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Gears of War and Bioshock

December 6, 2007

I started playing Gears of War for the PC a couple of nights ago after a very unsatisfying attempt to get into Bioshock. As odd as it may sound to anyone whose played these games, they strike me as similar in some odd way.

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Where Bioshock was graphically attractive, emotionally deep and tactically challenged I find Gears of War graphically attractive, tactically challenging and emotionally retarded. Graphics, tactics and emotion. There’s something about those three things a game needs, and the loss of any one of them gives the same feeling of soulessness.

Graphics are always a big thing with games these days as the visual aspect is the first thing that really slaps people in the face. Though it’s certainly possible to make a good game with bad graphics, ugly visuals are just hard to overlook. Bioshock and Gears of War both win here.

Tactics is a catchall word I’m using as a not-so-clever substitute for gameplay. Graphics show you what it looks like when you shoot at the bad guys and tactics cover how you actually go about shooting them. A game needs to be compelling and fresh from a tactical stand point these days to stand out and get/keep peoples attention. Gears of War wins here in that it’s combat/cover system is really very well done. It may not be entirely revolutionary but it’s a good idea, well executed. Bioshock on the other hand, despite attempts at tactical daring with the plasmid nonsense really doesn’t offer anything new or compelling in this area.

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Emotion is arguably the most important of the three, though that depends on who you talk to. Graphics show you what it looks like when you blow up a tank, tactics deals with how you go about it and emotion wades into the morass of why you’re doing it. Sure the tank looked great when it blew up, and the process of slapping the sticky-bomb on it was fun but if the story plays out such that the tank commander turned out to be my former squad mate, or my long lost sister or something, well… that’s different. Those are admittedly pretty lame examples but you get the idea. Why we are doing what we’re doing in a game, that’s emotion. In this aspect Bioshock wins for the unique setting and the sense of immersion created by it as well as the inclusion of at least some effort at a moral dilemmas. Gears of War on the other hand is just run, hide, shoot. I don’t really care who I’m shooting at, and honestly I don’t care. They’re bad guys, that’s enough. While this works on some levels, it lacks that emotional connection that makes a really stellar gaming experience.

So Bioshock lacks any form of decent tactical/gameplay devices, and GoW lacks any real sense of emotional attachment. Pick another game that has both of those things yet lacks decent graphics and all three will feel vaguely similar in that each will be lacking something important.

Now none of this is to say that Bioshock is bad (it is) or Gears of War is horrible (too early to tell but I don’t think so), it’s just that to me both lack something fundamental.

I need to come up with an example of a game that has all three elements, those are hard to come by but when you find one, you know it.

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