future, guys: make your damn product, get it out on time and don’t require me to sell any organs in order to buy the thing. Oh, and Gears of War rocks. Did I mention that?