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The wailing and gnashing of Gears: Lancer vs. Gnasher

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"If I wanted to play against <expletive> camping <expletive>, I would have played <expletive> Call of Duty." The things you hear on Xbox Live. Sadly, after that peer pressure, I promptly began the next round, hit left on the D-pad, and roadie-ran to my death with a Gnasher shotgun clutched in my dead, lifeless fingers — or what remained of them.

As the Gears of War 3 beta comes to a close, I await in eager anticipation the game's full release this fall. In the meantime, I am left to ponder where I fall in the great game dichotomy: Gnasher or Lancer/Hammerburst? The decision itself says a lot about a person and perhaps stands alongside great debates such as Elvis vs. The Beatles, and Marvel vs. DC, Ginger vs. Mary Ann.

(Photo credit: Alan Rappa)

 

The game

Love or hate Gears of War, it is impossible to deny that the game evokes strong passions in those who play it. EGM announced Marcus Fenix's introduction into the gaming universe with a close up curb stomp. More than a little gloating is implied as you execute a downed-but-not-out opponent. The execution move itself has (d)evolved from a swift squishing underfoot to taking up the meat shield to its current apex, smacking a foe's face with his own dismembered arm. While the third installment may have a softer side (Anya's inclusion in the multiplayer beta comes to mind), I think the audience still expects "bigger, better, and more bad ass." Failure after rounds in the beta continues to come with an admonition questioning the gamer's manliness. Testosterone courses through both the game and its core players.

The divide

Within this backdrop, the player chooses not only his weapon but also his gameplay style. The Gnasher requires up close combat; you'll often fire it without aiming. When done effectively, Gnasher kills can be instantaneous, bypassing the execution finish altogether. Battles take the shape of a tense ballet as combatants roll to and fro, sliding into and out of cover. The bold player will rush an attacker, roadie run and roll to evade, and then blast away. The blastee usually obliges with unkind words and longs to play Halo instead.

The Lancer, though a handy cutting tool, is more known for pecking away from afar. The Lancer user will peek his head up and down behind cover, seeking refuge when the screen turns too red to risk a down. His location is often static; dug in but susceptible to flanking maneuvers. If a Lancer down does not require an execution, it's often because neither side strayed too far from cover and the death results from the three-down rule.

Regardless of which weapon a person chooses, death at the muzzle of the other is inevitably the result of a "cheap" tactic. The Gnasher is "overpowered." Lancer use is "cowardly" or worse.  Both would arguably fall slightly above E. Honda's Hundred-Hand Slap as a legitimate gaming tactic.

So who is right?

The amazing aspect of Gears lies in this truth: patience pays. The Gnasher is certainly a high-powered weapon, but use comes with great risk. A bull rush can and should be stopped. In fact, I would argue that the introduction of the wall-hopping Mantle Kick in the beta is an acknowledgement that protection behind cover needed a balancing counter.

Yes, Gears is about action. It takes the extreme gore of Mortal Kombat, puts it in a shooter, and amplifies it by a million. I have had many "Gears moments" of sheer joy in large part because of the game's excesses. And to think, prudence can also lead to success? That's pretty brilliant if you ask me.

As for what weapon I'll be carrying come September? I am going to try and juggle both, but I definitely won't be a hero.


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