Gears of War 2 was one of the biggest disappointments of my life. Period. In a life marred by things failing to ever live up to my already meager expectations, that’s saying something. After a solid first entry in their machismo, testosterone-addled franchise, I had high hopes that the sequel would deliver more tight gameplay and visceral set pieces, as well as delve deeper into the established fiction, which was ripe with potential.
Instead of this complete package that built off the strengths of the first installment, I got Gears of War 2. The story was laughably terrible, the character development (if you can call it that) made me cringe, and the gameplay actually felt somewhat dated. I’m not sure what exactly I was looking for, but incoherent grunts and offensive, borderline racist dialogue wasn’t it. Even the gunplay was a letdown; it was still the “stop and pop” style shooter, but the build of the levels and placement of the chest-high walls for which your roided-out character takes cover behind created a sense of the game playing itself. When you can walk into a battle and see exactly the way the developer intended you to progress, it transforms the experience into a sort of rail shooter. Instead of being in control, I was along for the ride. Mix this with fights inside of the belly of a worm and one of the most anticlimactic finales of this generation, and Gears of War 2 just wasn’t as good of a game as everyone led me to believe.
So forgive me if I’m not buying the early hype and positive reviews for Gears of War 3, especially given what aspects of the game the reviewers are basing their scores on.
The general consensus is Gears 3 does what people expect it to. The bad story is overlooked because, as one source points out, “if you’re playing Gears for the story, you’re playing for the wrong reasons.” Since when is a lack of a compelling story and character development acceptable? Aren’t these the same reviews that bash Japanese game development in general because their characterizations are “over the top” and “hard to relate to,” the same outlets that decry a mechanically sound title for “not breaking any new ground?” Why is it acceptable all of a sudden for a top-tier franchise to get away with these same fundamental problems? Could you imagine a film review coming out with this same reasoning? (Can I address the reader with one more question in this paragraph?) “Well, the film’s plot was written by sea lions, and I’m pretty sure some of the character’s dialogue was straight out of Gigli, but damn if the special effects weren’t awesome. Five stars!”
It’s like every reviewer is too mesmerized by the stellar production values and too aware of the franchise’s popularity to call out any of the game’s flaws. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I feel like if you custom created a car for me and made it as shiny as possible — painted omnipotent kitties across the side and just gave it the works — I would still call it out if the engine was powered by guinea pigs. Maybe that analogy was a little too obscure, but I think you understand my point.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure Gears of War 3 will be a solid game. I will undoubtedly enjoy my time with it and consider it worth the rental. But a great review can change my opinion from renting a title to buying it, and when I can’t trust the reviewers’ aptitude to honestly praise as well as criticize, it’s a problem.
Of course, this sort of unprofessional bias isn’t isolated to Gears of War. Nearly every game that builds a substantial amount of prerelease hype seems to garner a much higher score than it actually deserves. I won’t pretend to understand the nuances of Call of Duty’s multiplayer, because I don’t generally partake in getting embarrassed by foulmouthed 8-year-olds online, but am I the only one unimpressed by COD’s single-player campaign every year? The production values are through the roof, and the gameplay is tight, but isn’t this the same game we’ve played dozens and dozens of times now? Are we just so impressed by gorgeous visuals and an admittedly dynamic engine that we’re willing to forgive monotonous, uninspired gameplay? When your protagonists and plot make Master Chief and Halo look like the video game version of Grapes of Wrath, that’s usually not a good sign that your story is connecting with its audience.
It’s time for these media outlets to understand that their responsibility isn’t to fuel the flames of popularity and cash in on the hype of the reviewed game; rather, it’s to deliver the honest assessment of a title, and, without bias or predetermined expectations, report what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t. Whether they want to or not, their word affects whether someone will spend their money on the product in question, and it’s time that they take this seriously.
Reviewing outlets, you are a trusted source in exploring the gaming medium, not a bunch of graphic whore fanboys. Act like it.