Spaz of War

If I were playing, this would be a red screen with the option to start over.I’m really not good at videogames. This seems hard for people to process, sometimes — considering how long I’ve worked in games and how much I go on about them, I guess it’s easy to assume that I’ve got some acceptable level of skill at actually playing them.

More than a few times, people have asked to play a videogame with me. For my part, I always point out that I’m not good at them. I guess they assume that I’m being modest, or underestimating how bad I am, or even trying to hustle them. Even after we’ve started playing, their expression changes not to one of understanding, but of disbelief. I can understand not being great at games, but how can anyone be this inept? For that matter, how can he walk without constantly running into walls, or operate fine motor control such as required by writing without stabbing himself in the eye?

Which is another point towards saying that Gears of War is a pretty cool game. I’m astoundingly awful at it, and I still manage to like it.

The fact that I die every two minutes and have to restart is just one of the many reasons I should hate it. It seems like they took a list of things I hate about games and tried to fulfill every entry.

  • It’s by Epic.
  • In particular, by Cliff “Hey look at me I’m a videogame rock star and what? Videogame rock stars aren’t cool anymore? Guys? Guys, come back!” Bleszinski.
  • It’s been hyped to all hell, for what seems like a year now.
  • Including commercials that for no discernible reason use a cover of the song “Mad World.”
  • It’s a shooter.
  • In particular, a console shooter, requiring you to aim with a joystick.
  • You play as a tough-as-nails thick-necked military veteran who’s been wrongfully imprisoned.
  • You’re joined by a squad of other thick-necked army guys, some of whom don’t appreciate your lone wolf attitude.
  • The back story and world-building for the entire game, as near as I can make out, is simply that there’s a war against a bunch of ugly aliens.
  • The world has gear-themed art throughout, which doesn’t make sense, and they didn’t even attempt to provide context for it like Valve did with the lambda symbol in Half-Life.
  • The name doesn’t make sense (at least yet), as a game called Gears of War that doesn’t involve battle mechs is just wrong.
  • It’s by Epic. I really hate them.

But still, it’s just a solid game. If you’re following the “are videogames art?” debate, this is a point in favor of the “good gameplay is an art in itself, and games don’t need to be judged by the same criteria as movies” camp.

The whole game is based on the idea of finding cover during firefights, and everything works towards that. Pretty much all of your movement controls are designed to make your stupid character duck-and-run, press against walls or under bunkers, and jump or tumble to the next barrier. When executed well, it works perfectly. When executed like I play, it ends up with a lot of tripping over couches, running directly into the line of fire, or crouching right next to an enemy soldier and getting a chainsaw to the head.

It looks great, too. All the reviews talk about the visuals as being “stunning” and “better than a videogame has a right to look,” and you’d take it as hyperbole until you actually see it in action. They did a really outstanding job, and even better, it’s all in service of the game, instead of grandstanding visuals for their own sake. The character design is pretty stupid — impossibly thick barrel-shaped guys with soul patches and do-rags and earrings just like a bunch of suburban videogame makers imagining what “cool tough guys” would look like — but it’s consistent throughout and works well for what they’re trying to do.

It’s taken my attention away from Final Fantasy XII for the moment, which is impressive considering that that’s not only a more epic game, but it’s more my type of game in just about every way. And since I’m so bad at these things, it takes me at least twice as long as it would take a competent person to finish one. That’s gameplay value.