Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Like a Kid Again

Chris LaVigne | 15 Jul 2008 12:39
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Gore is an integral part of the Gears experience, and it's lavishly rendered onscreen. Buckets of brown-black fluid leap out of every bullet wound. Fresh corpses lie in small ponds of what used to be their insides. A close-range shotgun blast is enough to explode torsos into crumbling chunks of meat. But the distillation of the Gears aesthetic is your character`s chainsaw bayonet, which vividly splatters a fountain of blood all over the screen whenever you saw into enemies with it. Videogames are no strangers to violence, but the attention paid to creating such exaggerated depictions of injury and death puts Gears in a different league (alongside the likes of Mortal Kombat, Soldier of Fortune, Manhunt and God of War).

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Raining carnage on your enemies in Gears isn't leavened with the black humor of, say, a Grand Theft Auto title. Gears is a silly game that takes itself way too seriously. An epic orchestral score accompanies players` death-dealing as though the game was some Spielbergian tragedy. Protagonist Marcus Fenix and his comrades grunt jaded, war-weary dialogue one minute, but gleefully shout ``Sweet!`` and ``Hell yeah!`` when slaughtering enemies only moments later. Its "He-Man on steroids"-sized characters should be parodies, with their sandpaper voices, perfectly sculpted five o'clock shadows and space-marine-chic outfits. Instead, they're presented without irony as the manliest of men - equal parts World War II platoon, football team and biker gang. Playing Gears of War feels like stepping into the sports car your balding, middle-aged, recently divorced uncle just bought. The desperate stench of overcompensation fills the air.

That's coming from a 30-year-old, anyway. In the eyes of a kid, I'm sure everything that's stupid and ridiculous about Gears comes off as being "totally sweet." Posters of Fenix are no doubt plastered on many a young boy`s wall. Gears creator Cliff Bleszinski said the characters in his game were meant to "look like an idealized sci-fi version of what your average teenage boy would like to be." It's a cute quote we can all easily nod along with, but consider it more closely and it becomes disconcerting. Do we really want to reinforce the half-formed ideals of teenage boys? Should games pander to (and solidify) the uninformed stereotypes that dwell inside a child's mind?

This unhealthy sense of what is presented as ideal in Gears is a big part of what makes it such an immature game. Though it attempts to pass them off as heroes, Gears` protagonists are more like psychopaths, unable to contain their joy at the violence they unleash and solving every problem with a gun. As most children mature into adults, violence loses its appeal. Fascination with gore is replaced with a realization of what the consequences of injury and death really are. Images of war as something exciting for our G.I. Joes to undertake are replaced with the knowledge that when real human lives are at stake, war is a terrifyingly serious subject. Gears` version of war is a childish one, focused completely on the idea that violence is fun and cool while ignoring its graver aspects.

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