Gears of War

A Growing Problem in Storytelling

Ask any fighter; experience trumps strength, but experience and strength trumps all. This may seem like a strange way to start a piece about writing stories, but as per usual I will do my best to bring it home.

Spoiler(ish) warning for The Last of Us and the Fallout series.

Monsters, mutants, aliens or whatever horrific enemies your protagonists will carve their way through as your story progresses, individually they tend to be pretty static in their abilities. You may get different varieties of said enemies, but typically they’re separate from one another while also working together. You can have the physically weak but fast and numerous ones, they’re good cannon fodder for your characters to mow down. You can have the run of the mill grunts or drones, they’re basically comparable in ability to your protagonists and often make great opponents for them. Finally, there’s the big guys, the lumbering giants that tend to increase the likelihood of character death the second they step on scene. Each of these enemy types has its own strengths and weaknesses, and you can use them to your advantage when trying to tell a compelling story. One type on their own is a predictable affair, two different types requires some thinking and encountering all three becomes a tactical nightmare.

The Locust Horde from  Gears of War  is a great example ,  it’s comprised of lots of different creatures all working together… to exterminate humanity.

The Locust Horde from Gears of War is a great example, it’s comprised of lots of different creatures all working together… to exterminate humanity.

The key issue here is that while they’re typically united in a cause, doing whatever your characters don’t want them to do, these forces are typically comprised of disparate creatures. It’s the Vampire Lord’s undead horde, the Space Pontiff’s interstellar legion or the Orc King’s goblinoid swarm, it’s different creatures working together. If gives your antagonists some variety and keeps things interesting for the audience. This isn’t always the only way to create an antagonistic force, however.

Sometimes, enemies will start as the small and weak creature, then as time progresses they will morph into the typical grunt and then after a long while they will eventually transform into the lumbering brute. It’s a great way to show that the force your characters are facing is a truly homogeneous group, despite their appearances suggesting otherwise. Instead of being a menagerie of strange and horrific creatures that are working together for some random reason, they’re all the same and working together for that exact reason.

While having a unified force, comprised of different sub-categories of creatures that evolve into one another over time, does come with its narrative advantages, it also creates a serious problem. If time is the only deciding factor, then it’s inevitable that your characters are eventually going to have a literally big fucking problem on their hands. To showcase this point, we’re going to be looking at two series - The Last of Us and Fallout.

They’re armored and have ranged attacks, these guys are a real threat.

They’re armored and have ranged attacks, these guys are a real threat.

In The Last of Us, humanity basically gets wiped out by fungal zombies. When a person becomes infected, they start out as a Runner, then after about a month they become a Stalker. After about a year of being a Stalker, they become a Clicker. Then, roughly ten to fifteen years after infection they become a monstrous Bloater. Their abilities change somewhat as they evolve, becoming less human as they change, but the basic idea is that they become more difficult to deal with the longer they’re infected.

You think they could’ve fixed the stupidly sized fire hydrants between  Fallout 3  and  Fallout 4…

You think they could’ve fixed the stupidly sized fire hydrants between Fallout 3 and Fallout 4…

In the Fallout series, most notably Fallout 3, Fallout 4 and Fallout 76, East Coast Super Mutants continue to grow as they age. The FEV mutagen that turned them into Super Mutants continues to change their physiology and while they’re already stupid brutes, eventually it turns them into lumbering Behemoths that are of gargantuan proportions. This worked in Fallout 3 and Fallout 4, because they’re set over two centuries after the world ended and Super Mutants were being created for roughly that length of time - two centuries to turn into a Behemoth isn’t that big of a deal. Fallout 76 changed this, however, because it’s set only 25 years after the nuclear apocalypse and there are Behemoths running around. This latest addition of the Fallout series puts the issue into roughly the same time frame as The Last of Us.

Whether you’re a survivor in The Last of Us or Fallout, you’re logically screwed just by the way in which the creators have crafted the world. Ten to twenty years is all it takes for base enemies to turn into the strongest enemies that’re available, and they don’t even get a say in the matter because it’s a natural process. Every human who is infected in The Last of Us will turn into a Bloater if they survive long enough. In Fallout, every human that’s dipped into FEV will turn into a Behemoth if they survive for long enough. It’s literally only a matter of time in both cases. Since the narratives need these creatures to be the biggest threats in their respective stories, the logical progression of events is that humanities chances of survival continue to plummet the longer the timeline continues. The Last of Us is set 20 years after the world ended, while most of the Fallout series is set centuries after the fact, which is plenty of time in both instances for the vast majority of these creatures to reach their final form.

The thing is, this could actually make your world that much more interesting. Instead of ignoring the rules you write into your own world, you can run with them and create a truly deadly setting that is a serious threat to your characters. In both The Last of Us and Fallout, if things had progressed as they should have, with humanity hiding from their growing problems instead of dealing with them… well, now they’ve got a problem that’s a million times worse. If time is the deciding factor in your enemies strength, then time is the enemy. If simply not dying is all it takes for your enemies to reach ultimate monstrous god mode, something even your protagonist and background characters have managed, then use that to your advantage.

