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Gears Of War 3 failed to connect me to a role I wanted to play. While the theatrics and pyrotechnics were impressive, as much as I tried I didn't want to spent time with the people living through the hellfire and brimstone.
Most of our cultural media takes us on a journey. Through books and films we experience the worlds they present to us. With games, opposed to books and films the interactivity makes this link stronger.
So when I'm playing a game it's all the more important that I want to be the character I'm playing or, at the very least, I'm not bored, repulsed or turned off by them.
Playing a first/third person shooter is like putting on someone else's skin, but it the most generic of ways. It's a fascinating piece of theatre trickery but ends up amounting to very little. Whether I am the United States Marine Corps or the Russian Forces makes no real difference to me in Battlefield 3, as the teams are even and they are generic people in the world of the game.
This is in service of a gameplay, but avoids something much more entertaining and engaging - a real encounter with another world. Perhaps it's for the good in these violent shooters - we escape the many sociological and political problems surrounding warfare. Our virtual wards allow us to play as both sides with little genuine character back story.
But Gears Of War 3 is different. You play, in third person, as your chosen character and are confronted by all kinds of questions. Who are they, what do they stand for and why should I care about them?
I'm not the most macho, alpha male and I suppose you could be forgiven for thinking that I might want to explore that side of myself in the fantasy of a game. And certainly games allow us a safe place to explore different experiences and different parts of ourselves - good and bad.
They are emotionally stunted, immature people, who appear to have no endearing qualities.
But in Gears of War 3 I struggle to get into the role of Marcus et al. or have anything in common with them. They are emotionally stunted, immature people, who appear to have no endearing qualities. Their abrasive manner and complete lack of empathy for others really puts me in an awkward position. There to ensure humans survive - but are all the human beings left alive just meaty necked, instinct driven, killing machines and if they are, do we really want to save them?
It soon becomes clear that the reason the locusts have had to populate the surface is because humans have poisoned their underground society with emulsion. I have to carve up Locust's faces with a chainsaw, while being aware we are also the reason they are populating "our" planet's surface.
I just don't feel good about that. The locusts are too easily demonised, seen as evil, animalistic and dumb; but the human characters aren't much better.
Cole acts like his head is so full of steroids that he can no longer string together a coherent sentence. Baird is meant to be annoying, but seems to me to be the most honest and self aware - he's just a bit of an idiot. Carmine was believably human, but the game implies that is why they always died.
He's just a bit of an idiot.
In this play space we are punished for inexperience, weakness and not being built like some kind of testosterone swollen wall. Oh yes, there are two women characters now, but they have no personality other than the fact that they are women (one of them is a bit sarcastic, but I'm not convinced that really counts).
That leaves our two protagonists - Dom and Marcus. Marcus is uninteresting, shallow and a long way from a positive role model. I certainly wouldn't want to spend time with him. Dom seems to be the character we are supposed to link with. His love for Maria helps, but his response to her death was a leap in the dark for me - grow a beard, some vegetables and have drastic personality surgery, I just couldn't make that leap, I'm afraid.
If this was a piece of film or theatre, we would be utterly confused by the lack of coherent character development. Being a game doesn't mean we should let Gears off that same aesthetic and cultural hook. In fact we should be getting more from the characters.
Writers are employed to develop the story and characters, but it doesn't seem to happen here and a huge game franchise. Even the Stranded in the game, a great opportunity to see the meat of humanity redeem itself, are simplistic, fractious, difficult and unpleasant.
I want a role to play that's three dimensional, complex and believable.
I want a role to play that's three dimensional, complex and believable. I want my character's actions to come from their background, the situation they are in and the choices they have had to make. I just doesn't happen in Gears.
I didn't enjoy Gears 3. Can you tell? Halfway thought I simply didn't care about the fate of the human race. It's easy to write me off as a hater, but I really wanted to enjoy it. Maybe I'm growing out of these games so that I no longer want to spend my time living vicariously through unbalanced and unpleasant people. After all, where's the fun in that?
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: