This article is a look back on Gears of War and all of its sequels. I played the first Gears of War not long after it first came out nearly 10 years ago on Xbox 360. I only recently grabbed a copy of Gears of War 2 in a bargain bin for about three bucks, Gears of War 3 was free on Xbox 360 through the Games with Gold program, and Gears of War Judgement was free through the same program months ago. Recently, I took the time to complete the entire campaign across all four games, from start to finish.
Marcus Fenix is a soldier of the COG, The Coalition of Ordered Governments. Marcus is court martialed for something you really don’t learn about until Gears of War 3, but returned to active service to fight against the Locust, a race of subterranean creatures that emerged from underground and attempted to take over the surface world. As for why, that’s again explained in the third game. But back then, all you needed to know was: “You and your friends are good, those guys are bad and also monsters, and that general just stabbed your commanding officer in the middle of the war torn street…so go shoot them!”
The Locust in Gears of War are led by General Raam and even across all four games in this series. His presence is powerful and imposing, so much so that I can’t really remember who actually was the main antagonist in Gears of War 2 while the Queen of the Locust in Gears of War 3 felt kind of boring by comparison. General Karn was the main villain in Gears of War Judgement and while he had potential to be great, the fact that you don’t actually see him do something on screen for most of the game until the final battle leaves him with kind of a “blah” feeling when you finally confront him.
The cast of characters are of the cookie cutter type, at least in the first Gears of War. There’s Marcus Fenix, the rough and tumble main character, Dominic Santiago is Marcus’ best friend and is the good cop to Marcus’ bad cop. Well as close as you can be in a near post apocalyptic world. There’s Damon Baird, the tech guy who knows machines, who you actually find out later is a former lieutenant demoted to private after his actions that centered around Gears of War Judgement. Then there’s Augustus Cole a.k.a. The Cole Train, former Thrashball player who took to the war against the Locust surprisingly well compared to some of the other soldiers in the COG. Later games introduce other characters like Tai, Sofia, Paduk, Anya and Jayce.
Gears of War had you race against General Raam to upload important data that was supposed to help win the war against the Locust. Gears of War 2 had the COG battling the Locust and taking the war into their home turf underground as well as fight a new enemy in the Lambent beings. Think of the Flood in the Halo games. Gears of War 3 had you discover that Marcus’ father was still alive and discovered a way to not only eradicate the Lambent nemesis, but to take care of the Locust as well. As a whole, the story doesn’t really do anything clever when it comes to actual storytelling. Having an assault rifle with a chainsaw attached to it makes an average story easier to deal with however. Gears of War is really more about the game play, which brings us to the next topic.
Gears of War is a third person shooter that relies heavily on you firing while taking cover to shield yourself from taking enemy fire. When the first Gears of War was released, this mechanic of the game was very similar to an original Xbox game called Kill Switch. The mechanic has you diving into cover to using blind fire and using your gun safely while behind cover to sacrifice accuracy. When playing Gears of War if you choose to ignore cover, you’ll be torn apart under a hail of enemy gunfire within seconds.
When your health enters critical levels you don’t die right away, you go into a “down but not out” state, where you start to bleed out until one of your squad mates or your co-op player comes to you and picks you up, reviving you so that you can start shooting again. You’ll only die if you completely bleed out or take a critical blow that instantly kills you or tears your body into pieces.
The weapons used across all three games got better and better with each game. In the first Gears of War I almost exclusively used the Lancer rifle, the chainsaw bayoneted machine gun. When I wasn’t I used the Hammer of Dawn whenever it was available. Gears of War 2 gives you at some points the Boomshield, which is basically a massive shield that can be planted on the ground and can be used as cover, or you can walk around with it to draw enemy fire while shooting with your hand gun. Gears of War 3 made the Torque Bow, which was introduced as far back as the first game, way more fun and satisfying to use. Especially with the introduction of certain enemies that are literally impervious to bullets, but weak to explosive weapons.
Speaking of enemies, the ones you come across in every game were so much fun to fight. Creative designs in the later games had you switch up your arsenal at a constant basis. In the first game, I used the Lancer nearly the whole entire game except for the final battle with Raam where I experimented with the Torque Bow for something stronger. Gears of War 2 introduced Lambent Locusts, which forced you to avoid getting too close to the enemy since they explode after death. At the same time, however, if the enemies get closer, the shotguns feel much more satisfying to use to clear out a row of them all at once. Gears of War 3 gave you mech suits to use in certain areas as well as more weapons with more firepower, especially since there’s more enemies to fight, such as the Armored Kantus, enemies that are immune to bullets so explosives were needed to beat them.
The boss fights in Gears of War 2 were increased in intensity like fighting a gigantic Leviathan and in Gears of War 3 if feels like the game loves throwing large enemies at you, but it avoids getting old and tiresome for the most part. The final battle did feel a little limp aside from using the Hammer of Dawn satellite laser for probably the second time in that entire game. They give you several to use throughout the fight.
What Could Be Better
Difficulty scaling felt a little lofty in these games. Luckily it’s easily mitigated by offering several different difficulty levels, ranging literally from Casual to Hardcore. As someone who never really plays shooting games at all, Normal mode felt way too easy, so I actually managed to finish the game in Hardcore mode, one of the few games I completed in one of the hardest difficulty settings.
Gears of War Judgement was by far the buggiest of the series, where 1/4 of the time I took enough damage to go down, my character would only get up and keep playing, but the camera would be fixed and I’d still be bleeding out until my character would just drop dead.
Other than that, the game’s story didn’t exactly blow me away. The weapons were cool and the enemies were even cooler, but the story was pretty passe. Gears of War story was pretty good, Gears of War 2 was kind of forgettable, and Gears of War 3 was alright but aside from a few moments here and there with a couple of the characters. At that point it felt like you were just going through the motions to finish the game. Other than that I personally wish I got more time to play as Cole, which you can get by playing Gears of War 3 and Gears of War Judgement. But Cole’s time in both of those games felt pretty short overall. In fact, Gears of War: Judgement had you spend the whole entire game switching off between four characters throughout the entire game, which was a great change of pace after playing as exclusively Marcus across two and a half games. Let’s hope when Gears of War 4 releases, it’ll do things the same way.
Also, there’s a good amount of side story and events happen through the Gears of War series of novels that aren’t fully explained to you if you’re only playing the games. Like regarding the faction Paduk fought for before the Locust attack, why was he so anti-COG?
Gears of War is a great series as a whole. It suffers in the plot department a little in some areas but gameplay wise it’s solid the entire way through. Cole is awesome with the Carmine family being second in my favorites. The multiplayer horde mode is also fun. After playing all four of these games, I’m excited to play Gears of War 4 when it’s released on Xbox One in 2016, as well as the Gears of War Ultimate Edition, a remake of the first game with added content and next-gen graphics being released later this month.