One of the many disappointments of the holiday season was Gears Of War 2. In October last year, writing on the subject of sequels, I wrote that : “Nothing out there gives a development team more energy and drive than previous success but this also brings other problems into the fray like ego clashes, unreasonable pay demands and over ambitious game design.” Well it seems like I hit the nail on the head : “over ambitious game design” was indeed the trap Epic fell spectacularly into.
Reading the credits after finishing the game was a humbling experience: hundreds of people were involved in its production, a production vital not only to breathe new life into the franchise but also to advertise and show off the improved and financially lucrative “unreal” engine to the world. Indeed, as the press was very keen to point out, Gears was indeed a gaming feast with great graphics, sound and game design. Unfortunately, after all the hype, press releases, midnight launches and media coverage, it became apparent that Gears was not all it was cracked up to be.
(1) Changes In Mulitplayer
Adding “Horde”, upgrading the maximum number of players from 8 to 10 and adding programming designed to eradicate “host advantage” messed up the overall performance and previous fluidity of the multiplayer game resulting in well known matching errors and bugs.
(2) Is it 2 player coop or 4?
Epic seemed determined to integrate 4 player coop into the game (influenced by Halo 3 maybe?) and then decided to cut it down to 2 later in the development cycle due to it being too difficult to implement. This decision made the final AI very buggy and also led to the cut of the previous title’s “Find A Coop Game” section (a list of available coop games to join, divided into chapters and scenes).Indeed, looking for a public player on coop became a game of “roll the dice.” : if you were unlucky it was back to the main title screen !
(3) The Story!
Was it really necessary to devote so much time to the story and its character development? This is after all “Gears” not Final Fantasy! I admit I found some of the scenes moving and well done but the story bore no resemblance to the game structure and wasted a lot of time and resources. Most people seemed to find it more amusing to push the “back” button during a sequence and hear Marcus abruptly end the conversation with “stop nagging”.
(4) Game Design
The worst design error for me personally was the introduction of what I call “X and Y before Z”. These are techniques designed to keep the gamer alert by requiring unusual actions within a set time period. For example, “shoot the driver of the other vehicle before you reach the bridge”. Gears 2 is overwhelmed with these techniques and failure means instant death and the reloading of the checkpoint. Unfortunately, Epic failed to insert adequate checkpoints so the player ended up having to play the whole sequence again. These infuriating techniques were also unrelated to the difficulty setttings!
I could go on about Epic’s inability to fix the multiplayer issues before it started selling its new downloadable maps and its stubborn efforts to try and outdo the used game market by issuing codes with new games but I won’t. It was, at the end of the day, a good enough game with some breathtaking gaming moments. I just hope the lesson of over ambitious game design is learnt and taken on board for the next instalment: Don’t aim too high,set realistic goals and stop pretending to be something you aren’t.