I hate Gears of War for all the wrong reasons. It’s not the gameplay, the story, or the hyper-macho violence; it’s the downtrodden story unparalleled in video games, or any other medium for that matter.
What’s the big deal, right? Post-apocalyptia: so many video games have set up shop there that the once-small town has become an overpopulated snafu. So I can see how many people would simply group Gears of War into the same category. This is foolish. The Gears of War universe and story belong in a category all their own, one of a most soul-crushingly hopeless nature.
In any other post-apocalyptic game there is a vestige of hope, a small indication that perhaps through all of the death and destruction, humanity could survive. In the Fallout universe, dozens of settlements have emerged from the wasteland, and even a form of democratic government exists from coast to coast. In Halo there is no real chance of exterminating all humans as they are scattered throughout the galaxy. Borderlands simply exists on an abandoned mining planet. Even zombie games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising don’t come close to the total destruction of the human race. There is always a safehold, an impenetrable fortress wherein the survivors figure out how to retake the world.
Nuclear fallout, zombies, super advanced aliens; nothing can seem to exterminate humans. We’re like cockroaches. So why does Gears of War worry me so much? Because of the Toba catastrophe theory. This theory revolves around the eruption of a supervolcano at Lake Toba, Indonesia between 69,000 and 77,000 years ago that plunged the earth into a decade-long volcanic winter. Along with this cooling period came a layer of ash across much of Asia and noxious gases introduced into the atmosphere. These factors combined to kill all but around 2,000 of the human beings on the entire planet.
“So how does this geophysics lesson relate to video games?” I hear you bored readers asking. The Toba disaster introduced a school of thinking regarding just how many humans would be needed to repopulate the earth. Anywhere below 1,000 breeding pairs has been considered to be detrimental to the human race, as inbreeding would be inevitable. Any story in which less than 2,000 humans are still alive means almost certain extinction. It could take 100, maybe 500 years, but sooner or later, the lack of genetic diversity would guarantee our destruction.
So to tie it all back to a video game about chainsaws and grunting, Gears of War is a game you cannot win. Even if you beat the game itself, know that you cannot win the story. I’ve read all of the Gears of War books, and considering the author, Karen Traviss is writing the next game, I can make some logical deductions.
As Gears of War 3 stands, the remaining survivors of Sera fled to an island untouched by Locusts. Soon after they arrive, they were assaulted by the newest enemy introduced in Gears of War 2; Lambent monsters. In one particularly riveting scene of the book following Gears of War 2, the Lambent destroy an offshore oil platform prompting one of the characters to acknowledge that it was the tallest man-made structure left on the planet and was now gone. The survivor’s island quickly comes under siege and swaths of people are dying from malnutrition, disease and, most importantly, bullets. There may or may not be 2,000 individuals left, but they are in no way prepared to sit down and start making babies.
Further, the enemy has been set up to be insurmountable. Perhaps we should have seen this coming since the famous Gears of War "Mad World" trailer, in which the main character Marcus Fenix desperately fires a puny machine gun at towering monsters. Or the Gears of War 2 "Rendezvous" with Death" trailer. Or the Gears of War 3 "Ashes to Ashes" trailer. In each subsequent game, each earthshattering plan to destroy the antagonist has only succeeded at whittling away at the amount of humans left to repopulate Sera.
To make matters worse, the amount of cheeky bastards in the game has never been very high, and it’s dwindling. Fallout presents characters that can often offer some upbeat dialogue, and most zombie games are filthy with tongue-in-cheek humor. No one could argue that Dead Rising 2 is anywhere near as depressing. Even Halo has the stupid Grunts complete with hilarious catchphrases. But beyond Cole Train’s occasional one-liners and some cyanide-laced sarcasm from Baird, there isn’t much, if anything, to smile about in the Gears of War universe.
I’ve considered all of the scenarios in which things turn out all right for the humans of Sera. Perhaps a secret city has managed to survive the hordes somewhere. Nope, the expanded universe basically discounts this theory, because one of the characters treks across half the planet without seeing anything more than a few raiders. Maybe the Gears will ally with the Locust and create a peaceful world together. Nope, that’s disgusting and weird. Maybe Sera is simply a colony and the people of some other planet will arrive on a spaceship to save the day. Nope, if this were the case there would have been at least some mention of it during the two games and three novels.
But this is a silly thing to think about; I’m reading too far into the game, right? Somehow I don’t think so. This is obviously something the team at Epic has given some serious thought towards, and they must have a plan for the final game in the trilogy. I’ll venture a guess that the Gears universe ends in one of two ways. Either Epic takes the easy way out and introduces a deus ex machina, an inexplicable plot device to solve everyone’s problems: a secret city, a trilogy-long plan that reveals itself, weapon or technology of unimaginable power.
More likely than not, however, we can count on just the opposite. No Gears of War game has ended on a particularly upbeat note, and I don’t expect anything different out of Gears of War 3. The only constant of the series is that Marcus Fenix and the rest of Delta Squad will continue to shoot and saw their way to a body count of unreasonable proportions. Maybe they’ll kill every Lambent and Locust on the planet. Maybe not. But the human race will almost certainly not survive. They’ll just continue to do what they do best – kill things.
By Jonathan Deesing