How do you know when you are playing a good game? For me, it is when I spend more time picking at the little things that bother my sense of entitlement. When there are things that I feel I should be able to do but I can’t within the confines of a game that was never meant to do those things. When I notice things that I would have otherwise brushed off as a classic game development mistake.
Recently I played Gears of War 3. Here are a couple of issues I had with the game despite consider it one of my top 2011 gaming experiences.
In the game, I walked up to a vending machine. I kicked the machine, at which point the candy fell into the collection bin. Markus said, “It’s mine now,” but at no point was I able to grab the candy. I’m not asking to implement an inventory system just so I can carry some HP boosting candy around but I was at least hoping for an achievement or bonus XP; something! It would have been an insignificant effort but gratifying reward for not simply following the flow of characters up the obvious path.
There were several times that Stranded attempted to talk to you. Not only were these conversations late, since I had already passed by the person (I think) was trying to talk to me, but they felt hollow since I couldn’t respond to them. If a Stranded character asked me to tell my subordinate to stop filling in the crossword puzzles, I wanted to slap the offender in the back of his head or tell the Stranded to piss off. It wouldn’t have changed a thing in the game but it would have made me feel like I was interacting, walking through a living space. Instead, it felt more like a museum of animatronic characters with one-directional dialogs. Yes, I said it right. It’s not a monologue if they are expecting a response from you, is it?
I never understood why Markus was always yelling at himself. “Go get the Silverback!” “Pull that lever!” It didn’t make sense because the AI never responded so who else was he talking to, me?!? It was weird to have that 4th wall broken and it felt out of place to listen to Markus bark orders at me when I was trying to BE him. Is Markus actually a Segregate android, does he bleed motor oil? Was Markus’ father just his creator? These questions were never answered…
There were countless times throughout the game when I would engage an enemy and we would get caught in a dance. The AI and myself would be touching backs and turning in place trying to circle-strafe the other in hopes that we could catch the other guy with a melee or chainsaw. It looked more like a very awkward waltz than two burly men trying to eviscerate each other. I wouldn’t have noticed a fluke but this happened a lot, and the waltz would last for as long as I continued to circle-strafe. This meant I had to stop and hope that the AI would keep it’s current momentum to let me get the drop on it. It usually ended in a 50:50 success rate that earned me a bloody screen of victory or a shotgun to my face.
We still saw the token, “you drive I shoot” moments in addition to the mixture of slow walking sequences followed by waves of bad guys followed by a cut scene. This time however it all felt balanced, other than the transition from gameplay to cut scene, which was still as jarring and disconnected as ever. I had a blast playing the game but a lot has changed in the world of game design since the first Gears. I hope that Epic is doing their homework. Now that the trilogy is out the door a clean slate is at their disposal.
These all sound like first-world problems and yet they seem to bother me as much as the more critical bugs like AI caught on the geometry or poorly designed checkpoints. In the grand scope of Gears of War 3 I consider the experience to be truly the best in the series. I feel that many of the staple mechanics in Gears 3 were it’s strongest suit as well as it’s weakest. Still, it was a journey worth taking for any shooter fan.