THE WELL HAS RUN DRY
More of the same is a good thing right? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it? Let well enough alone?
God of War: Ascension makes a compelling argument otherwise. The combat formula, already simplistic by modern standards, stubbornly refuses to evolve or take any risks whatsoever. Quicktime events are simply not fun anymore, nor are the garish scenes they’re married to.
The one character in video games known for his tunnel vision on an all-important goal now feels purposeless – he has literally run out of gods to slay. It’s an oral tradition where every screamed retelling further deafens and the theme of revenge long ago became perfunctory.
The subtitle Ascension ostensibly refers to Kratos’s rise to power-overwhelming and godhood itself. And yet it’s all too apparent that the series is waning – The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in gory fast motion. It’s a classic example of clandestine doublespeak, insinuating the opposite of the truth. Kratos is marionetted as a powerful warrior on the rise while the series quietly falters.
Gears of War Judgment contains the same kind of meta-trickery. The plot sets up a military tribunal focused on judging the actions of Kilo Squad in the opening hours of Emergence Day, the pivotal event that sets the stage for the entire universe. By going back to and reliving the narrative’s origins, Epic has created a meta-referendum on the value of its own franchise, a rigged trial conducted by a ‘third party’ to validate their own pretensions.
But just like the absence of the lead development team, a few staples of the franchise are nowhere to be seen. You can’t fight locusts in Horde mode. The breakneck flow of the plot has been replaced by a series of incongruous flashbacks. Marcus Fenix isn’t even on the attendance list. The result is a bait and switch – Gears looks to justify its legacy without presenting the proper evidence.
This could be spun positively: People Can Fly recognized how trite their own conventions had grown and tried to shake up the formula by providing a platform for a 3rd party perspective on the rest of the series. It’s unfortunate that the result is disingenuous. Judgment feels like the result of a finely tuned algorithm, a mathematical model for carving out just enough content and limited changes to justify another release before the Xbox720 hits.
Let’s not finagle metaphors. Evaluating the series based on number of iterations or just sheer time that has passed highlights a different conclusion: neither series is that long in the tooth. God of War has released four console games since 2005 and Gears of War has produced as many since 2006. They’ve both followed the formula of three games following the main story then tacked on a prequel; each in the lineage saw steadily rising budgets and profits until the precarious 4th release.
So neither G of War is really old per se – four games in eight/seven years is not a ton, not by any standard. They’re not world weary, they just aged hard. The drugs of white knuckle intensity and show stopping spectacle enthusiastically ingested by both IP’s turns out to have sped the velocity of their aging – both got old fast.
Despite the rampant recycling both did very well on Metacritic, scoring almost identically. Which is to say that both are (and always have been) engineered and polished to appeal to critics while sliding ever deeper into irrelevance.
So now Kratos’s famous snarl is replaced with a wheezing death rattle and Gears seeks to win an argument over its legacy that doesn’t exist. It would seem bizarre just a couple years ago that a God and Gears game would both come out to yawning fanfare in the dead zone that is March for video games. Such is the live-fast-die-young life cycle of such video game franchises.