On Second Thought

By Mark Delaney, 1 year ago
"Who wants my coleslaw?"

For many years it was a question I posed to the table whenever I went out to eat. I'd tried it a bit as a kid, didn't like it, and wrote it off from that point on. I wasn't into cabbage, or the raw carrots, or the dressing. Nothing about it was "for me". One day several years ago, my friend's dad made some homemade coleslaw, offered it to me, and I declined. "You should try it. Tastebuds change over time, you might like it now." The science of that statement sounds dubious, but I understood what he meant. What I don't like when as a kid won't necessarily be what I don't like as a teen, or now as an adult. I still didn't try it that day, assuring him that it's simply not my taste, no matter his recipe or my reformed tastebuds.

Taste extends far beyond the concept of eating, of course. We all say that we have certain tastes when we talk about, well, anything. Movies, books, music, video games, potential partners, and so on. My "taste" in games for roughly the last decade, as I've grown into the age where I've formed such a thing, has been one that prefers story-centric games, single-player games, certain types of conflicts, characters, and even things like art styles and tones. I often know what I like and what I don't like, sometimes without having played certain games. Still, I try to give anything a chance if I'm somewhat on the fence about it. My gamercard on this site says I've played 328 games. Some of those have dozens of hours sunk into them while others hardly made it past the first few minutes. While I do believe I've honed my taste to where it can very often be trusted, I've recently made note of the times where I tried to go back and give some games another shot and came away with more positive opinions.

The catalyst for this piece is Gears of War, the series that I have very often publicly disavowed. Existing only in the shadow of Halo and one of the flagship franchises for Xbox, Gears had long turned me away before I ever really played it much. I had played some split-screen co-op of the original back before I had my own 360, but by the time I bought one in 2008, I knew it wasn't a game I wanted to own. I didn't care to play it again, no matter what friends, family, and forums were telling me. To me, Gears was a series that checked no proverbial boxes on my list of tastes. Hulking, testosterone-oozing bros with chainsaw guns gutting up equally hulking alien monsters with little in the way of story, character development, or emotional intrigue -- it was the anti-taste for me. It was coleslaw. Eventually, however, I figured I needed to give it a more concerted effort on my own Xbox, on my own time. In 2009, I bought it used for cheap along with the sequel. After a few hours of campaign mode, both solo and in co-op, as well as a bit of multiplayer, I was satisfied with my attempts to see what the game truly offered.

 For years, <i>Gears of War</i> was a series I felt I had seen enough of during my limited time with it. For years, Gears of War was a series I felt I had seen enough of during my limited time with it.

I still thought it sucked. All of my initial impressions were proven true. They were still idiotic bros shooting up monstrosities in the sort of way that affirmed the outsider perspective of what video gaming consists: brainless violence and a lack of depth. I returned them the next day and moved on to better things, thus writing off the series once and for all. I had given it a fair shake, and it wasn't for me.

The recent release of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition meant that a bevy of people suddenly had backwards compatible download codes for the series and were without any use for them. As a massive franchise, plenty of gamers had already played or owned the games and thus were looking to trade them. At the same time, I had begun wondering if I was okay with missing out on this part of Xbox's and gaming's history. Gears most famously revolutionized the third-person cover shooter as a genre. The same way that the Batman Arkham games have since influenced many games' melee fighting mechanics, Gears of War is the godfather of the modern cover shooter. As a fan of not just a great number of games but the industry and hobby of gaming as a whole, I felt my unfamiliarity with the series was still a blemish on my personal history with the medium.

Once again, I set out to acquire the games. This past January, I bought all four at an easy-to-swallow price of $7.50. If I was still wrong about them then I would finally put this whole ordeal to rest. I could stop wondering, stop feeling bad about skipping out on such an apparently influential series. By the end of January, I had wrapped up the story for the first game. As I type this, I'm about halfway through Gears of War 2. Now I've undeniably given the series my best efforts. And you know what? They're still hulking idiots and the story still leaves much to be desired, yet I'm still finding positives to take out of the series.

It took me three tries over a decade, but I've finally seen the merits of <i>Gears</i>.It took me three tries over a decade, but I've finally seen the merits of Gears.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a mea culpa. As I have felt for years, I feel that a lot of my opinions on the series are warranted and remain true. However, I simply couldn't be bothered to play through the entire first game's campaign the last time that I tried; now here I am halfway through the sequel with full intentions of playing them all. The co-op is a lot of fun, the shooting works well, and the cover system deserves its praise. It's like watching the original run of The Twilight Zone. A lot of what I've seen feels familiar and played out, but then I recall that this did it first. The twists that we see in some modern stories were directly inspired by or taken from those in The Twilight Zone, which itself then comes off as predictable, but only because we've watched those stories out of order.

Similarly, games like Uncharted and Spec Ops: The Line are, arguably, improvements over the cover mechanics in Gears, but they're utilizing a system for which Gears laid the foundation. It's a stepping stone in contemporary gaming, one that I was lacking for so long. Even though I don't and likely never will love the series, I still think it has been worth my time and effort to see what it has to offer. I love a great story, especially in an interactive medium like gaming, but I'm okay with not finding a great story in every game. The story of Gears is not its strong suit, but it has never preached that it is. Gears has always been famous for the co-op and the mechanics of its gameplay. It deserves being remembered for those things and I didn't believe that until a few weeks ago.

Looking at my gaming history, I see other examples of this change of heart, too. I really didn't like the first Mass Effect much at all. It felt too dated by the time I got to it in 2010. Eventually I put that aside and fell in love with an amazing game and trilogy. It's embarrassing to say this, but for a brief while I didn't even like Left 4 Dead or BioShock because, in both cases, the actual FPS gameplay didn't feel as polished as that in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. All of these were games that I got right when I bought my Xbox 360. At the time I was looking for the most technically impressive games, not knowing in weeks to come that I would see the merits of each of the other two games mentioned and come to feel that they far outweighed the merits of Modern Warfare.

 I've had other changes of heart too. <i>Mass Effect</i> is an all-time favorite, whereas I once barely left the Citadel. I've had other changes of heart too. Mass Effect is an all-time favorite, whereas I once barely left the Citadel.

At this point I'm left wishing that I still had access to a 360 or that certain games would come to the backwards compatibility list. Games like Binary Domain and Remember Me, for example, seem like the type of games that deserve second looks. It's not as though any game I've disliked over the years means that I got it wrong, however. I still don't care for Halo. I finished the story in Homefront and don't believe my negative opinion of it needs revisiting. No one likes everything, nor should they. Sometimes, though, it's worth giving some games a second thought. I think most games teach us something about the medium as a whole. Whether that's good or bad, we won't know until we give them our time and, sometimes, another try.

Nowadays, when I'm out to eat and my meal comes with a side of coleslaw, I don't give it away. At some point over the last few years I tried it again, discovered I really enjoy it, and now even buy it at the deli on occasion. Have my tastebuds changed? Yeah, I guess they have. I'm glad to have revisited some of the games that I have. Sometimes, I've only confirmed what I already thought, that certain titles just aren't for me. Other times, though, I've benefitted as a lifelong gamer from having given some games or series another look. I wasn't necessarily wrong about those games. My taste, and sometimes tolerance, have just changed. If Gears of War is my coleslaw, I am happy to admit I like the taste much better now.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.