Friday, November 18, 2011

What Might Have Been

Spoiler Warning! ArrOOga, arrOOga! Spoiler Warning!

The body of this post discusses major plot points from Gears of War 3, in particular a characters fate toward the end of the game. Don't read the rest unless you have finished the game. You have been warned.

Previous posts in this series:
The Coalitions Finest
User, Why?
Brothers To At Least Act Three 

Click To Read More
Still with me? At this point, I assume that either you've finished the game, or you don't care, but you're interested in seeing what I'm talking about anyway. The third possibility is that you saw that this post was related to Gears of War 3 and you never even clicked to read the rest, but if that's the case, you're not even reading this, so I don't know why I bothered.

At the end of Act 3 there is a climactic, edge-of-your-seat action moment, as six Gears face the combined might of the Locust forces, and then get ambushed by the malevolent Lambent creatures just as things are looking good. The action itself was tight and enjoyable, holding out on a rooftop, surrounded by enemies at all sides, unsure of how this was going to end.

Except that I was pretty damned sure I knew how this was going to end, cliched and melodramatically. In short, one of the characters we've known since the start of the first game leaps off the roof, blasts away half a dozen enemies, climbs into a truck and drives over more of them before ramming into a fuel tank, exploding in a ball of flame, sacrificing himself and killing all the bad guys, but leaving the fellow soldiers miraculously unscratched.

Doms death was laughably overblown and melodramatic. In attempting to make it action packed, they over played almost every aspect of it, turning it into a near comical farce. Worse still, it was telegraphed from hours before, arguably from his first appearance in the game.

It seemed so obvious that I almost thought it was going to be a misdirect. Make you believe they were going to kill Dom, then have someone else take the bullet. That would have been a much better idea, but alas, the writing staff didn't see it that way.

Here's how I would have done it, and why.

Play out the scene almost exactly as is, but replace one of the characters at the scene with Baird, the cocky, begoggled, blond asshole. Leave in all the moments with Dom, the awful, cheesy, cliched reflection at the gravestone, the handing off of his knife to Marcus, everything. Have it really look like he has given in to his fate.

But when the moment of crisis arrives, have Baird trigger a device, rig a pipeline, overload an engine, in short, let him do his thing. Let him go out being Baird, the mechanic, the tinkerer, the egotistical brains. He could even have taken and used one of the devices from earlier in the same Act, the bombs attached to the fuel lines.

Now I know what you're saying. Anyone who knows me knows I love Baird. I love his goggles, his cheeky dialogue, his smart-ass comments. Of course having him die is going to have a greater effect on me. But hear me out one second!

Throughout the series, the Baird/Cole relationship was the bright humour in every dark situation. No matter how crazy or impossible things got, Baird and Cole had a smart comment to keep everyone in check and push on to victory. They were best friends that loved to hate each other, constantly poking the other, annoying them, highlighting their flaws. And in the newest installment, Baird and Sam had a similar, if neonatal, version of that friendship. There is a moment at the end of Act 1 when, as they stare seemingly certain death in the face, Baird tells Sam "I know that at a time like this I'm supposed to tell you that I've always loved you. But I don't, I really, really don't." But he's a liar! He does love her, maybe not as a potential partner, but he respects and admires her, and knows that he'd always have his back in a firefight.

Doms death had little or no impact on the rest of the story. The person it should have affected most, Marcus, has always been an emotional deadzone anyway. He is the Master Chief or Gordon Freeman of the Gears series, a neutral character that the player can become for the purpose of the story. Admittedly, he has slightly more character than either having both a face and a voice, but in the end, he is portrayed as an emotionless husk. This is never more obvious when he shrugs of Doms death to push on with the mission, only mentioning him again before the ending when asking Anya "Are you ok?", to which she replies "No. And neither are you." Apart from a forgettable scene with an entirely forgettable and unnecessary support character a little earlier, that is the sum total of the effect that Doms death has on the characters prior to the final cutscene.

Bairds death at the end of Act 3 would have crushed Cole and Sam, and completely taken the wind out of everyone else for the final two Acts of the story. Had I written it, Sam would have been there to see Bairds last moments, roaring in anger and disbelief even as it happens. She would have screamed herself hoarse, the others having to drag her backwards across the dust as she fired into the remaining Locust crawling out of the wreckage of whatever Baird had enacted. The next Act would have her using new, harsher incidental dialogue, thirsty for blood, clearly unable or unwilling to push aside the emotions she is going through.

