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Gears of War 3’s character development scores big time

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I've never particularly enjoyed the cast of Gears of War, but now I find myself completely engrossed in the emotional backstory of one of the most interesting yet overlooked characters in the series: Augustus “Cole Train” Cole.

As I played through the first chapter of Gears of War 3, I experienced an episode through Cole’s hometown of Hanover and the remnants of his Thrashball legacy. When the flamboyant, cocksure Cole Train gazed at a promotional billboard of himself smiling and clutching a box of cereal, he said in a somber voice, “Ever feel like you’re dead, but nobody ever told you?” That was the moment I realized I was going to see some real depth to this person.

 

Like usual, the chapter focused on two prominent characters, Cole and Baird, and tied neatly into the events of the tutorial with Marcus and Dom. As I made my way through Hanover, small snippets of Cole’s past life were presented to me: Surviving residents whispered the Thrashball star's name as he walked through their camps, and I found an interactive grocery store ad that shouted, “The Cole Train runs on whole grain, baby! Wooh!” The locals had even erected a golden statue of the athlete as a means of remembering a prominent idol from better days.

And how did Cole react to such sights? With complete respect and gratitude. He waved cordially at people who whispered his name and gave an affable “hey!” to those who addressed him directly. On its own, reliving the glory days of the once-venerated star was a great experience. But I soon learned that all of these snippets into the past were precursors to a specific, emotional (and funny) climax that gave me chills…and left me with a huge grin.

I arrived at the nucleus of our lively character’s retrospective: Cougars Stadium. After fighting my way inside, I witnessed an inspiring scene: Cole entered the team locker room to find everything completely undisturbed — exactly how he remembered. He approached equipment bearing the familiar number 83 and a helmet that he calmly held and admired with a comfortable smile on his face. Then out to the field he walked — brandishing the trappings of his Thrashball self — into a beaming light and the thunderous roar of an anticipatory crowd.

The play was simple: Deliver the explosive device to the Lambent Stalk at the center of the field. In cinematic slow motion, the athletic giant proceeded to juke and pummel his way past Locust offenders. No matter how hard the brutish aliens tried, they didn't affect the Train's momentum one bit; he reached the Stalk with relative ease.

After planting the bomb, Cole began to dance and cheer with the booming audience. They chanted his name, louder and louder, as he waved his arms upward in provocation. And then time ran out; the bomb beeped rapidly and exploded. Suddenly, the imaginary crowd disappeared, the vibrant light faded away, and the Thrashball star flew violently through the air.

After he landed and slid to a stop, Cole lay motionless with a slight amount of smoke billowing up from his body. Baird and their other companion, Sam, rushed to his aid, but upon helping the soldier to his feet, he merely dusted himself off and balked about how he was still at the top of his game. Awesome.

Because of this sequence of events, Gears of War 3 provides what the other games in the series don't: context to the personality and disposition of a character. Augustus Cole is loud, ostentatious and overly cocky, and we now know why: He has a history of success, fame, and glory. The aforementioned scene in the Thrashball stadium was not only beautiful because of its contrast to the conflict at hand; the scene also made perfect sense with regards to the ego that a venerated sports star can develop.

Because of this sequence, the Gears of War series now features a character who is more interesting and pertinent than the two main characters combined (Marcus and Dom), and I now have a new name to add to my list of all-time favorites: Augustus "Cole Train" Cole. I only hope that the rest of the game features similar moments of insight.

For those of you who plan on picking up Gears of War 3 after it launches on September 20: I hope you get the same feelings I did after experiencing Cole's reunion with Cougars Stadium. I have no doubt that I’ll remember that particular moment for a long, long time.


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