Gears of War 2, which turns 15 today, is peak absurdity that would be near impossible to reboot


When I learned that Gears of War 2 turned 15 this year, I felt pretty damn old. That game – more than any other entry in the original trilogy – was a cornerstone in my adolescent gaming pantheon. It earned its own special place on the shelf, right next to Dead Space 2 and Street Fighter 4. I still have a lot of love in my heart for Gears 2, but I think it should stay firmly in the past.

I say that with a heavy heart. Gears of War 2 was so, so special. The series shed its initial horror skin when it made the jump from the genre-defining original to Gears of War 2. At 25, I’ve sharpened my spooky sweet tooth somewhat over the years, but back then the shift towards a more action-heavy romp was exactly what I needed. The game doubled down on the gory action. More weapons, more characters. Bigger bombastic brawls with enemies that took the absurd style of Gears of War and amped it up even higher.

I think Gears of War 2’s place not only in its own series, but also in the wider context of the video game industry at the time, is perfectly personified by chainsaw duels. Whichever mad genius decided to add the chainsaw bayonet into proceedings knew exactly what they were doing, and making it so you and another person can have a mash-off to decide who’ll get cut in half is so very 2008 that I can’t help but love it.

That’s kind of the thing with Gears of War 2 and wider original Gears trilogy it’s part of. It is exactly the kind of experience people wanted back in the 2000s, and relishes what it is so unashamedly, that it’s hard to imagine another point in time that’d see it get the same kind of pop that it did back in its day. “It’s a giant worm!”, a duel-sided chainsaw staff, every amazing line Cole Train has… all of this locks Gears of War 2 into its era. I’m not convinced that you do that sort of stuff today and get the same positive reaction.

So what if you go back to the drawing board? Series creator Cliff Blezinski recently pondered the idea of Gears of War getting a God of War-style reboot. It’s an interesting topic. On the surface there are lots of parallels between the two: gruff protagonist, over-the-top violence, a habit of jumping the shark whenever able. The idea is magical – it manifests visions in your brain of what such a game could look like.

But there’s a big problem. Throughout the old God of War games it’s made clear to those paying attention that Kratos isn’t exactly doing the right thing. Obvious pointers like destroying Greece with floods, storms, and ghosts sure, but also his tragic actions. He pushes away a chance to live with his dead daughter over revenge and he does plenty of other messed up stuff too! This all makes him maturing into the dad who wouldn’t curb stomp people on a whim meaningful.

I don’t care, this is still cool.

Gears 4 and beyond tried to take steps away from the original trilogy in order to tackle some mature topics. The fascist Coalition, the effects of the war, the planet with the Hammer of Dawn punching bigger holes in its ozone layer than your dad’s hairspray cabinet ever could. They pushed the focus away from the old gang because said gang had little reason to grow beyond what they already were. Gears 4 rushes to tear Marcus Fenix away from his tomatoes because honestly, shooting Locust is what he does best.

It’s also worth noting that while God of War’s combat was good, it wasn’t exactly genre-defining. Gears, on the other hand, is cover shooters. It just is. It’s the king of its craft. God of War could take the leap to the sleek action of the 2018 reboot and keep most people happy. If Gears of War ever left the third person cover shooter behind – that or the gnasher shotgun – I think and actual sinkhole, opened up by the anger of a million 30-year-olds, might appear underneath the Epic Games offices, before swallowing Tim Sweeney whole.

So, if a Gears reboot in the style of God of War were to happen, gosh it would be tough. The God of War reboot was already astounding work from a narrative standpoint. God of War always had tragic and emotional narrative threads running through it, but to bring it to the forefront in a way that made sense was undoubtedly tremendously difficult. To do so with Gears of War would be hard, because the games never frames the war in a way that gives Marcus, Cole, or any of the original crew anything to feel regret over.

In the same way that Mass Effect never asked whether it was good to have an accountability-free military force shoot their way through the galaxy, hunting a Saren for his horrific crimes (written in the midst of the War on Terror, of course), Gears of War preferred to celebrate a uncomplicated war against hordes (sometimes literally) of bad guys with guns. It was a lot of fun – it still is a lot of fun – but it’s hard to take that experience and retroactively make Cole Train feel sad for every woo he ever emitted.

Maybe you could focus on the loss of it all. Gears of War has always been good at this. Whether it’s Dom, or the Carmines, the series has typically been great at making deaths sad when it wants to. But it would be damn hard, and you might have to slice off a lot of what made the games popular in the first place.