In an age where people often forget about videogames several months after finishing them, trade games into retailers, or just play partially through the story line, only to abandon it for multiplayer modes, it’s important to remember which games impress us with the procedural rhetoric and stylistic choices, brilliant rendering, imaginative elements, and their overall ability to offer interesting experience. Epic and Microsoft, as publishers and corporations may have released many giants, but one such franchise that reminds first-time players what great qualities games should have- what specifically just makes games fun to play- stands out; The Gears of War trilogy, for its aesthetically-engaging backdrops, development and elaboration on the time-tested first-person shooter genre, plot sequences enhanced by excellently-directed cutscenes, and playability all factor into this series’ status as being one of the fastest-selling series of all time, but more importantly, it’s worthiness of being canonized (vgchartz.com, Gears of War).
When noting the games’ differences from any other first-person shooter game, it’s important to admit that no contemporary game has completely original elements, but rather, the videogames that are most important to extol are those which tie together all of the elements that enhance the gameplay and excite the player.
Initially and in terms of gameplay, the first thing the player notices in the games is often the placement of the aiming reticule over the player character’s shoulder- while this is certainly by no means original, it aids to the cinematic feel of the games, as the camera tails Marcus or Dom, the two main characters in close pursuit. This, combined with the realistic damage calculations (i.e.: enemies’ attacks damage players similar to how players’ attacks damage enemies, and death is always only a few bullets away, leaving behind the ‘invincibility complex’ many contemporary first-person shooter games incorporate) causes the franchise to be radically different than virtually every other contemporary first-person shooter. In another interesting take on shooter games, the programers focused less on ‘spray and pray’ styles, where the player simply inputs fire weapon commands relentlessly spraying rooms with fully-automatic weapons, the programers factored in elements of teamwork. Utilizing teamwork in the games is the best way to counteract the excellent artificial intelligence of the enemies, who often attempt to flank the player, flush the player out of cover with explosives, or set other various traps. Finally, the games are the first to feature and popularize an ‘Active Reload’ mechanism, in which the player may manually reload their weapon, as a sort of in-combat mini-game, which rewards the player by reloading their weapon faster, and allowing it to do more damage. In these ways, The Gears of War trilogy stands out from all other shooters, being the first to incorporate these fantastic elements.
If the player is more visually-inclined, however, he or she is most likely to first notice the detail given to describing the war-torn cities in which the characters fight. Rendering such once-exquisite, now run-down buildings in such detail speaks miles for the artistic skills of the programers; in fact, the beauty of the buildings, themselves, is only outdone by the variety of the architecture featured in the games. While most of the buildings draw heavily from the breathtaking architectural eloquence of Elizabethan, Tudor, and Greco-Roman styles, the amount of thought put into the creation of things as simple as buildings in the backdrop becomes apparent when one notices no two buildings are alike- something rarely seen in games.
The artistic elements of The Gears of War franchise are further extrapolated by the expertly-directed cutscenes. Releasing trailers featuring massive battles, with certain shots put to slow, mournful music, Epic and Microsoft tease the fans with promises of storytelling. The games each feature hours of cutscenes, each with expert voice-acting to elucidate plot developments and twists, all while playing on the emotions of the player- each game features several important, touching moments, so that even players who normally skip through cutscenes stop to watch the events unfold.
Additionally, something which The Gears of War trilogy captures, which many games neglect, is the combination of its greatest elements, a balance and contrast of fast-paced battles with more quite cutscenes, gore with beauty, and the riveting, stark feelings of soldiers in wartime with the light-hearted, humorous moments in which the characters retain their humanity. While so many games pit players against enemies with no particular motivation to kill them, The Gears of War franchise uses its cutscenes and plot developments to give the player purpose, so behind every slain enemy lies a reason; the player slips into the characters’ respective frames of mind, assuming the projections of characters’ motives. While so many games simply spout massive amounts of gore, or on the other hand, shy away, choosing a family-friendly stance, or perhaps, just a more ‘tastefully-artistic’ (yet utterly void and boring) one, Gears is capable of juxtaposing the two in a medium which allows players to kill in brutal or more merciful ways. While so many games fail to accurately capture human nature in the face of horrible events, the voice actors and actresses of the series so fantastically portray the characters that the characters become human to the player, further encompassing the player in the games and sequences of events surrounding the trilogy.
While the trilogy has been criticized for its lack of storylines, many players would agree that the plot is more than satisfying. In fact, the experts at G4 reviewed Gears of War 3, saying, “supporting characters should be seen and not heard.” Furthermore, G4 hailed the game’s Unreal 3 Engine’s contribution to the graphics, called the game “more than your money’s worth,” and “the best game we possibly could have hoped for” (Michael Leffler, g4tv.com, Gears of War 3 Review, Sep 15, 2011)
For its fantastic reputation alone, The Gears of War trilogy should be played. But for its beautiful graphics- entire cities described and carved through bits of code- for its engaging cutscenes- cinematic works of art featuring fantastic acting- and for its fresh take on a beloved style of videogames- juxtaposing a very playable, simple style alongside the need to plan with multiple units and use tactical cover- The Gears of War franchise should be canonized.