Along with my peers, I chuckled at the "So Macho" remake of Gears of War as 2006 drew to a close. And this was only natural. Gears of War's washed-out, hyper-macho vision of a world on the cusp of complete annihilation was more than a little silly. That's fine. That's videogames.
But my first clue that this satire was solidifying into something else came with Eurogamer's year-end awards.
Where most sites choose to present the illusion of a united front in their "Best Of" selections, Eurogamer prefers to revel in messy internal dissent. After they assemble their list by popular vote, they mail it out to their writers and wait for the colorful commentary to pour in. Rather than resulting in a bland chorus of, "We think Ultra-Shooter VII is a real progression in the genre," you end up with writers who despised the game, shocked to find it presence on the list and venting about it. Because - y'know - this is all subjective, and if you think everyone in the world agrees that a 9/10 game is a 9/10 ... well, you probably work for Metacritic.
But when Gears of War slipped in at seventh place, things got messy. After reading the writers' responses, you're left with the question: If this is what they all think, how on Earth did it reach such an elevated position to begin with?
Like any commercially successful title, Gears of War has been a topic of constant debate since release. But while its merits at a game are split equally among the chattering classes, the writers at Eurogamer expressed nothing short of open scorn for its aesthetics. Take my partner in crime at Rock Paper Shotgun, John Walker: "Honestly, I'm the girliest man in the universe, and I'm secure enough in my masculinity not to need to play this," he says, before later adding it was "one of the ugliest games I've ever seen." Or Triforce mainstay Dave Taurus: "It's the most blatantly homoerotic game of all time, so at least it's striking a blow for equality." Keza MacDonald went as far to describe it as "trashy. It's gratuitous, brash, full of itself and overall a tad unsavory." These opinions have become so commonplace that it's virtually impossible for a smart site to talk about Gears of War without a few digs at its ass-slapping, locker-room attitude.
What's going on here? At the time of its release, it was arguably the most technically impressive game ever created. Its production values are as high as the very best games have managed, before or since. The developers even managed to distinguish it from the pack, deciding that desaturation controls were put in Photoshop for a reason, and they're bloody well going to use them. So, what's the problem?