If your zombies or mutants evolve over time, use that to create a story with unique zombies or mutants. If you don’t want your world overrun with final form enemies, then don’t set the story in a time period where that’s the logical conclusion. You’ve still got all the years before that to play with, so go nuts in the safer years. If you want an enemy force that is linked (wherein each creature evolves through each of the different forms) but you don’t want a world that’s inevitably overrun by final forms, then simply don’t make time the deciding factor. Have them get injected with a serum, or have it as some innate biological process that’s triggered when the need arises. However you do it, the golden rule is to keep your world consistent. The less your readers/players/watchers have to question how things work, the deeper they can invest in your world without making excuses for it.

Juvies (the small and fast mobs that swarm) can transform into Drones (the middle ground grunts) in  Gears of War 4 , but that’s as far as the evolution process goes.

Juvies (the small and fast mobs that swarm) can transform into Drones (the middle ground grunts) in Gears of War 4, but that’s as far as the evolution process goes.

This post isn’t about ripping on The Last of Us or the Fallout series, they’re games which means they’ve got more than just narrative issues to contend with. There’re gameplay balance issues as well, which are just as important. The thing is that a simple tweak of the narrative would allow everything to line up perfectly, and then there wouldn’t even be any issues for me to write about. If you’re making a setting, for a book, movie or game, think a little further down the line about where the natural progression of the events you set in motion will logically take things. Who knows, things could actually end up better than you originally expected?

Gears of War - Lancer Continuity

One of the key aspects of Gears of War is how horrific the Locust Horde is. The Locust are monstrous, in every sense of the word. They're bigger and stronger than the average human, and can take as much punishment as a human in full body armor. They've got claws and scales and two hearts and they live underground, it's all deliciously horrific.

There's a reason they're referred to as a "horde" of "Locusts" - they're numerous and horrificly monsterous. 

There's a reason they're referred to as a "horde" of "Locusts" - they're numerous and horrificly monsterous. 

Humanity's fight against the Locust is one of desperation, where humanity is constantly selling parts of its soul just to survive. The enemy is that tough, and brutal, that humanity has to match them just to make it through the day. And that's one of the darkest aspects of the Locust - it's not what they do to humanity, it's what they make humanity do to themselves. 

The humans in Gears of War have breeding camps, just so they can have enough soldiers to continue to fight the war. If a woman can have healthy children, she's lured into the breeding camps with the promise of extra rations. If it turns out she can't have kids, she's booted out and made to join the military. This process, while arguably necessary for survival, left a mark on humanity to the point where they had to generate a lie about the Locust reproducing via rape. Never mind that no human had ever seen where the Locust lived by this point, oh no, we may have breeding farms but the Locust rape so at least we're not *that* bad.  

There's also the fact that the Locust are clearly genetically linked to humans... but that's a story for another day. 

There's also the fact that the Locust are clearly genetically linked to humans... but that's a story for another day. 

Humanity sold a part of it's soul to survive, and generated a lie about the enemy to live with the guilt. It changed who they were as well, because even in Gears of War 4, 25 years after the Locust War has ended, they're still at it. They telling women to have babies and using gene therapy to help design those babies to better aid in repopulating the planet. Humanity sold its soul in a time of desperation and they've been paying the price ever since. 

Along with this, the planet of Gears of War, Sera, was actually destroyed by humans themselves. Just like in the Matrix, humanity was faced with an enemy so powerful that they destroyed their own world in an attempt to halt their advance. It failed, obviously, but the planet was still ruined. This time, it was done with orbital lasers. To deprive the Locust of any motivation for coming to the surface, humanity used orbital lasers to destroy their own land and resources. To ensure the plan went off without a hitch, the humans only announced the attack three days before it was launched. 

The Locust didn't do this... humans did.

The Locust didn't do this... humans did.

All of humanity had just three days to reach the safety of the one city that would be spared, obviously in a time of war it's hard to get anywhere in three days so billions of humans were killed in this attack that didn't even stop the Locust. Humanity literally killed billions of their own species, and destroyed their planet, in a failed attempt to stop the Locust from invading. There's selling your soul in a Faustian bargain and then there's tossing your soul at the shop clerk like it's little more than loose change. But this is all to show just how desperate humans were, the lengths that they were willing to go to in order to survive.

hahahaha I can't believe someone had already made this meme... 

hahahaha I can't believe someone had already made this meme... 

This brings me to the Lancer, the iconic "chainsaw gun" of the Gears of War Franchise. Before the Locust showed up, the Mark 1 Lancer was a beefy weapon that had a simple, but large, bayonet at it's end. It was used to fight other humans and it did it's job with stabby abandon.  

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But when the Locust showed up, their thick hides often caused the bayonets to either be deflected or snap on contact. This was a problem for the soldiers trying to fight the Locust, on account of them not wanting to die. In one such Locust attack, Tai Kaliso managed to kill one of the Locust Drones with a circular saw. He commented on the fact that it would make for a reliable method of killing the Locust... and the higher ups actually listened to him!

This is the Mk-1 "Retro" Lancer...

This is the Mk-1 "Retro" Lancer...

That's how desperate things were. Not only did the high-ups listen to someone down on the ground, which is absurd enough already, they also thought it was a good idea to attach a chainsaw to a gun. They got their scientists to work on the idea and they actually made it happen - thus was born the Mark 2 Lancer. 

