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A Criticism of Gears of War 3, Act 1 (Part 2)

Yesterday, Marcus lead Delta squad the defense of the CNC Sovereign.  Today, Cole leads a squad into Hanover to look for supplies.  Let’s start things off on the right foot, shall we?

Chapter 3: Homecoming

At the end of the opening cutscene, Cole waves at the Raven.  No one is in the crew bay and the cockpit could not have seen the gesture, either.

The first Stranded outpost was already hit by stalks.  The charred body is carefully hidden in the opening cutscene until Baird steps off, so it’s not a matter of hiding things beyond the black.  Despite being able to see the outpost and the charred body, the squad slows down to talk about it, which is annoying.  A Y-button look-at prompt is also provided, so why slow down?  Jace should really be here so he can yell, “Yo, Cole, we lookin’ for Stranded outposts or not?”

There only seems to be three models of vehicle in Gears of War: coupe, truck, and van.  We can see the license plates. Trucks have “NIKI #1” and coupes have “NUATA#2”.  Vans seem to be manufactured by LIAFAIL, with the license plate “BUE SERA”.  The attention to detail is nice.  I shouldn’t be giving this much attention given to something so mundane, but I like to look around and try to appreciate all of the hard work that goes into crafting a game.

Sam points out a house, and how she can see a family there with Baird.  He remarks, “right next to my bottle of suicide pills.”  Sam retorts, “saves me from having to poison your dinner.”  It sounds like playful banter to piss the time away, but then Sam says, in response to how she’d miss Baird, “only if someone brushes my elbow.”  Sam and Baird have the best dialogue in this game.

Every shop has a sign that is human-readable.  Nice touches.  One sign reads, “Harbour House Hotel,” and there is a poster on the window that reads, “We have puff pastry!”  It would seem Epic has discovered my one weakness.

When Cole’s squad reaches the second Stranded outpost, the gatekeeper calls them “COG assholes.”  Cole reminds him that they are “in the same boat.”  Coalition’s End establishes that the Stranded have a vast radio net.  It has been established that there is no COG and that former-COG are now Stranded with access to the radio net, courtesy of Stranded Pirate-Captain Ollivar.  The gatekeeper should really know this.  Finally, how come this outpost wasn’t hit?  The first one is not far away, and there were stalks that came up just further down the street.

When Cole talks about trading for food, the gatekeeper says, “we ain’t got none, but I’ll give you a side of bacon for [Sam], though.”  Carmine says, “oooh, bacon,” as if he’s drooling. In Coalition’s End, it was noted that Carmine LOVES him some bacon.  Baird’s remark helps solidify the relationship between him and Sam, while… y’know let’s just let the dialogue speak for itself: “Take the deal, I haven’t had bacon in six months.”  Kind of makes you wonder what kind of tension (and how much) there is between them, doesn’t it?

At the end of the cutscene, a door opens and the squad passes through; an airlock.  On the other side is Pendulum Park, a playground.  Was it named after the Pendulum Wars, or were the Pendulum Wars named after something else?  With just a name we’re given a brief, perhaps haunting, glimpse into the past.  Outside of the playground, Cole makes mention of how he misses Jack.  Baird says he can fix him, “just needs a new power supply.”  Remember, Jack was disassembled on a desk in Baird’s room.

Also outside of the playground, there is a dead stalk coming out of the ground far to the right of the gate.  Here, we have a traffic accident involving two cars.  The drivers managed to get out of their vehicles, guns drawn.  One of them had a Snub pistol, and the other a Gnasher shotgun.  Did the stalk cause the accident?  If so, then did the drivers band together to deal with the Lambent?  The drivers are both dead on the ground now, their story told by the environment.

Until we step foot into the playground, we haven’t actually encountered any Lambent since touching down.  All we see is the aftermath of various attacks; ghosts from the past.  The effect that is sold isn’t very scary, but it isn’t unnerving either.  The score does not convey a sense that the world is very different from what Cole saw last.  Additionally, the dialogue and the back-and-forth banter works to ease the player into thinking that nothing is wrong, business as usual.  This chapter could have been quite the eerie experience with only a few minor changes.  For example, delaying the introduction of the Lambent and just having the ground rumbling slightly.  Faint auditory echoes of children at play, the swings swaying in the wind.

The playground is a really fun place to be.  The swings swing, bouncy things bounce, and Cole can even slide down the slide.  The only thing missing is being able to spin the merry-go-round.  Speaking of the swings, those are really well-done; the small size of the chain-link texture combined with how little force the player can impart upon the swing with really sells the effect.  You can’t even tell that there are only 6 links in the chains!

