This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Gears of War 4.
You know what's funny? Sticking fish fingers up your nose and blowing raspberries to the Captain Pugwash theme tune.
But you know what's funny about Gears of War? It's a series with a fairly respectable heritage about it, an early Xbox 360 game attached to the venerable Cliff Bleszinski, with focus on a grand architectural aesthetic and a solid core gameplay style that has had a lasting influence on shooter design to this day, and yet, when you actually sit down and PLAY one of them you swiftly remember: "Oh that's right, these games are for absolute cretins." Every aspect of a Gears of War game, from the way characters waddle about the battlefield making a sound like they're carrying rucksacks full of saucepans, to the incessant asinine dialogue, to the fact that you could cut two minutes out of literally any Gears of War game and I doubt I could tell for the life of me which of the four it came from although I'd bet confidently on those two minutes consisting of hanging around a bunch of chest high walls shooting at dudes that look like the Sugar Puffs monster, make playing a Gears of War game feel like trying to explain something to an incredibly slow-witted man who will get angry and sit on your head every time you say a word he doesn't understand.
Gears of War 4 continues the story of a brave group of plot writers as they struggle to continue a plot that was supposed to have been decisively tied up at the end of Gears of War 3. The Locust have been gone for about thirty years and the human race have had time to get into some nice traditional internal squabbles between those who want to live in walled cities where robots cater to their every whim and those ostensibly much smarter and more relatable people who want to live in wooden huts and shit in the woods. Although in fairness the only city we get to see inside of seemed to be entirely deserted except for robots and Sarah Palin.
Shortly this uneasy peace is shattered when a new threat arises, and by 'new threat' I mean precisely the same threat as always. The Locust come back. That's about all the explanation we get. The Locust can just all come back to life apparently if they detect perfect environmental conditions for sequel. This established, one wonders why the characters are even bothering to fight them. The enemy is immortal, guys, I think this planet is officially a lost cause. Maybe we could find another one that doesn't have city-destroying super storms every half hour. Speaking of, if these storms are a regular thing then why does one completely destroy Marcus Fenix's house the moment we show up? Surely it would have to have weathered at least a few of those before we arrived.
Oh whoops, that was a bit of a spoiler, wasn't it, because when the game starts we're playing as an all new fresh-faced Scooby gang of infuriating youngsters whose quips make me want to grind a broken highball glass in their eye, so we might take from this that the series is at least trying to make a fresh start, even if the combat's the same and every character still looks like they're wearing a neck brace under their flesh. But then two chapters in Marcus Fenix shows up and the plot proceeds to revolve around him for the remainder of the run time.
Maybe a Gears of War sequel being a sequel to Gears of War isn't exactly an automatic strike against, but even in his prime Marcus Fenix was a boring grunty miseryguts with one end broken off his emotional spectrum so God knows why you'd think he'd liven up the new cast now that he's undergone no development except he's rocking a grey beard and a catheter bag. Then, towards the end all the other old characters show up to save the day as well because fuck it, let's turn this into a later Next Generation Star Trek film where the entire cast obviously have their girdles laced up so tight they're going cross-eyed. "Pandering" is a good word. "So stuck up it's own arse it's wearing its own large intestine like a wizard hat" is a good several words.
There's even a scene where the characters put on classic armour from the old games in a room like a fucking Apple store as the music swells and it's like the scene where Batman puts his stockings on at the start of the third act, and I had a little laugh because there was one piece of women's armour for the token lady in the party and it was about one tenth of the size of the men's chest plates, it was like a meerkat infiltrated a gorilla sanctuary.
So all in all Gears of War 4 feels largely unchanged from the established formula and the series remains about as resistant to evolution as a school board in the deep south, although they do mix up the gameplay a grand total of about three times in the course of the campaign to play a bit of tower defense. You have to protect a central area from three waves of baddies and you're given a little spending money to place turrets and suchlike. Unfortunately in single player at least the game gives you barely enough each round to buy one turret and maybe a Twix on the way home, and the turrets are made from oily rags and Ryvita so these sections very swiftly turn into yet another identical bloody shootout.
I mentioned asinine dialogue up there, and you know what, I get the feeling Gears of War 4 was a gig that the voice actors either absolutely loved or utterly dreaded. Because on the one hand, all they had to do was show up at the studio and say the following three lines: "That's the last of them", "Let's keep moving" and "Oh this isn't good" and bingo, that was 90% of the story dialogue done. Then it was just mid-combat one-liners to worry about and all they had to do for that was candidly record the voice actors squeezing their pimples. "Got one! Scratch one grub!" etc. But on the other hand, it's got to be a chore for any serious actor to try to inject life and personality where none exists. I think I see why they gradually brought all the old characters back and turned it into Aliens Versus Last of the Summer Wine - because after two chapters of just the new kids on the block it was painfully clear that things weren't working out.
With our hero generic white dude with unflappable hairdo and chin like a fucking Transformers lunchbox, his black best friend and token lady to rest his mouth on when they're done dribbling banalities at each other. One of them is the smart technical one, one of them is the ditzy one, and one of them is the one taking things seriously. Unfortunately I guess there was a falling out in the writers room and they couldn't agree on which was which, so as a compromise the game spins a fucking wheel at the start of every dialogue and randomly reassigns the roles.
So once again I reach the end of a Gears of War game and find myself hard pressed to recount any highlights because I spent most of it lulled into a trance. I know there was a bit in an industrial area and a bit in some caves and a bit in a town with once proud architecture now besmirched by the unfeeling hand of conflict, but that could be any Gears of War game, or indeed, most games.
You know, I pause for a moment in any given shootout and I look at the sheer detail in the surrounding environment right down to the cobblestones in the floor, and I have to wonder, how does the artist who painted that cobblestone feel about all their hard work being part of something that passes through the mind so utterly inconsequentially? As the target audience trudges on to find another thing to shoot, ignoring a brief character moment to shove another handful of cheesy snacks down their orange-stained windpipes? I wonder if they ever dream of doing more artistically fulfilling work, like directing facial cumshots.
- Prefers the chunk style: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Blimey did you see Riker and Troi in Star Trek Nemesis I felt like their wedding night would require scaffolding
- Oh this isn't good let's keep moving