The game would progress similarly to how it actually does, until the team meets up with Cole again on the island of Azura, just before the final assault on the stronghold. Marcus would silently step forward to break the news, but Sam would step in. She would take Cole to one side, away from the others, out of earshot. The scene would be viewed from a distance, unable to hear what is being said. Only Coles reactions would be evident. He'd push her away. He'd grab his lancer and race away into the island. Sam would look back at the others before turning on her heals and following him. The whole scene would be played in silence, only the sad, beautiful score barely audible over the events.

Later in Act 5, just before the final battle, things would look grim for Delta Squad. The Locust on one side, the Lambent on the other, Marcus and Dom, Anya and Jace down to their last rounds. A huge explosion would blind everyone in fine dust before Sam and Cole charge in from the back, dramatically storming to the rescue. The final chapter would be played with Marcus and Dom, Sam and Cole, with Anya back in her support role, providing vital intel to the squad. Marcus and Dom would have their usual dialogue for combat, but the other two would have new lines added in, noticeably meaner in tone, more violent thoughts bubbling to the surface in battle.

Doms death was a throwaway, inconsequential event that really had little to no impact on the ending of the game. The Queen was going out one way or another, so adding Doms death didn't really change that. No-one on the team really showed any signs of being affected by the news of his passing, pressing on with the task at hand, and not even mentioning him. By killing Baird, the charm would be gone, the humourous quips in the heat of combat, noticeably absent. This wouldn't have been a bad thing, altering the whole tone of the ending to something much darker.

There would have been opportunity for Cole to evolve as a character, even if it is to a darker place than his happy-go-lucky attitude he had up to this point. In fact, there were several hints in the series that maybe Cole wasn't entirely right in the head to being with, especially the wonderful waking dream sequence in this latest game. Losing Baird would have thrown him headlong over that mental edge he seemed to be balancing on, making for a potentially much more dramatic finale. Similarly with Sam. Though players only know her from this game, she could have ended as a very different character to how she started out as.

As it was, no one really grew in the third Gears game. Cole, Baird, Sam, Jace and Anya didn't really show any signs of being affected by the untimely death of their teammate. One could argue that we don't know what happens tomorrow after the dust has settled, but that's not the point. There was no character development within the story of the game. Even Marcus doesn't really change, but then, I never expected him to. That's why I feel it would be better to put the strain on someone elses psych, put someone else through the emotional ringer.

There has been a lot of talk online about Doms death, the majority of it feeling that it was poorly done. Most seem to be disappointed with the over-the-top execution, as well as the choice of character. It felt like the attitude was that Doms story had been finished, and he was now expendable. His redemption would be in death. Dom became the Sirius Black of the Gears Universe. Once his story was told and the writers didn't know what else to do with him, off he trotted into the afterlife.

The worst thing however, is that I know Epic can do better. The reveal of Doms wife Maria in Gears of War 2 was incredible, and I still get a lump in my throat watching the cutscene where Dom and Maria are finally reunited after all his time searching for her. It was lowkey, intimate and understated. I didn't see the twist coming until it was too late, and by then I couldn't drag my slowly watering eyes away from the screen.

Go back and look to your own past, Epic. That is how you do death in a videogame.


Jason said...

Interesting. While Baird might have liked Sam , didn't Sam like Dom?
I remember someone poking fun at Baird saying he wouldn't get anywhere with her as 'his name isn't Dom'

Also, that no, and neither are you convo sounds like it would make sense between Marcus and Anya , but I'm remembering that coming from Sam?
I got the impression that Doms death was meant to hit both of them.

You are probably right with disrupting the Baird & Cole duo would have had a much greater effect. I thought the death was pointless and just for the sake of doing it.

Denis said...

Yup. According to the books, Dom and Sam were probably going to hook up at some point, but Sam was letting him grieve for Maria first. I'm not saying Baird and Sam would ever have gotten together, but they had a strong friendship, despite outward appearances. Plus, the effect of Bairds death would have been easier to convey via Sam than, say Doms death via Anya. There was no chemistry between Anya and Dom, but there was a flirtatious jibing between Baird and Sam.

Erm... I have no idea what you're trying to say in the second paragraph, by the way...