...and this is the MK-2 Lancer!

...and this is the MK-2 Lancer!

It's an absurd idea, a chainsaw on a gun is just ridiculous. But when taken with all the other elements of the Gears of War story, it speaks to just how dire the situation is and how desperate those who remain are. "Desperate times call for desperate measures," and all that. It was a great addition to the series because it actually helped build it up instead of feeling as though it was simply tacked on to look cool.

But then we come to Gears of War Judgment, and the actual reason behind this whole post. Judgment was a prequel game, made between Gears 3 and 4, and it was set before the canon invention of the Mark 2 Lancer. But for some reason, all the characters in Judgment have the Mark 2 Lancer... despite it not being invented yet!

Why?!

Why?!

The writers said that it was present because Judgment focused on Special Forces and they access to better tech than the other soldiers. But this totally undercuts the importance of the weapon's point of inception, an act of savage desperation. I get the real reason why it's there though, the writers figured that they couldn't have a Gears of War game without the damn chainsaw gun... 

A long time ago, the Mark 2 Lancer was compared to the Lightsaber - it's an iconic weapon now. But the Lightsaber obviously had a point of creation within the Star Wars canon, a point where it was initially thought of and the first one was created as a prototype. Can you imagine the outrage that would ensue if someone wrote an official Star Wars novel, movie or game that was set before this point but it still somehow had Lightsabers in it? The nerdrage would destroy our planet!

Is it really a Gears of War game if it doesn't have the chainsaw gun? Yes... yes it is. 

Is it really a Gears of War game if it doesn't have the chainsaw gun? Yes... yes it is. 

I love Gears of War, and even Judgment was more good than bad, but this was just one decision that I cannot get behind. Having to fight the Locust in the early days of the war with inferior technology would have ramped up the intensity to an insane degree. That was the point of the game, having it set in a period where the Locust were a new and unknown entity made them all the more terrifying.

The Locust were the reason for the Mark 2 Lancers invention, and the writers fucked it all up by having the effect appear before the cause had a chance to instigate it in the first place! First and foremost, a story has to be true to the world it's set in. Forget what might or might not appeal to the audience; if you absolutely have to include an element then set the story at a point in time where the element exists. The suspension of disbelief required for us to enjoy stories demands that worlds be consistent, and that means doing your homework and not taking shortcuts simply to appeal to the lowest common denominator. 

Gears of War - The Fall of the House of Fenix

Anyone who has heard me talk about Gears of War in the past knows that I love the series to death. I think there's much more going on in this series than the Dude-Bro chainsaw-fest it's purported to be. I think the novels were great, but some of the comics and games are better than others. When you've got a series this big though, it goes without saying, you're going to find some flux in the quality of the storytelling. Overall though, Gears of War is a franchise that I love and I know I'll keep coming back to. 

The trailer for Gears of War 5 was released at E3 this year, and it's immediately obvious that the series has taken a turn. Not necessarily for the worse, I haven't even played the game yet, but it's certainly going along a new track.

In the original trilogy you played as Marcus Fenix, a Gear who was already a war hero turned war criminal before the series had even begun. The games, books and comics all built this character up so that by the time of the closing scenes of the final game, you were invested in not only how much of a badass he was but in how much of a struggle the journey was for him. Marcus Fenix is an action hero icon, right up there with Master Chief, The Terminator and Rambo. That is a tough set of shoes to fill, for a studio trying to continue the story and for a son trying to establish himself.

He's 63 and he's still running around in full battle gear...

He's 63 and he's still running around in full battle gear...

Gears 4 had you take on the role of JD Fenix, the son of Marcus Fenix. While Marcus had fought in not one, but two, great wars before his series had begun, JD hasn't really fought in any kind of real conflict. He's young, he's green and he's run away from the military because of some incident that we still don't know about. Straight away, JD Fenix is not the badass warrior that his father ever was, and this is only compounded by the fact that his father is still hanging around being the biggest badass on scene. JD suffered because of this, and Gears 4 suffered because of this.

Busted arm, and a weak scar on his face that mimics that of his father.

Busted arm, and a weak scar on his face that mimics that of his father.

Gears 5 will have JD stepping into the background so that one of his companions from Gears 4 can be the protagonist. He's got some sort of infection that's being held back by technology, and he's a Captain now. The higher the rank you climb to the further removed from the conflict you become, so JD is firmly in the background. Now, I doubt the creators of Gears of War decided to have a female protagonist because they were buckling to public pressure. Unlike the first trilogy, the second trilogy only really gave us three main characters so it makes sense for each installment of the new trilogy to explore each of these main characters. JD had the first game, Kait will have the second and if this theory that I pulled from my backside holds true, Del will be the main character in Gears 6.

That's great and all, it gives us a broader view of events and we get to learn a little more about each of these characters via their time in the spotlight. The problem with this approach, however, is that this breadth comes at the cost of depth. We're never going to get another Marcus Fenix, who had three games of his own, because each of these new characters is only ever going to get a single game. 

Three characters, each leading one of the three games - it makes sense, but no one will ever be as strong as one that lead all three. 

