Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gears of Woar 2

In all that I do I like to think I follow only one command: serve the Queen. So while the Lambent storm the Nexus and groundwalkers infiltrate our cities I follow orders and lead my troop off to guard an evacuation route in the middle of nowhere. I follow my orders, I don't have to like them. The humans have a saying, "Ignorance is bliss." I think that may be true. I understand the reasons for our variations; we all have a purpose, and we all know our purpose as it was the purpose we were born to. From the day I was spawned I have been a Theron Guard of the Queen. The drones fight and die, the generals command and plan, the wretches get distracted by shiny objects. The Theron Guards lead by example. My skill is the sword of the Queen, my strength is Her shield, and as the avatar of Her will I inspire the drones to victory. I often think the drones have it easier. They get to voice doubts about the orders they are given, since at the end of the day the responsibility to compel them to battle falls on the Theron. But if a Theron voices doubts about his orders, then General Skorge will reduce your head to a thin paste and wear your fangs as hair ornaments.

As we marched to wherever the generals seem to think is important we hear the constant commands of the Queen. We continuously hear Her promises that we shall seize the surface and destroy the Lambent, both at the same time. Personally, I thought a two-front war was a bad idea, but as stated I couldn't really say anything without being processed into snacks for the Boomers and Grinders. Then another voice cut in over the loudspeaker. A human voice came on and promised to whup all our asses as well as the ass of our Queen. This colorful rhetoric continued for about a minute before the loudspeakers were all shut down. At first I was annoyed that our defenses had allowed the groundwalkers into the palace grounds, but then I was relieved that I didn't have to listen to Her Majesty's constant prattle about our inevitable victory.

I turned to see if the troops were having the same thoughts on this as I was and, I swear by the Great Worm this is true, one of the drones was crying. I looked past him and saw that nearly the whole team was somewhat teary eyed, even that old grenadier who had served under me in no less than two campaigns. I knew drones weren't the sharpest bolt in the quiver, but I didn't expect them to really be that affected by some human's over emotional banter. The sobbing drone looked up at me with pitiful eyes and hiccupped "Are they really going to hurt the Queen?" As I looked into those sad, pathetic eyes I asked myself how the late, great RAAM would have handled a situation like this. With my left hand I patted the drone on the shoulder, and with my right hand jammed a torque bow arrow into his temple. I don't know enough about anatomy to know if a sharp object at that depth and at that location would cause immediate death, but I like to think that he lived long enough to contemplate his treason. From the look in his eyes I believe his last thoughts were of repentence before the warhead in the arrow removed the offending extremity from his body and liberated him from the need (and means) to contemplate such things.

I looked over his corpse and at the other drones under my command before barking "Who doubts the Queen?!" With that, they stifled their last sniffles and snapped to attention. I hissed "March!" and we continued. We marched off the defend some cave somewhere from humans or lambents or maybe magical rainbow colored kryll. It didn't really matter, I only had the one duty. Serve the Queen.

I Couldn't Be Bothered On Launch Day

Never let it be said that I don't like innovation. If it were not for innovation we'd still be living in caves and killing each other over the few available women. But in gaming, there is a bad habit of confusing innovation with quality. I can say with a completely straight face that Daikatana was a very innovative game for its time. Unfortunately, most of the development of that game was spent playing Quake while the designers pondered why the game hadn't magically created itself yet. Another very innovative game was Jurassic Park: Trespasser, a game so innovative it actually inspired alot of what we saw in Half-Life 1 and 2. Unfortunately they were trying so hard to be innovative that they didn't try to make the game good in any way, thus bringing us graphics so cruel to processors that a decade later the graphics are only a marginal improvement over Quake and still it manages to suffer slowdown on modern machines, and the physics engine hilariously lacked friction.

And all of that to say that I played Gears of War 2. I mentioned all of that because Gears of War is the antithesis of innovation. You play as a big tough manly man who wields the largest guns a human could realistically carry and battle subterranean mutants and there's lots of blood. There's a good amount of backstory, but that's all squirreled away in supplemental booklets that have been hidden on the dark side of the moon. In short, it's every shooter you've ever played. I would argue that they did a fine job of it. Okay, so nothing is new or groundbreaking, but at least I had fun making heads explode.

I was worried during some of the pre-release stuff. Mobile cover? More vehicles? While we're at it, let's just call it Halo. But everything seemed to work out for the better. The shields you can pick up only work with pistols, so your trading security for firepower. The heavy weapons have enough limitations that they don't turn into game breaking monsters. And I once compared Gears of War to a rail shooter and the vehicle sections stick to that tradition. Of course, some things have changed. The Unreal engine has been streamlined so textures don't spontaneously appear, instead they fade in creating the illusion that the camera is simply focussing. Also, the first Gears of War was about a single team on a single mission and the battlefield felt rather lonely. This time around it actually feels like you're part of a major campaign and you're not fighting alone out there. And then there are the difficulty levels. The original Gears of War had Casual, Hardcore, and Insane difficulties that were supposed to correspond with Easy, Normal, and Hard. Instead they corresponded with Normal, Hard, and Fuck You. Gears 2 adds the unimaginatively named Normal difficulty, with Casual being demoted to Easy. Between the two the enemies are just as smart and durable on Normal as on Casual, but with Casual the player has enough hit points to catch a nuclear warhead between his teeth and only be slightly singed.

To sum up, if you liked the original Gears of War then you'll like Gears of War 2 since they made everything better. If you didn't like Gears of War then nothing in Gears of War 2 is going to change your mind. And if you haven't played the original Gears of War then what are you using your XBox 360 for?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

RRoD Blogovich

The public interest in his "saga" is so over.

My 360 is not.