Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gears of War: Anvil Gate Review

Hoffman. For those of you who've played Gears of War 2 with me, you know that I always play as Victor Hoffman though you may not know why. Honestly, it's all because of Karen Traviss. Over the last few years, she's taken the sparse story of the Gears of War franchise and injected it with actual plot, detail, and most importantly of all, character.

Her third and latest offering in the series is Gears of War: Anvil Gate, and like her previous two books, it follows the structure of telling things from the present day and flashing back to key and contrasting moments from a situation in the past.

The Coalition of Ordered Governments has retreated to an island stronghold far from the mainland, and there they've set up the last bastion of civilized humanity. The Locust Horde is seemingly defeated, and in either case, the COG is now beyond their reach. The original settlers of this island, citizens of the COG who have held it in trust since before the original Hammer of Dawn strike, allow the refugees from Jacinto to reorganize the island and make it their home, but the island is also inhabited by Stranded gangs, lawless humans who want the island for themselves. While fighting the rag tag band of Stranded another old enemy appears, though this time offering peace. The Gorasani, one of the Independent countries whom the COG was once at war with, seeks protection from the COG in exchange for imulsion, fuel, but can they really be trusted?

In each novel, Traviss picks a few characters to truly focus on, to really flesh out and develop in ways that just weren't possible in the games, and this time around, the chosen are Hoffman and Baird.

Hoffman is a character that Traviss has developed greatly before, but now she goes that extra step. The siege of Anvil Gate is something that was mentioned previously but never elaborated on, and now we get to read about that difficult siege during the Pendulum Wars and what Hoffman and his Gears and Pesang troops had to do to survive there. I personally find Hoffman to be a very strong, morale, and pragmatic character whom I admire, and it fascinates me to see what makes the man tick. The things he's done and the burdens he carries are ones that Traviss expands on in each novel, peeling away layer after layer of this intriguing character. Thatnks to Traviss, Hoffman has my respect and is my favourite character in the Gears of War universe.

Back to the present day, of course the other members of Delta squad are all present. Marcus is his usual sullen self, Dom is still struggling with but starting to come to grips with the loose of his wife, and Cole is as optimistic and the team player that he always was. Baird though, he's the Delta focus of this novel. Traviss really gets into his head, explains his thinking, his reasoning, and his general genius, and provides more insight as to why he's a cocky smart mouthed jerk to any and all. Baird's character isn't revolutionary, I found much of him predictable (mainly due to her past novels), but it's certainly nice to read.

Novel-only character Bernie Mataki returns, and for those unaware, she'll not only be featured in Gears of War 3 but will also be playable. We're also introduced to Sam Byrne, another female Gear in the upcoming game. Anya rounds out the trio of female Gears, and proves that she is able to hold her own in a soldier's capacity.

All of these characters and enemies need to set aside their differences and come together in the face of a new threat: The Lambent. Traviss pays key attention to politics and character dynamics between the different branches of the COG, the Indies, and Stranded, and she slowly but surly introduces the Lambent who are set to make a major appearance in the upcoming game and who's true menace is only glimpsed at in the novel's conflict.

Gears of War: Anvil Gate successfully builds what Traviss has laid down before, providing a solid and enjoyable read for any Gears fan, and crucial backstory for the next game which launches this coming Spring. While I'm sure much of these key events will be summarized or mentioned in Gears of War 3, there's nothing like reading the depth and character first hand, traits Traviss is a master of writing.

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