Three characters, each leading one of the three games - it makes sense, but no one will ever be as strong as one that lead all three. 

As I stated in a previous post, Marcus needs to die for JD to ever surpass him and become anything close to the same badass that he was. Well, that was on the assumption that JD would get three games of his own to grow, which he's just not going to get now. He'll be there, doing stuff in the background, but he's not the centerpiece. It needs to be his story for him to truly grow, within himself as an individual but also as a character for the audience. While this rotating cast of protagonists is great for representation and all that, it's crippled this new trilogy because it's never going to surpass the old one. Marcus Fenix is still this looming presence that overshadows all of these new characters, and even if he dies no one character has had enough time in the spotlight to replace him.

There's some skeletons buried under her family tree...

There's some skeletons buried under her family tree...

I don't care that the next Gears protagonist is a female, my favorite character in the series is still Bernadette Mataki, a female sniper who was 60 at the end of the first trilogy. I think Kait is an interesting character in her own right, her ties to the Locust/Swarm make that plainly obvious. People are saying this is great because she's more interesting than JD, but to that I say - so what? That's not an achievement, JD got one game and he spent the whole time being in his dad's shadow. Kait being more interesting than JD is not an achievement. I do hope we get a game that focuses on Del though, because out of the new trilogy's trio of characters he's the one I like the most.

I want to know more about this guy, is he singular or is he just a new mob type?

I want to know more about this guy, is he singular or is he just a new mob type?

The fact remains though, because we're not getting an entire trilogy that focuses on a single protagonist, no single single protagonist is ever going to replace Marcus Fenix. We may get an interesting story, we may finally unravel this mysteries of the Locust, the Swarm and Imulsion, but we'll never get a new action icon. Just like JD had trouble stepping from the shadow of Marcus, this second Gears trilogy will probably never step from the shadows of the original Gears trilogy.   

Marcus Fenix needs to die

There's this old adage that legends never die. This is great and all, when the legend has a solid conclusion and there's no sequels but not so much when the story keeps going. It could be said that Marcus Fenix is the heart and soul of Gears of War, so much so that even in the spin-off title they managed to give him a little cameo. But what happens when the story keeps going after the legend? What happens to the legend?

Sergeant Marcus Fenix in his prime.

Sergeant Marcus Fenix in his prime.

That's the great things about stories, they end. You can wrap a little bow around the narrative and it never changes, you just assume the best. Nobody has to worry about the mountain of paperwork, or the pissed off relatives of those you killed, or the crushing alcoholism that results from PTSD. Unlike real life, stories end... and we don't have to worry about the mess that's left behind. 

Gears of War 4 is set 25 years after Gears of War 3, the original protagonist has had a son and this son, JD Fenix, is now the protagonist of the new series. The only problem is that despite it being 25 years later, and him being a venerable 63 years old, Marcus is still in the spotlight.

Front and centre, with the new protagonists behind him.

Front and centre, with the new protagonists behind him.

For a good portion of the game, you've got Marcus travelling with you as you explore the changed world of Sera. The Locust, the old enemy that Marcus is so familiar with, may be gone but their mutated descendants are emerging from the shadows. It's the new generations continuing the war that their ancestors never truly finished. But with his daddy by his side, it's like JD, and Gears of War 4, have still got their training wheels on.  They're both too scared to let go of their predecessors to strike out on their own. 

This wouldn't last... there are no happy childhoods in Gears of War.

This wouldn't last... there are no happy childhoods in Gears of War.

There's this moment in Gears of War 4 where Marcus gets taken, and you find him later on in the game encased in this gooey mutant pod. You think he's dead, but it turns out he's actually alive. It was a shitty fake out.

It could be somewhat poignant for him to die a meaningless death, it would speak to the overall ignoble futility of war, but I doubt that's what's in store for Marcus Fenix

It could be somewhat poignant for him to die a meaningless death, it would speak to the overall ignoble futility of war, but I doubt that's what's in store for Marcus Fenix

While I do think they should have killed him off, I'm glad they didn't give him such a lame death as being suffocated or dissolved in a pod. Gears of War is about epic battles between heroes and monsters. When Marcus goes out it needs to be with the kind of bang the world of Sera will never forget.

Marcus Fenix needs to die, for both JD and the new Gears of War trilogy to find their feet. They're certainly big shoes to fill, but he has to leave before his son, or anyone, can take his place. If the new trilogy wants to be taken as seriously, and be as well received, as the first then it has to move on from the past and establish some independence. 

They're a solid cast of characters, I don't know why they weren't fully given the reigns. 

They're a solid cast of characters, I don't know why they weren't fully given the reigns. 

It was cool seeing most of Delta Squad appear in Gears of War 4, but the time for fan service has come and gone. JD and his friends need to leave the veterans behind and step into the darkness on their own, because that's where the real story hides.

More of this awaits, in Gears of War 5...

More of this awaits, in Gears of War 5...

Fallout, Halo and Gears of War

Contrary to the popular opinion of most fans, I actually really enjoyed Fallout Tactics. Whether you prefer Fallout 4 or Fallout: New Vegas, Fallout Tactics was a step away from the norm that brought a breath of fresh air to the franchise while simultaneously expanding the lore. Fallout Brotherhood of Steel can still go die in a ditch though...

