It's doubtful anyone looks to Gears of War as the pinnacle of video game storytelling. The bombastic, brotastic third-person shooter has all the tropes of a classic "shoot first, ask questions never" '80s B-action movie, and even Cliff Bleszinski has acknowledged yearning for a greater "Band of Brothers" vibe.
But just how does it compare to the rest of the industry landscape? According to Dead Space story producer Chuck Beaver (Everything or Nothing, 007: Nightfire) - speaking in an official EA interview - Gears of War's writing is 'atrocious' and represents the worst games have to offer. That's that's not all though...
In the same breath, Beaver explains how poor storytelling isn't necessarily a detriment to many gamers, later proclaiming that writing in the original Dead Space was almost equally abhorrent. OK, now we're lost.
In what has to be one of the stranger interviews you'll hear (or read about) in a while, Beaver gnashes into Gears and its litany of literary shortcomings, but then seems to backtrack, admitting that he and the rest of the team in charge of the Dead Space series have their challenges as well:
[Warning: spoilers may lie ahead]
"Story can only ruin a game for those people who care about story, so it's a conditional answer. For instance, Gears of War: It contains atrocious, offensive violations of story basics. Yet it doesn't seem to ruin it for many, many people. It's literally the worst writing in games, but seems to have no ill effects."
When prompted on Dead Space:
"Oh yes! We knew so little about story back then, and overruled our writers on a lot. Dead Space was just a simple haunted house story that we later pasted a personal aspect on top of - a lost girlfriend who is really dead.
"Dead Space 2 was a huge challenge. All these elements from the original game that were poorly thought through, like the Marker Lore, Necro ecology, etc., had to move coherently forward into the next narrative. The first story we had was a wreck of unrelated events and broken structure, so we cut our teeth getting that into shape, and didn't fully make it.
"Plus, we got lost a bit in complicated lore and plot elements that didn't come through. And don't even get me started on the final boss sequence that they put in without me in the meeting! That was fun."
So what's the moral of the story?
"Does everyone hate Transformers? Some yes, some no. Some people like brainless Michael Bay stuff, others hate it. The same thing will apply to us."
Honest, careless, bitter for being left out of a meeting, the argument that Beaver seems intent on bringing up isn't whether or not bad writing hurts games, but rather, when should audiences be discerning on such a principle? When does it cheapen the overall experience and when is it just fine that we're only here for blasting off heads or ripping out spines? These are actually some of the seminal questions facing the industry today and are well worth debating; it's unfortunate that Beaver couldn't stay above the belt (He also cited Portal 2 as a successful blend of writing and design.)
Consequently, the controversy sparked by Beaver's comments over the week was so intense that it caught the ear of EA - who has now pulled the plug on the interview. Whether it was because they disagreed with the notion that Gears' writing was 'atrocious,' didn't appreciate the honesty about Dead Space's own narrative merits, or were acting from a pure PR posture, it's not quite clear: they've yet to issue a statement on the matter.
Ranters, if you read our Gears of War 3 review or Dead Space 2 review, you'd know that we thoroughly enjoyed each game - storytelling premise and all. So where do you stand on Beaver's comments? Was he out of line? Is Gears of War truly a blight on game writing? Should some games get a pass if they manage to convey aspects other than a resonant narrative?
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Source: EA - "Breaking into the Industry" [via Eurogamer]