Sunday, December 07, 2008
Gears of War: Aspho Fields Review
In 2006, Microsoft Game Studios and Epic Games released one of the most highly anticipated titles for the fledgling Xbox 360: Gears of War. Winning critical acclaim and taking the top spot as the most played game on Xbox LIVE, Gears of War was a huge success.
The game follows the exploits of Delta Squad, a group of four Gears (soldiers) on the war-torn planet of Sera in which humanity is fighting for it's very survival against a subterranean menace, the Locust Horde. Prior to this war, Humanity was engaged in a war amongst itself over fuel, the Pendulum Wars, which lasted decades.
Didn't know that last part? That's because though it's a killer game with great gameplay, Gears of War lacked any decent story presentation in-game. In fact, the only real source for backstory came from the "Destroyed Beauty" artbook that was bundled in with the Limited Collector's Edition of Gears of War, and if you didn't have that, you wouldn't know much of anything by playing the game itself.
And that's where Gears of War: Aspho Fields comes in. Written by the military sci-fi genius, Karen Traviss, author of the exceptional Star Wars: Republic Commando series, Gears of War: Aspho Fields leads straight into the blockbuster sequel, Gears of War 2.
The Locust Horde has been decimated by the deployment of the Lightmass Bomb, and their incursions have lessened and become less powerful. Is this the turning point of the war, the breath humanity needs to recover and strike back at the heart of this genocidal monster, or is there more going on than the Coalition of Ordered Governments, the COG, suspect?
The novel begins one week after the Lightmass deployment with Delta Squad on a routine patrol, managing another grub siting. While this is standard fare for Marcus and Dom, what they aren't prepared for is the sudden reappearance of an old comrade; a ghost from the past who holds a terrible secret about the Pendulim Wars, a secret that Marcus has kept from Dom all these years. A secret involving the fate of Dom's own brother, Carlos.
Thus sets the stage for the deepest look at the backstory to Gears of War that we've never had a chance to glimpse before. How did Marcus meet Dom? How and when did they enlist? Why does Hoffman have it out for Marcus? What is Marcus' history with Anya? And, most importantly, what really happened during the Pendulum Wars? Who were the factions, what was at stake? All of this is explored in flashbacks that nicely contrast the drama of the "present day" chapters.
Karen Traviss, as always, really explores the gritty side to being a soldier. The relations between the troops and their COs, the equipment, the terminology, it's all here in wonderful detail. Think Cole is just a great big, loud-talking kid? Think again. There's a lot more to Cole that never comes across in-game simply because the medium doesn't allow for that kind of character exploration. A novel does, while I liked Cole before, I have loads more respect for the character now that I _know_ what he's all about, deep down.
But of course, as we all know, the Locust do come back in force, and as the COG realize there's more at stake than they first thought and the Gears are called into action to defend humanity against a greater Locust threat, the situation of the present mirrors all too closely the tragedy of the past, and old wounds resurface that put loyalties, friends, and brothers, to the test.
Want to know more? Well, you'll just have to pick the novel up. That's the trick with novels, can't discuss too much of the story without talking about spoilers, and the kinds of details contained there-in are the ones you want to experience for yourself.
If you really want to understand what lead up to Gears of War, if you want to know who these steroid-ripped Gears are, what makes them tick, and even what makes the rest of humanity keep on going, Gears of War: Aspho Fields is your bible.