Some great writing and insightful observations in this review.
The story’s arc is like that of a football thrown lazily against a
crisp autumn sky: Even a dog can figure out where it’s going to land.
Hell, I could accurately predict individual lines of the game’s dialogue. I’m not saying the narrative in Gears of War 2 was bad; I’m saying it was — with a few, startling exceptions — completely mediocre.
And yet here’s the even crazier thing: I think the weak story made the game better.
Normally, we assume that shoot’em-up games need a good story to help
you “care about the gameplay.” Because shooters are extremely similar
to each other in terms of mechanics — kill things, scrounge for ammo,
go kill more things — they require a strong narrative to give the
action some emotional payload.
We often say the same thing about role-playing games and other
genres. The play is so generally similar from title to title — complete
quests, level up, complete harder quests — that it is only the quality
of the narratives that pulls you along. No story, no incentive to get
to the end. Right? The story and characters give the play meaning.
Except, for me, Gears of War 2 worked in precisely the opposite way. The gameplay is so insanely superb that it imbued the narrative with meaning. —Clive Thompson