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In defense of both Chuck Beaver and Gears of War (1)

I might be a little late to the party over this little controversy, but here goes anyway.

It might have crossed your minds that Epic Games is hardly a developer that needs defending. With one of the most financially and critically successful series of games this generation, and a whole tonne of fans stemming back to those who still boot up Unreal Tournament on a slow weekend, Cliff Blezinski and chums are hardly hard up. However, a double edged sword was recently thrust into Cliffy's belly. Whether he noticed or not is beside the point, but for the sake of argument, let's pretend he did.

"Story can only ruin a game for those people who care about story, so it�s a conditional answer. For instance, Gears of War. It contains atrocious, offensive violations of story basics. Yet it doesn�t seem to ruin it for many, many people. It�s literally the worst writing in games, but seems to have no ill effects".

These ill fated words were uttered by Chuck Beaver, lead story producer of Dead Space and Dead Space 2. To summarise, he believes that for games like Gears of War, story isn't important, because the quality of the gameplay carries it alone. And noting the story, he says it's a bunch of gangrenous balls.
This is a popular opinion, judging by the comments underneath reports of this quote. People still maintain that Gears of War and its sequels are mere "bro-games"; games for jocks who swig beer and enjoy a good swear-a-long with Mr Fenix and co. Whilst this stereotypical person may well get a big kick en masse from the franchise, I was a little perplexed. Did we play the same game? Gears of War (the first entry in what is now a trilogy) stands as my favourite Xbox exclusive. Put it this way; if my Xbox red-rings tomorrow and they announce Gears of War 4, I will buy another 360 to play it. Part of that may be due to my reasonable financial situation, but it still stands. I value the Gears of War franchise.

As the breakout cover-based third person shooter, Gears enjoyed a decent and well received multiplayer run, and was one of my first forays into the world of competitive online multiplayer. The gameplay mechanics just freaking worked, and introduced a gameplay mechanic to the masses which would be aped all over the shop by eager developers looking for the next big thing. Sam Fisher takes cover. Killzone 2 guy takes cover. Nathan Drake takes cover. Maybe Marcus wasn't the first to embrace the chest high wall, but he was the first to do it right. Add to that the unusually bulky cumbersome movement not usually seen in third person games up until then, with the likes of Dante and Samonuske flipping about and swiping at things at light speed. It was a simple gameplay idea that just worked, and added a new idea that was so absent with hindsight with games that involved armed combat.

Add to this recipe what Epic themselves have dubbed "destroyed beauty", with grandoise buildings that look like they've been inspired by 18th Century buildings from any city you care to name, all gone to shit through many years of open warfare with an alien enemy. Despite what people call the "grey-brown" effect, Epic cleverly crafted a dark destroyed world as a backdrop to the events that unfold.
But gameplay and graphics are not Mr Beaver's issue. He disliked the writing. He even implies he liked the games despite the shoddy writing. But was Gears of War that bad?

Now I have to point out that my argument stems on the first game alone, as I maintain that Epic's over-ambition lead to overwatering the plot of the trilogy, trying to make us care about characters in a way we just were not going to. However, Gears of War is one of my most admired games for its clever use of writing.
You may ask why? Because Epic built a unit of four battle-hardened soldiers, who despite the jokes about homo-eroticism and basically being walking cars, are convincing. Four guys, stuck in a hellish post-apocalypse wasteland, desperately trying to find a way to end the war. They joke with each other, criticise, mock, and swear, just like you can imagine four guys stuck in a seemingly feckless campaign in Afghanistan might do. Marcus, as the eventual leader, seems constantly eager to keep the group moving, reassuring those he is with. One surprisingly touching moment comes in the underground cavern, where Dom quips "Damn, I hope I got the right path here" to which Marcus replies "Hey, I hope we both do". How rare is that? An actual moment where a member of a military unit openly states he hopes they'll both be okay. It seems so simple, but to my mind, it's something lacking from all military based gaming plotlines until someone is already knocking on the morticians door. Additionally, the banter between Augustus Cole (over the top enthusiastic sporting superstar) and Damon Baird (miserable, pessimistic realist mechanic) makes for one of the more believable relationships in any military unit made of pixels. Again, I�m reminded of a part where Baird is complaining after he and Cole are stuck with the sewer route into a power station, to which Cole quips �Come on Baird. Little bit of this? It�s good for you. Builds your immune system�. The little asides go a whole long way into building up these characters.