Seriously, how do you fuck up Fallout?

Seriously, how do you fuck up Fallout?

What was great about Fallout Tactics was that it took a series that was originally a single character experience and made it squad based. You weren't just a Vault Dweller or a Chosen One, you were an entire squad within the Midwestern Brotherhood of Steel. One on one, or one on many, combat is great; it's always fun to rush into a mob of Super Mutants with a Minigun and just tear shit up... but Fallout Tactics required, well, tactics. 

Holding the high ground is very imporant... even against Baby Deathclaws.

Holding the high ground is very imporant... even against Baby Deathclaws.

The setting was roughly the same, the world of Fallout Tactics sort of did away with the Retro Futurism typically found within the Fallout franchise and went with straight Futurism. The key element that differentiated it from the rest of the series was the fact that you had a whole group of soldiers to work with, which gave you gameplay options. But it wasn't just an option, you actually had to rely on setting up your squad strategically for an encounter otherwise half of them were likely to end up as ground chuck. It terms of gameplay you could switch between turn based and real time strategy, which allowed you to set up for those aforementioned encounters and slow things down to act with a bit more precision... or to go in guns blazing. It was a great game, and if you're a fan of the series then I wholeheartedly recommend you give it a go.

Lots of Easter Eggs in this game. You could even find Riddick... and Harold... and Vault Boy!

Lots of Easter Eggs in this game. You could even find Riddick... and Harold... and Vault Boy!

Now, let's take a slight jump to Halo and Gears of War. Both are Microsoft franchises and both had exactly the same story in their initial trilogies. Humans have been at war with (Covenant/Locust) for a while, eventually humanity discovers that the enemies have been having issues with zombies (Flood/Lambent) and soon these zombies start infecting humanity as well. Eventually humanity finds a way to not only push back the (Covenant/Locust) but the (Flood/Lambent) as well. They've seriously got the exact same story, it's just that one's a bit more sci-fi while the other is more of a gritty war movie.

So many Spartans in one place... how can they lose?!

So many Spartans in one place... how can they lose?!

The reason I bring this up is that the Halo franchise eventually got a Real-Time Strategy series called Halo: Wars. You played as this group of humans that were flung far off into the galaxy where they went on this whole adventure that didn't really have any impact on the greater plot of the original trilogy. The game was pretty well received, it was Halo after all, and eventually it even got a sequel.

Now we get to the crux of this whole blog post - this is exactly what Gears of War needs. Fallout got a squad based tactical role playing game while Halo got a real time strategy game. Gears of War needs something similar, because if it can work for Halo then it can most certainly work for Gears of War.

The story of Gears of War allows for this, perfectly. Gears are soldiers that fight in squads, for the survival of all mankind, against the ever encroaching hordes of Locust. These monstrous humanoids can pop up anywhere from below the ground and have a tendency to attack in mass with a retinue of horrifically gargantuan beasts by their side. The entire series you've fought through campaigns with squads of 2-5 members, so the tactical squad based combat would suit. Also, there have been countless massive wars fought with primarily infantry units in the series canon... because it's right there in the name - Gears of *War!*

Delta Squad rolling strong!

Delta Squad rolling strong!

Seriously though, the way the creators have woven perpetual conflict into the very fabric of the setting is fantastic. 

For those who don't know, there's actually a few comics and novels set within the Gears of War universe. They really flesh the setting out a whole lot more than the games ever do, I cannot recommend them enough. My point is that there are countless conflicts within the timeline of the original trilogy that could be the basis of an entire games worth of content, or you could just do like Fallout and Halo did and create an all new campaign in a previously unexplored area.

I would literally burn down an orphanage full of sick children to get a game set in the early days of the Pendulum Wars. You'd start out fighting the Indies (other humans) then somehow get lost down in the Hollows and end up fighting the Locust long before the Human/Locust War ever even began... and you'd know your characters are all going to die at the end because you already know what's going to happen in the future!

Oh man, that'd be so cool.  #nerdgasm

The thing is - this idea isn't even mine. There was actually a game like this already planned for the Gears of War series, it's just that it was never completed. There's a very basic version in the video below, with a lot of assets taken from the original trilogy. Take a look and see for yourself, at the very least the idea has merit. 

It worked for Fallout and it worked for Halo, it could totally work for Gears of War as well. At some point the series should take a small step away from 3rd person shooters and into the more complex realm of real time strategy or squad based tactics games. It might not have the same capacity for multiplayer that the core games do but the series is certainly robust enough that it could manage a strong single player experience.

As I've previously stated, Gears of War is one of those series that I love, it's my Star Wars and/or Star Trek. I not only hope to experience it for years to come, I hope to see it diversify what it has to offer and spread out into different game types. 

What we really need is a Gears of War role playing game... but that's a post for another day.

Why Gears of War is my Favorite Post Apocalyptic Series

Gears of War is the one series that I love to an absurd degree, and not just because it's post apocalyptic. I'm aware of it's many flaws but I'm willing to look past them to what the series offers as a whole. Other people go all fanboy for Star Wars/Trek, Harry Potter, The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, my brain turns to mush for Gears of War. 

