In order to convince us that there exists some talent for storytelling and emotion-pulling at Epic Games, there seems to be more attempt at pulpy substance in Gears of War 2. Within the first hour we hear about Maria and see Dom get noticeably anxious and annoyed at the fact that she has not been found. Unfortunately, the player has no real experience with Maria, and only short cut-scenes and words serve to tell us that there exists a palpable and loving relationship between Dom and Maria. Sure, I’ll buy it–to a point.
Instead, what I found happening with Gears of War 2 is my own interest in the relationship between Dom and Marcus. The first game certainly hints at it: Dom is the one to break Marcus out of his prison, they are almost always together, and the achievements for co-op play make homoerotic jokes about the two. The jokes return, but there exists a deeper exploration of camaraderie, for a number of reasons.
First, while there still exists a squad-based gameplay, there are many more moments that struck me due to it only being Dom and Marcus traipsing through abandoned bases and high-tension moments. Both the first and second game have the exact same amount of people in Delta squad, with the exact same number of deaths. Tai Kaliso is the unbreakable spirit mimicking the loss of a figure of some strength as we saw with Lieutenant Minh Young Kim. We once again have a Carmine brother, and like his brother Anthony, Benjamin is a sniper who lasts about as long as it takes for me to reacquaint myself with his weapon of choice.
The former is supposed to enrage us at the enemy’s cruelty. The latter serves as a running gag of sorts, especially as it heightens the moment when he isn’t killed when we initially think he is.
However, Baird and Cole seem much more ancillary figures this go around, serving much more often as support. Both serve to advance the plot at keypoints, but neither is notably there for the majority of the game. No, the sense upon which the game builds while progressing through the game is that Dom is your partner, and the one on whom you will be relying (sometimes to my chagrin, considering the sometimes brilliant, sometimes insipid AI).
In the first game this sense was hard to instill because we are still learning about all the characters, and have no particular sense of what has passed among them before. There exists some relationship between Dom and Marcus in the first game, but in the second we have the benefit of knowing what they both experienced, together, in a previous title.
Then comes Maria:
When Dom took the pistol and ended the life of the broken shell of a woman who was his wife, I did not feel for her in any capacity beyond her being another victim of the Horde. The transition of his vision from the ideal of his wife to the husk she had become served to make me feel more for Dom, who actually has a voice and character in the game–he’s a character we know, she’s just a myth we have destroyed. What do we know about Maria? She’s Dom’s wife. She, in many ways, is a prop to make us feel for Dom.
In fact, it is Marcus who steps in to break the illusion Dom is placing upon the broken-down Maria he’s holding. The scene vacillates between focusing on Dom and his desperate attempts to explain his failure to save her and Marcus’s own reaction, stony-faced and silent. When the gunshot finally blasts, we’re focused on that face as it pauses, and then continues walking. This cut-scene, married with the gameplay of the squad-based missions, serves to make focus us instead on how Dom and Marcus will deal with this.
As Duncan Fyfe at Hit Self-Destruct notes, they, like sharks, don’t pause because they can’t. They march ever-onward into the enemy’s lair, stalwartly going about their mission. Given the knowledge that they will continue their task, all that matters now is not what was left behind in Maria, because we won’t be given time to explore that, but what still exists in the future. In a brief moment of concern, or what counts as concern for Marcus, Dom is given the option to sneak into the next portion of the game, but Fenix wryly notes that if he were in Dom’s shoes, he’d want to run in blasting–he understands.
The relationship that really matters? The one for which you can earn achievements.