It's not easy to produce a game that will please everybody. Often developers must choose between compelling and enjoyable gameplay, or a strongly-written narrative, since mastering both has only been achieved by an elite few. The Gears of War series is no exception, often coming under fire for its desire to mesh heart-wrenching drama with testosterone-drenched bravado. Epic Games' Cliff Bleszinski is willing to acknowledge that the studio's choices haven't always been the right ones, but believes Gears of War 3 is the first step of many to take the series into more mature territory.
While the advertising campaigns of previous games - and Gears of War 3 in particular - have managed to blend the savagery of war with more emotionally evocative imagery and music, the gameplay itself has been a sharp contrast. The protagonists of Gears of War 3 have continued the tradition of being anything but upstanding and chivalrous soldiers, and as likely to insult an enemy's mother as execute him.
But while the 'dude-bro' perception of Epic's space marines is indicative of many games on the market, the amount of drama that the storytellers have tried to bring is unique. Unfortunately, the friends and loved ones that have fallen victim to the Locust War in glorious and gut-wrenching scenes aren't given the emotional significance they're entitled to. Sure, seeing Tai Kaliso succumb to the Locust taint was tragic, but within minutes the player was smack-talking and butchering more enemies.
Nowhere was this problem more evident than in Dominic Santiago's final reunion with his wife, Maria. The scene is often pointed to as one that had no place being in Gears of War 2; a sign of Epic's reach exceeding its grasp. But in speaking with EDGE, series creator Cliff Bleszinski disagrees with that inference and explains that the story itself wasn't the problem:
"The problem was that we didn't earn it. The cutscene was very well done, in my opinion, even though it was, you know, buff guys in armour, things like that. If I could go back and change it I would have had many more flashback scenes where you build up how Dom and Maria were before as well as teasing the fact that it might not end well.
"The other problem of course is our GUD system, which stands for Gears Unscripted Dialogue. The fact that we put in these barks of the characters shouting out things as gameplay feedback — for a perfect active reload, "shit yeah"; or you take out an enemy, "suck it". Those contribute to the game's dude-bro perception but they're designed to serve as gameplay feedback mechanics. I had wanted to disable Dom's GUD system for at least the next few levels after that, so he didn't just kill his wife and now he's yelling out "hell yeah!" as he's killing Locusts, but I believe it got unhooked before we shipped."
While those who had only played through the games in the series may have found Dom and Maria's final encounter somewhat out of place, the Gears of War novels did a great deal in explaining the relationship. Skeptics might say the novels will always be more capable of delivering strong narratives than video games, but that's far from the truth. Best-selling author Karen Traviss (who wrote those novels) was brought in to write the story for the final game in the trilogy, and believes herself that video games can be a dominant form of storytelling.
The story and character driving the Gears of War story have been somewhat overlooked to this point, with the campy and over-the-top humor of the series taking center stage. Bleszinski says that while that camp-factor is something that fans have really responded too, it's not exactly where the development team would like to take the next games in the series:
"Camp is something that I would love to continue to evolve the franchise away from — there's no giant worm in Gears 3. Gears was always intended to be more Band Of Brothers than Predator. We got a lot more towards Predator and I'd love to steer it towards Band Of Brothers."
We don't know how well that will sit with the current fans of the Gears of War 'dude-bros,' but after the latest game, we can't wait to see what comes next from Epic Games.
How do you feel about Bleszinski's comments? If the Dom/Maria storyline had been given more attention would you have approved? What kind of direction would you like to see the series go?
Gears of War 3 is available now, exclusively for the Xbox 360.
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