After the playground, we come across another airlock, the first of it’s type: razorwire.  Why doesn’t the squad slice their hands open when they lift it?  How aren’t they being cut when they clip through the wire?  In Act 3, we’ll see that Seran razorwire is not something to be trifled with.  As it is, it looks like the squad is being reckless and dangerous, like they’re just trying to get through as fast as possible. Why not just cut the razorwire, then?

Pointing out the razorwire also helps illustrate how aggressively Epic is managing their memory usage.  All we’ve seen between airlocks is a playground, a street, and five stalks.  And the next airlock is going to take even less time to get to.  I’ll give Epic some major credit for trying to present as much detail as they are, but less than 15 minutes in and 3 airlocks?

The grocery store that Cole is leading squad to—actually, is Cole really leading the squad if he’s just following the only path available?  At least on Sovereign, there was a plausible reason why there was all the clutter in the way to put Marcus on the pre-set path.  Here, we’re in what’s left of a city.  A little bit of freedom to walk the streets and approach the store from an alternative angle would really do wonders.  Hanover doesn’t have to be a wide-open environment, but it shouldn’t be conveniently linear, either. Anyway, the store is called Super Snack Champion.  Once we get inside…

“Ever feel like you’re dead, but nobody ever told you?”  Having the introduction to Hanover be eerie and unnerving would have been the perfect lead-in for this.  Is Cole suicidal, or does he just miss his past life?  The scene falls flat of what it could be thanks to the pacing and mood before; it feels out of place.  This could have been a really powerful moment otherwise, leaving us with the impression that both the world and Cole are dead.

Afterwards, Sam pipes up, “righto, where’s the coffee?” and Carmine remarks, “where’s the bacon?” Coffee, and the desire of, will be mentioned again in 2-6.  Could you imagine a world where coffee and bacon are luxury items?  The simple things we take for granted—what’s right in front of us that we don’t consciously think about—are what we end up missing the most.

After getting further into the grocery store, Lambent attack and then Sam will make the following comment: “Never get between a woman and a bargain, dickhead!” This line is vapid and pointless.  It doesn’t matter that it’s said by Sam.  It’s a sexist joke.  Anyone on a budget would go bargain shopping; I would argue that this is why Steam sales do so well.  Furthermore, in this post-Hammer Sera, money seems to have no value.  Just minutes earlier, Cole was talking to another Stranded about trading, not buying, food or supplies.  This line has no place in the game other than getting a cheap laugh.

There is an easter egg here, a display for Thrashies.  Press a button and you’ll hear Cole say, “The Cole Train runs on whole grain, baby! Whoo!”  Press it enough times, and you’ll hear this recording:

“Delta squad is in your house, bitch!  You hear that shit?  You grubby-ass bitches are going down!  Like way down!  Dead down!  Soon now you ain’t gonna know which was is up!  Your asses are gonna be cryin’ to yo’ skank-ass queen!  “Oh Mommy, don’t let the bad man hurt us!”  Fuck you!  We’re gonna whoop yo’ momma’s ASS!  Whoo!”

This… speech… is from Gears 2, Act 4 Chapter 5, when Delta is storming the Locust Queen’s palace.  Great throwback, Epic!

Anyhow, upon reaching the back of the store,  Cole comments, “Cole Train ten, baby. Glowies, uh, nothing! Hah!” Sam remarks, “Never saw you play, Cole. You must have been quite something.” To this, Cole responds, with a hint of his ego being hurt, “I still am, baby! You know? I just… gotta get back into training.” Fellow author Carmelo M. suggests that this is an impotency joke.

After Cole’s comment, we make it to another airlock.  This one, chains and a padlock, requires that Cole places his hands on the door while Baird cuts through the chains with his Lancer, which seems a bit dangerous.  This single event has no significance for the moment.

There really isn’t much to say about the rest of the chapter.  Cole hops into the mechanical loader, Baird makes an Aliens reference, and the last firefight has nothing special to note.  The cutscene rolls after the supply crate is dropped off, in which KR-70 lifts the container of food stuffs with a winch.

Chapter 4: Helping Hand

At the start of 1-4, KR-70 is leaving the scene.  There is no food stuff, or even the winch mechanism, underneath the Raven!  However, given how aggressively Epic is managing memory, it’s likely that the models were simply dumped from memory.