I'll get this out of the way first, primarily because this is meant to be an all-positive piece but also just to show that I don't have a blind spot to the shitty bits in the things that I love. Gears of War as a whole definitely has an overly macho tone to it, and some of the lines of dialogue are so absurd that they wouldn't even be accepted in a Sharknado movie. Alongside this, the games all have this habit of throwing in ridiculously left field gameplay elements that're simply there to break up the shooty parts. For a game about hiding behind chest high walls and shooting big ass guns, there's always one vehicle section of the game that feels totally out of place. I think the only game that doesn't have a vehicle section in it is Gears of War Judgment, and as the weakest of the 5 games, Judgment has a host of other issues. Finally, as much as I love the series, not even I can escape the fact that the plot and factions are basically interchangeable with the Halo series. 

But enough of all that, a single paragraph has satisfied my pathological need for objective shredding! 

Magestic vistas of destruction are a common sight in Gears of War 

Magestic vistas of destruction are a common sight in Gears of War 

Gears of War, as a series, is about how shitty human are. War is just something that humans do, it's part of our bestial and baser nature, we're always looking for excuses to go to war. Humans fight over resources, land, nationalism, religion, revenge or because we just don't like how the other guy looks. In Gears of War, there have been generations of war, and before that there were entire eras that were defined by conflict. As civilized as humans can be, that's just a thin veneer that hides the ever present animalistic element that wants to chew someones throat out. This is showcased splendidly by the series' contrasting theme of "destroyed beauty," where the heights of human creativity (often represented by grand architecture) are brought low by the base human ability to bring ruin upon the world. Finally, as a subtle nod to all this, the planet that Gears of War is set on, Sera, is actually 'Ares' spelled backwards. Ares being the Greek god of war... duh.

If you're going to have buildings that're destroyed, you might as well have some damn impressive buildings get destroyed!

If you're going to have buildings that're destroyed, you might as well have some damn impressive buildings get destroyed!

The basic premise of the original Gears of War trilogy was that, fifteen years prior to the first game, humanity had just finished an eighty year conflict, dubbed the Pendulum Wars, that was fought over a resource called Imulsion. It's basically a yellow glowing stand-in for oil, but much better because it's more efficient, clean and insanely powerful. Hence why they fought for eight decades over the stuff. Very shortly after this conflict ended, monstrous humanoids dubbed the Locust broke through the surface of Sera and slaughtered most of humanity. Thus began a new war - the Locust War. These horrific monsters literally tunneled up from underneath the surface of the planet and could attack anywhere and at anytime. Humanity suffered catastrophic losses in the first days of the war, but they managed to hold out for over a decade since the war began.

They're grey, they're scaly, they've got two hearts and there's a metric-shit-tonne of them...

They're grey, they're scaly, they've got two hearts and there's a metric-shit-tonne of them...

A major element of the story line, and game play, is the drastic lengths that humanity are willing to go to in order to survive. Humanity didn't just bunker down and play defensively for fifteen years, no, they initiated a scorched earth policy where they used orbital laser weapons to literally burn the planet to dust and glass. The idea being that the Locust would stop raiding if there was nothing left to raid, so humanity burnt their own crops, their own cities, and their own people, just to deprive the Locust access to resources and military assets. As many humans died when the Locust first invaded, billions more died from humanities own hand.

Hammer down!

Hammer down!

This point is further illustrated by the iconic Mk.2 Lancer - the chainsaw gun. It could be said that putting a chainsaw on a gun is stupid, and basically it is, but the point that it exists actually lends itself to the overall theme of the series. The Mk.1 'Retro' Lancer, had a simple bayonet on it, but the problem was that while this was great for skewering humans, it tended to break when used against the scaly hides of Locust Drones. The situation was that dire, that someone actually had the idea to attach a chainsaw to a gun, and then someone else in a position of means actually thought that it was warranted. And so they made a gun with a fucking chainsaw on it! That's how bad the situation was, the Locust were so much of a threat that the sheer insanity of putting a chainsaw on a gun was seen as a good idea.

It's how we ended up with chainsaw-duels...

It's how we ended up with chainsaw-duels...

Finally, a point of some contention among... certain... fans, is the fact that the humans of Sera used breeding farms to boost their numbers. For some reason, which is revealed in the series later on, humanity has a sterility problem. Civilian women who were fertile didn't have to join a breeding farm, but if they did they were given extra rations, and if they didn't like the idea of pumping out babies who would go die on a battlefield then they could always suit up and go become bullet sponges themselves. There's this line in one of the comic books, or one of the novels, where a character mentions there's a rumor that the female Locust are chained down and raped, and that's how the Locust reproduce. Now, you could either take this as a way for the writers to showcase how terrible and savage the Locust are, or you could take it as the humans of Sera trying to demonize their opponents in order to assuage their own guilt. Humanity had never gotten below the surface to the Locust cities before this point, so how would they ever learn of such a process? It's far more likely that someone made up the rape-story to allow people to deal with humanities own horrific acts.

"Humanity may have breeding farms, which are disgusting, but the Locust rape... which is far worse!"

