Friday, June 24, 2011

Learning from Gears of War (Part 2)

In my last post, I promised I'd talk about some of the good aspects of Gears of War. So, here are some of the things that the game does well.

Thematically Consistent Aesthetics
While I lamented in my previous post about the boring nature of the appearance of Gears of War, this is mainly because of the colour palette. However, despite the fact that the aesthetic artistry is somewhat lacking, the technical side of things is fantastic. I'm not simply talking about the fact that the Unreal Engine looks really good and that there's a great deal of fidelity in the visuals, even though that's perfectly true. The success of the art is how well it fits the overall setting and theme of the game. The setting of the game is a world torn apart by ongoing conflict, destroyed but the locust horde and also by the humans themselves. Despite that the levels aren't pretty to look at, they fit the setting of the game perfectly. The painstakingly created levels and environments all reek of a planet torn to pieces by conflict, and this constant reinforcement creates a cohesive and realistic backdrop for the game itself.

Gameplay variance
Really and truly, when it comes to a shooter, the important part is the gameplay and this is an area where Gears can and does deliver. Cover based fighting, run and gun, flanking, defense segments, rail shooter pieces and bosses that need specific tactics.... they all combine into a complete and diverse package. Sure some of these segments can get pretty darned annoying at times, but they add variance to the gameplay to make it interesting. Even though they sometimes raise the player's blood pressure through repeated dying at certain points, having set pieces does make for a more engrossing gameplay experience. Variety makes the game more interesting, even if at times it is frustrating. Of course, such variation should not go down the Dead Space route of having turret sections that are so randomised that it makes success more an issue of luck than skill, but fortunately Gears doesn't do that.

Getting something that you can't kill to chase you makes for an interesting time

Co-operative mode
This may sound weird from someone who is such a huge fan of player choice and story-driven games, but I love co-operative gameplay. Playing a game with your friends and getting the sense of achievement together of overcoming challenges is superb. This has been the case all the way back since the days of Doom. The fact that Gears allows you to "pick up" your buddy who has "died" further promotes the sense of teamwork that all co-op play tries to instill. Overcoming a goal on your own is fun, but doing it together with a friend is even better. I heartily commend any FPS (or any game) that allows players to work together to win - any game that offers this as a seamless part of the experience is offering good replay value.

Seamless mini-game mechanic
Gears of War's "active reload" mechanic deserves a mention all of its own for how it adds a new mini-game into the typically mundane task of reloading. For those not aware of the mechanic, while reloading, a small gauge moves along a line which is the default time taken to reload. However, along the gauge there is a specified range in which the player can hit the reload button again in order to reload faster. If they hit it at the very beginning of this range, they not only get the fastest possible reload, but also gain a temporary damage boost. However, should the player hit the reload button outside of this "sweet spot" range, they will actually take longer to reload than if they had done nothing at all.

The active reload gauge

Aside from making the process of reloading inherently more interesting, it also forces the player to decide their approach to the mechanic. If under pressure during a firefight, does the player want to try and get the damage boost? This presents the risk of pressing the button too early and putting them out of action for longer, whereas they could simply wait a fraction of a second longer and almost certainly guarantee a faster than normal reload. This is a perfectly integrated mini-game that even provides the player with a small degree of choice that affects gameplay. Mechanics like this serve to make games more interesting and fun.

Gears of War isn't the best game created, but it is an enjoyable shooter romp. If you enjoy a game and find it fun, then it has definitely succeeded on some level, and Gears certainly fits that bill in my books.

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