Shortly after 1-4 starts and the player has control of Cole, he says, “Gotta check the warehouse, and you know, the stadium!”  Baird asks if Cole is making a pilgrimage.  Stadiums have long served as refugee shelters, as they are large and built to last.  Several thousand people could fit inside of a stadium and live there for many years.  Stranded, being scavengers, would naturally seek out such a location.  It makes sense to check the stadium.

The squad has to pass over a broken street and Imulsion seeping out from the ground. The glowing cracks look horribly textured, very low resolution.  So much for that aggressive memory management!

The first encounter with the Gunkers is terrible.  With the Lambent Drones and the stalk, there is too much to do at once.  On top of that, Gunkers extend a tentacle quite a ways out and through cover, and the gunk will be lobbed around corners; cover is negated.  On Insane, this is a recipe for a very tedious section.  It’s not fun.  It’s quite likely to run out of ammo before getting to the second Gunker.  Lastly, it’s not immediately evident where the weak spot is.  Do you want to shoot the head, the glowy thing on the chest, or the arm that lobs the gunk at you?  My advice is to take Carmine’s torque bow, aim for the Gunker’s head, and fire.  That is, if you didn’t liberate Carmine of the Precious at the start of 1-3 and still have ammo for it…

After the Gunkers, the leader of the Stranded camp tells the group that the “stadium ain’t empty,” to which Baird replies with, “we kinda guessed as much.”  If the stadium wasn’t empty, then why would Baird suggest that Cole is making a pilgrimage?  On top of that, the gatekeeper from the first outpost in 1-3 even said that there are more Stranded at the stadium, so he didn’t guess anything.  Not only that, but Baird complains about the leader’s tone: “Don’t you people ever try gratitude? Just to break up the friggin’ monotony of sarcasm?”  Sarcasm is Baird’s native tongue!

Next to the warehouse, two men are casually tossing a thrashball.  A thrashball is roughly the size of a basketball, but these guys are passing it like it’s a pigskin football.  I guess the ball is really easy to toss?  Inside the warehouse, sprayed on the wall is the following: “NO HOPE, NO VICTORY, NO SAFTY.”  Yes, safety is spelled wrong, which is funny considering that there are shelves of books in the warehouse.  We can also see that the Stranded use shipping containers for housing.

At the docks, looking at the Centennial Bridge is a very bad idea; there is some nasty z-fighting going on.  Graphical issues aside, the bridge is whole.  At some point, a section of the bridge collapses, but it’s never evident when.  It’s not important to the narrative, much like many of the items I nitpick about. As far as timing goes, the missing section is gone by the time we see it from Sovereign at the start of 1-1, which we currently cannot see from the docks.

KR-70 notes that Stranded on Centennial Bridge are taking pot shots.  Baird remarks about how they should just blow the whole thing up.  Sam replies, “and that’s why you never get promoted.”  Baird has been promoted to Sergeant multiple times according to Anvil Gate.

In front of the stadium, Carmine asks Baird if he has a pair of bolt cutters, to get through the chain and padlock keeping the gate closed.  Baird sarcastically hands Carmine his Lancer.  Hey, Baird, how about you break up the monotony of sarcasm and just cut the friggin’ lock?  This delay gives two stalks time to sprout up behind the squad, dropping two Gunkers.  This fight isn’t very fun on Insane; in fact, the winning strategy is to ignore cover and common sense, and to tag the first Gunker with frag grenades.  This encounter is entirely pointless, the first so far to feel so superfluous. Afterwards, Sam just busts the padlock with the butt of her rifle.  Someone should really have just done that from the start.

Chapter 5: MVP

This chapter opens with a pig in a sty.  It looks dead by not breathing.  If there were piglets, then it would be a mother nursing the young.  On a side note, I would like to mantle the wall and chainsaw the pig.  Gimme bacon!

Baird mentions that the statues of Cole are still standing.  “Now that’s respect,” he says.  The many decorative statues could be recycled into more useful items, but the Stranded in this camp didn’t do that.  Either they respect the Cole Train or they just lack the tools to do anything with it.

The stadium marks the second time the player’s squad has to split up.  This time, however, the player actually gets to choose which way they go.  During the encounter, Cole will mention how he takes this invasion personally.  Not a pilgrimage, eh, Cole?

After getting down to the locker room, Cole approaches his old locker, and then he stands in front of it.  He hesitates to open it.  If he does, will he find the ghosts of his past?  Will his fear that he’s been dead be vindicated?

