Louis Wu says this article is supposed to have three parts, so I guess this is the end. Weapons? Covered. Characters? Covered. NPC behaviors? Covered. Cover? Covered. What's left? Oh, right. Story.
Plot Holes You Could Drive A Warthog Through
Normally, when one is talking about plot holes, one is referring to elements of a work of fiction that cause the audience to lose suspension of disbelief: characters acting contrary to their nature, unlikely and unexpected events, strange conspiracies of circumstance and coincidence. Things that make you want to lean over to your neighbor and say, "that would never happen in real life".
Works of fiction in fantasy and science fiction universes have a lot of different ways to conceal those flaws: magical mysteries and high-tech mumbo jumbo. Wizards are people who can summon fireballs from thin air, and the Enterprise is a ship which, by very definition, travels faster than the speed of light. All that remains is for these fictional universes to remain self-consistent. Which they sometimes do.
Gears of War, though, has some plot holes. They're different kinds of holes. Most of the time, characters in Gears are fairly easy to understand, and act in accordance with our expectations. Since most of the time we expect them to be either kicking ass or taking names, we are not confounded when these things occur. So when something happens that does seem unexplained, it stands out. Some sharp readers already pointed out a few, but I'll try and start from the beginning.
Gears does a fairly good job of setting the stage. They cover a bit of what would otherwise be tedious exposition by Colonel Hoffman, who explains about the Locust, the Lightmass Bomb, and the Resonator, by having his speech occur during a firefight. The Resonator goes into the Locust tunnels, maps them, gives the Lightmass Bomb a target, and boom: no more Locust. Simple to understand, and succinctly presented.
A little later, Fenix asks a COG soldier if what he's holding is the resonator. It's a blue device shaped like a football; at first glance, I thought it was a severed head inside a helmet, but frankly, the exaggerated nature of Gears' character designs means it's far too small to be anybody's head. The soldier answers only "no" and chucks it down an emergence hole, never to be seen again... or is it?
Don't Call It A Vibrator
Things follow pretty logically for awhile. Fenix has to find the remnants of Alpha Squad, who were carrying the Resonator, and then takeover their mission of delivering it to a specific location underground. From a design perspective, the game wants to give you a quick way out of the mine from the pumping station after you deliver the device, so there's a lift convenient right there. Except it's unpowered. So you enter the mines from another location, go on a long slog, then plant the device and exit immediately-- only to find the thing doesn't work. This is also where the easy-to-comprehend plot stops working.
First, we're treated to a flashback of a cutscene within the same cutscene, which looks about as awkward as that sounds. We see the resonator detonate, and our squad escape to the surface, hit the deck, and hear the blast. Colonel Hoffman calls on the radio to say the thing didn't work, and then to illustrate that point, we're treated to a replay of the resonator's detonation, this time lasting longer, to show how its effects faded out too soon to be of any use.
While we're absorbing that, and just when we're expecting a nice anti-authority rant from Fenix about incompetent military strategists and egghead scientists who make technical jiggery-pokery that doesn't work, the resident egghead, Baird, suggests an alternative. He's holding another of these blue, metal footballs. Apparently it's called a "geobot", from which we can assume it's used somehow in mining, and further assume that Baird picked it up inside the mine. Perhaps he did, perhaps not. There is such a device on the pumping station. Is it the same one we saw earlier, and that's why it has all this information on Locust tunnels? We don't know. We're also not going to find out, since we're immediately sent on our next inexplicable mission.
This Question Is Worth Zero Points
Colonel Hoffman asks the egghead girl, Anya, to "find the zero point of that data" which leads to Fenix getting instructions to go to his father's house. What the heck is a zero point? I don't know, and neither do you. Is it where the geobot came from? Is it where the geobot stores its data? If the geobot Baird has already has the Locust tunnel maps, why is it necessary to go anywhere else? Even if it is, why is that place the Fenix mansion-- rather, a secret lab underneath the Fenix mansion?
Likely all this may eventually be explained, but it doesn't make sense to the audience now, and it shouldn't make sense to the characters.
Once you've reached the lab and retrieved the data from a computer there-- without explanation of what data, or why it's there, and how we knew it was there-- we're sent to a train station. We have to hop the train, which is infested with Locust, and reach the front, where the bomb is, to put the targeting data into it.
The Train Is At Home On The Rails, But The Passengers Are Motion Sick
Why is the bomb on a speeding, out-of-control train? We don't know, nobody says. Why is the train overrun by Locust? We don't know. Wouldn't it have been better to keep it in a warehouse until the targeting data was input, and then put it on a train to take it somewhere? We get it. Epic loves trains. That level is beautiful and fun. However, there's no sense of why we are there, or why the Locust are there.
For a moment it might seem odd to be putting targeting data into a bomb that's on a runaway train about to plummet into a chasm underneath a broken bridge. After all, what's the point of aiming something that's going to fall into a hole anyway? The cutscene at the end of the last level tries to answer this; segments of the bomb disengage and seek targets independently. Lucky for COG that the targets the torpedoes needed to hit were accessible from that gorge the runaway train was heading towards, right?
Gears is a game with only five acts; especially on the lower difficulty levels, it's pretty short. It's shorter than Halo 2, which we already know had three levels lopped off to make its ship date. Gears, while a lot of fun and very polished looking, also feels as if there are parts missing, either cutscenes or perhaps whole levels that would have given the required context; that would have explained what the connection is between the geobot Baird finds in the pumping station and the secret lab in the Fenix mansion, that would explain how the Lightmass bomb gets put on a train that is subsequently overrun by Locust before anyone even knows where the thing is supposed to be delivered. Was it stolen? Hijacked? One can only guess.
Stop, Children, What's That Sound
It's probably not going overboard to say that Marty O'Donnell's music is perhaps the biggest single element that makes Halo what it is, and a big part of the reason why even ignominious shooters these days have full orchestral scores. Gears has a couple of nice variations on a single theme, played quickly for combat or slowly for moments of quiet admiration of the crumbling world around the player. Mercifully Gears does not rush headlong through its five acts like a flaming ninja through a hospital zone, but allows for plenty of moments of quiet contemplation, not unlike the first installment of a game we know quite well.
Still, most of the time, the music is functional rather than inspiring. Combat tracks play on a loop until all the enemies are done; here or there a triumphal flourish might play when you've taken out a particularly big enemy, and it always ends with a final guitar chord that lets you know all the enemies in the area are vanquished and it's safe to come out and look for ammo. The variation of the theme played during the Act Five train battle is probably the best, but you'll hear those same strains repeated over and over so many times it will begin to grate on you, and you might consider turning down the volume. Gears seems to make up for being a relatively short game by having individual sequences be so hard at the higher difficulties that you'll be required to play them over and over. Gears' boss battles are hardly ever those kind, except for the last one-- more often it's the encounters with regular enemies that require seemingly endless iteration, especially when you can be taken out at any moment by a distant torque bow you could hear, but not see.