The ugly thing on the right is a male, the uglier thing on the left is a female... so you can see how people could believe a story involving chains.

The ugly thing on the right is a male, the uglier thing on the left is a female... so you can see how people could believe a story involving chains.

Humanity goes on the offensive in the second game, attacking the Locust on their own turf. There's a massive invasion of the tunnels that honeycomb the planet and we get a chance to see the Locust side of things, and we learn what should have been pretty obvious by this point. There are links between the humans and the Locust, and the government that you're fighting for might have actually had a hand in creating them. By the end of the second game, taking inspiration from a gigantic worm, the humans preform one last act of psychotic desperation - in order to flood the tunnels and kill the Locust once and for all, they sink their last remaining city and allow the ocean to pour in.

Also, they're led by a chick who is clearly human... so that's another clue.

Also, they're led by a chick who is clearly human... so that's another clue.

Of course, since there's a Gears of War 3, we know this doesn't exactly work as intended. The Locust survive and flee to the surface, becoming just as homeless as humanity. The conflict is less larger than life in Gears 3, since both sides of the conflict are battered and running on empty, but there's a new player in the conflict. The zombie-like Lambent, who, while once only an issue for the Locust, were now zombiefying humans as well. And this is where the series as a whole gets the nice little bow tied around it. The human on human Pendulum Wars were fought over Imulsion, but the Locust knew that being too close to it tended to infect people and turn them into zombies, hence why they invaded the surface all those years earlier - they wanted to get the hell away from the Imulsion. The problem is that Imulsion isn't just resource, it's a living parasitic organism that, while technically able to be used as a fuel source, is alive and has goals of it's own. With the tunnels below Sera flooded in Gears 2, it managed to reach the surface and began wrecking havoc on both the Locust and human survivors. To cut a long story short, you manage to find someone who failed to help the Locust stop the Imulsion from infecting them years earlier, and this person is finally able to stop the Imulsion by killing it, but only by also killing all the Locust as well. 

Finally gets a chance to sit down and rest..

Finally gets a chance to sit down and rest..

By the end of Gears of War 3, it's fairly explicit that the Locust are the mutated bastard offspring of humanity, evolved into horrific monsters by the Imulsion in one of the earlier stages of its life cycle. As monstrous as they are physically, they're just a dark reflection of how monstrous humanity can be internally, in their thoughts and actions. This is shown rather well in the Locust city of Nexus, which is carved into a series of gigantic stalactites that hang above an ocean of Imulsion - which is just an inversion of the human cities above. The Locust were just doing what they had to do to survive, just like the humans. When the humans successfully wiped out the Locust, they effectively proved themselves to be more monstrous than their mutated offspring.

The Locust have some wondrous architecture of their own! Well... they did.

The Locust have some wondrous architecture of their own! Well... they did.

Gears of War Judgment came out after this. It was a prequel that explored the back story of two the side characters from the original trilogy, Barid and Cole. It was great in terms of gameplay, but it didn't really add anything new the series, it was just more of the same to tide fans over. My only issue with this game is the fact that they put the Mk.2 Lancer (the chainsaw gun) into the game, even though the game was set before that weapon was even invented. Because apparently Gears of War *IS* the chainsaw gun, and you can't make a game without it. Can you imagine the sheer nerdrage that would result if someone made a Star Wars game with Lightsabers, but then set it before Lightsabers were even invented?! If they wanted to show how fucking terrible the start of the Locust War was, they should have just left us with the shitty old Mk.1 Lancers and had them break each time we tried to use them. Fucking coffee sipping hack writers, too chicken shi-

Sorry, gotta stay positive!

The new protagonists, fresh faced and happy... until the horrors of war can beat that out of them.

The new protagonists, fresh faced and happy... until the horrors of war can beat that out of them.

Finally, Gears of War 4 came out at the end of 2016, and it's set 25 years after the end of Gears 3. It's revealed that the Locust weren't exactly killed by the weapon used at the end of the trilogy, it's more like they were sent into stasis. Well, some of them woke up, and now they're messing with the genetic code of the Locust and we've got a more evolved form of Locust, the Swarm. They look like shellfish versions of Locust, but basically they're the same deal. The series continues with the son of the original trilogy's protagonist.

A Swarm Drone - the 2.0 of the Locust Drone (he's kinda naked though...)

A Swarm Drone - the 2.0 of the Locust Drone (he's kinda naked though...)

Now's a good enough time to get into these protagonists. Both Marcus Fenix, and later his son in the new trilogy, James-Dominic "JD" Fenix, are your typical gruff, loner straight white male action heroes. JD is less so in Gears 4, but he's young and hasn't the lifetime of conflict that his father had experienced in his first game. They're both massive, they were tanks for body armor and they carry guns with chainsaws on them - you'd be forgiven for thinking that both these characters are meat heads.

Father and Son, in a trailer that made Disturbed's version of "The Sound of Silence" famous.

Father and Son, in a trailer that made Disturbed's version of "The Sound of Silence" famous.