Cole is on the Thrashball field after a series of flashbacks during the cutscene.  There are two pillars and various circles around the pillars.  I have to wonder how Thrashball is played.  Between the tabletop game found on Sovereign, the design of the field, and how light the ball seems to be, I can only find questions instead of answers or suggestions.

A Lambent “mega stalk” comes up in the middle of the field, and the Stranded have a bomb.  They have an entire tent full of unexploded ordinance, actually; what were they going to use this ordinance for? The Stranded leader, as we have been told twice now, is not a fan of the COG.  With that in mind, it’s not a stretch of the imagination that the leader of this camp would use the ordinance to attack the former COG.

Cole grabs the bomb and runs it to the stalk, dealing with the Lambent as if it were a Thrashball game.  I do not like this scene.  We are given the illusion of control, being in the third-person perspective that we have come to know as meaning, “you get to play now.”  Instead, press a button and the Cole Train just runs off on his own.  Boring!  Cole steps starts showboating after planting the bomb.  Either he is suicidal—the bomb has enough power to neutralize the stalk, and he’s standing next to it—or he’s delusional.  Either way, the squad is impressed by his moves.  I guess they’re all accustomed to crazy acts of stupid heroism after 15 years of fighting the Locust.

The Stranded leader mentions how this camp was left untouched until Cole showed up.  Did the camp’s luck just run out, or is there something about the former COG that attracts the Lambent?  There must be a reason why the Lambent are always coming up where Marcus and friends go.  Reasons beyond “giving the player something to shoot at,” anyway.

One final thing to mention about this chapter: Why does the elevator stop at the floor with the Gunker on it, and why does it start moving after the Gunker is killed?  There is no logical reason for this, and it is inconsistent with later sections in the game.

Chapter 6: Hanging By A Thread

Everything about the zip line opening is awful: the dialogue; the shooting, despite unlimited ammo.  The absolute worst part of it, however, is the landing.

There is a Gunker at the bottom, and it will lob gunk at you as you land.  If you’re playing on Insane, then you’re going to be riding the zip line once again, and you’re going to be gunked when you land, again.  There is nothing that the player can do.  It’s a binary outcome: either you get screwed on the landing, or you don’t.  If you survive the landing, you then have to find a safe place to attack the Gunker from.  Remember, the Gunker negate cover.  The landing of the zip line all comes down to if you get lucky and if you can put enough rounds into the monster before you die.  Skill has little meaning here.

After dealing with the Lambent, the squad approaches the Stranded camp on the bridge.  Baird makes a comment about feeling crosshairs on his head; the camp at the warehouse—the only group of Stranded that the squad had encountered today that was nice—took a shot at Carmine’s head.  In 1-4, KR-70 mentioned that this group of Stranded was taking pot shots.  In 1-5, the leader of the stadium Stranded camp mentioned that this is a group of Stranded that the former COG doesn’t want to mess with.  Well, it’s actually the Locust occupying the bridge.  The only players who would be surprised by this would be the players who have only played Gears 3, but even then the shock would be lost on them because they wouldn’t know who the Locust are.

Baird comments about the informal, squalid look, and Sam replies with how that’s normal for the Locust.  Baird snaps back, “No, in Nexus they were organized.”  Delta brought Jack with them, which should have been recording the entire infiltration on video.  The video would have shown how organized the Locust were, the war they were waging with the Lambent underground.  There is no reason that such a video would have gone unseen by Gears, considering the tactical data it would have provided.

Cole mentions how these new Savage Locust “ain’t nothing a Boomshot won’t fix!”  No one in the squad has a Boomshot on them.  I, playing as Cole, never picked up a Boomshot.  Where is Cole getting this Boomshot from?

At this point, all we have to do is look out to the ship to find an inconsistency: the layout of the ship, as well as the damage it has taken, does not match up.  The Lambent Leviathan is also on the port side of the ship.  At the cutscene where Cole tells Marcus he’s got a “grandstand view,” the Leviathan is now on the starboard side.  After the cutscene is over, the Leviathan returns port side, taking gunfire.  There is no hole in the hull.

When Marcus says, “animals just love me,” the Leviathan is on the port side of the ship.  The Leviathan should be on the starboard side.  So, there is a glaring continuity error from yesterday after all.  To close this act out, it’s easier to see from the bridge that the box of Tickers would not have landed on the Leviathan.  At least the cutscene ends on a high note: another exchange between Sam and Baird!  Those two make such a good couple.

The nitpicking will continue next week with Act 2.  The tone will improve, I promise.

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