FYI, these guys are pretty awesome.

Now yes, Gears isn�t perfect. All the side characters are a little under developed, and the Stranded are a little unbelievable. Plus, it seems not all that much really happens throughout Act 4 until the end with the computers and the Brumak, but hey, most games have pacing issues. But the fact still stands that whilst the general public view of GoW is it�s a game for beer-swigging fools, it does actually contain a very well thought out package of gameplay, looks, sounds and four very convincing characters to hang out with for about eight hours. In fact, I�d go so far to say that these elements were a gift to the rest of the game developing community; believable interaction between likeable well characterised protagonists, destroyed beauty, and the refinement of the third person shooter.
I should probably note that Mr Beaver�s comments were probably not intended as a direct attack. In fact, he equally criticised Dead Space, claiming it was just a �haunted house� game until the story of the dead girlfriend was shoe-horned in. Whilst this was the case for Dead Space 1, I believe he criticises himself too harshly for Dead Space 2, as Isaac Clarke was one of the most likeable protagonists in any horror game, really making you feel for him after all the horrible things he�s been witness to. But, using his own game as an example, Mr Beaver�s point is that gameplay has to come first, and story added later merely as a framing device. To a point, I agree, because gameplay, including control mechanics, character animations, bug catching and level structure/pacing are key to any games success, and your average gamer is willing to forgive a weak story in the wake of these things. However, I disagree with him on two points. Firstly, whilst a good game will consider plot as a secondary concern, a great game will master all aspects, and this is something I feel Dead Space 2 had over Dead Space 1, possibly because the ground work laid down by the first Dead Space allowed the focus of the development team to broaden onto improving all aspects of the series, most obviously, the protagonist and his story.

Mr Beaver, you sell your game short sir. Stand up and take a fucking bow, for Christ�s sake!

But secondly, and most key, I disagree with him on the point that Gears of War features some of the worst writing in games today, literally or not literally. Additionally, whilst Gears 2 & 3 may have lost their way a little through over ambition on Epic�s part, they too can hardly be compared to some of the shoddy work thrown at us.

Was EA right to censor his views? I don�t think so, particularly when you remember the mud-slinging that went down between COD:MW3 and BF3. However, whilst I can understand where he is coming from, I have to disagree with his assertions about Gears of War, whether exaggerated or not, and with the other hand commend his work on Dead Space 2. Maybe, like Baird, he feels pessimistic in a world gone to shit, where MW3 dominates the charts and epic conquests like The Witcher 2 barely get a sniffle of interest in comparison to Activision�s large scale numbers. So my recommendation to him? Refine Dead Space 3�s engine a bit, and write us a killer story. Blow the other two Dead Space�s out of�erm�space. And also, try to add a little more context to your arguments before half the gaming population jumps down your throats, because they might just appreciate a better presented argument. But above all, keep up the good work.

So on that note, I only have one more thing to say to you. �Ha, look at �dem fool ass faces�.
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About The Villainthropistone of us since 10:07 AM on 08.05.2008

A gamer since the age of 4. I like pretty much all genres, and now that I can afford them, all systems. I'm looking for a new co-op game which won't suck me in for a year and a half. Please give AMD Eyefinity compatible gaming PC's generously (never mind, got one).

I would now consider myself a PC gamer primarily, but have grown up with consoles all my life. Whilst a bit of depth and plot are much appreciated, I tend to gravitate towards online FPS's and racing games.

I've been on a bit of a hiatus from posting here at the Dtoid C-Blogs, mainly due to my voluntary position at PureSophistry.com. Click the link to see my stuff.

Origin: jebussaves88

Oh yeah, and I have a twitter now. @jebussaves88
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