The problem is that this is a massive disservice to the characters, and ridiculously dismissive of males across the globe. A lot of guys can relate to these stoic action heroes because that's how they're expected to behave in the real world, I know that's how I was raised. When we see a big strong guy shrug off a death or risk their lives like it's nothing, it's not a cliche for us but a representation of our own reality (to borrow some totally cringe-worthy terminology...) It may not be the most emotionally healthy way to deal with things, but when the shit hits the fan in the real world, it's often the big guy that's expected to go deal with it. Trust me, I'm 6'2 and even when I'm showing ribs I'm a solid 90kg, so I'm a big guy and there have been plenty of times where I've been shoved outside to go deal with some nasty shit.

Sorry if you can't relate to this guy, but some of us actually can.

Sorry if you can't relate to this guy, but some of us actually can.

What other people see as emotionless machismo, people who actually live that life, or have a similar backstory, see the inner turmoil that goes on within these characters. With every other character in a story relying on them keeping their shit together, these guys are the central load-bearing pillars that cannot give up. But this is getting a little off track and I might delve into this in another post. The point is, if people read the novels, of which there are 5, and all the comics, they'd actually realize that there's a lot of backstory and complexity to each of these characters.

Marcus Fenix was raised in a wealthy household, but his mother disappeared and his father was always at work. As a child he drifted towards that Santiago family, who were much poorer than his, because they were a large family and there was a lot of love that he never found in his own home. He was smart, but lonely, and so he joined the military as a front line soldier, instead of as an officer, because he wanted the comradery that the rank and file provided.

Marcus Fenix

Marcus Fenix

Dominic Santiago was actually the younger brother of Marcus' best friend, and the two only really became close after his brother died just before the Pendulum Wars ended. He had a wife and children but they disappeared early in the Locust War and he spends most of his spare time trying to track them down - in one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in video game history, he finally finds his wife and she's been tortured and broken by the Locust. All he can do is offer her a mercy killing, and this breaks him. In Gears of War 3, in the second most heart-wrenching moment in video game history, he sacrifices himself to save the rest of his squad. Dom was the heart and soul of the team, the guy that kept everyone else on the right path.

Dominic Santiago

Dominic Santiago

Augustus "Cole Train" Cole was a star Thrashball (football) player who signed up to become a soldier the day the Locust invaded. You get very little of his backstory in the games beyond him being the spirit of the team, the guy that keeps everyone else motivated and moving along the path. In the books however, you find out that his parents were killed in the initial invasion of the Locust, and he threw away his absurd amounts of wealth to combat the Locust as a front line soldier. He writes to his parents as often as he can, throwing the letters into a fire.

Augustus "Cole Train" Cole

Augustus "Cole Train" Cole

Damon Baird is the arsehole techie of the team, the engineer who is better with machines than with people. He had a wealthy upbringing like Marcus, but instead of seeking connection with others, he drifted further away from them. This became worse when his parents died when the Locust invaded, the few connections he had in life had been severed. He's rough around the edges but he desperately craves connection with people, just like Marcus did as a child. Damon is the sarcastic brains of the unit, while nobody is by any means stupid, Baird is genius levels of smart. 

Damon Baird

Damon Baird

There's a several other characters that get introduced, especially in Gears 3 and 4, but this team is the core team for the original trilogy. Each of the characters in the Gears series is often seen as interchangeable, and several of the characters who wear helmets actually are, but there's actually a lot of characterization to the named cast. My favorite character across all five games is one that's introduced in the very first novel, Bernadette Mataki - she's a Northener from the South Sea Islands (basically a white New Zealander) who is a sixty year old sniper. She's an absolute badarse! And I've got a mate who loves Tai Kaliso, the unkillable soldier from the island of Irohma (basically, Samoa...) I'm fully able to admit that it took the developers a while to get this amazing cast of characters into the games, but once they were there they really beefed up the series.

See the fur around her boots? That's cat fur... 

See the fur around her boots? That's cat fur... 

At the start of Gears of War 1, Marcus and Dom have known each other for years, growing up and fighting in the Pendulum Wars together, and Cole and Baird have been together since basic training. But this is the first time these two pairs meet, and we actually get to see them grow as a team across the trilogy, they butt heads a bit to begin with but eventually they figure out how to work with one another. 

There's a lot of depth you can explore in the Gears of War universe, if you're willing to look past the macho monster slaughterer aspect of the series. There's the brotherhood between the main cast of characters, the issues with family, especially parents, and an exploration of how far you're willing to go to survive. The series also delves into the concept of governments, and the amount of control they have over their people.... because funnily enough, the side you fight for is actually considered hardcore socialist/fascist. There's also the idea that the Locust and Imulsion represent mother nature and her natural resources, and that taking too much from her has caused her to fight back. And finally, there's that whole idea that I was talking about earlier, where humanity are basically shitty creatures when you strip away the cloak of civilization.

There is depth to Gears of War, you've just got to get past the superficial elements to find it. I know there are a lot of flaws with this series, but I'm more than happy to look past and even forgive them. It's got characters, and situations, that I can relate to and it's set in a beautifully destroyed post apocalyptic world. Gears of War is one of those series that I will eagerly follow until my time is up. I've got no doubt that there will be weak entries in the series at some point, and I don't always agree with the design choices that're made, but despite all that it's still my most favorite video game series... and I really really really want to see a trailer for Gears of War 5 already!