This past weekend, I sat down to play Gears 5 with my best friend. While we aren't big fans of the series (not even remotely),) we had heard good things around the web. Fans were claiming this was "Game of the Year" material, and that Microsoft had crafted an exquisite campaign. It seemed like even people that wrote the original off were now on board.
Why did I hate it, then?
For a long time, now, I've been feeling more and more disconnected from the modern Triple-A gaming scene. New titles come out and are hyped beyond reason, but I feel nothing. What I see is the same mechanics from the past being passed off as new innovations. The recently released Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, for instance, just looks like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time to me.
So I didn't go into Gears 5 thinking I would become a diehard fan. I mostly expected the game to be good, not great, and to have some fun chainsawing grunts. Instead, I found tedium, awkward pacing, paper-thin characters, and some artificial difficulty balancing that left me scratching my head. Has no one played any other shooter in the last 20 years? Gears 5 is literally a "greatest hits" compilation of shooter tropes that went out of style a decade ago.
While I normally would just say, "This sucks," something else happened. For most of my life, I've been seen as an incredibly critical person. It takes a lot to wow me, for better or worse. What the average person sees, though, is a guy that hates everything. In my youth, I had friends that would dismiss my concerns as "Pete just hates everything." In an online community I belong to, I've even become branded with that mantra as my persona.
As I played through Gears 5, I became increasingly sadder and sadder. Here I was, playing a potential "Game of the Year" candidate, and I just felt lost. I've struggled with depression for more than half of my life and Gears 5 started to reawaken it. What if I really am just a miserable husk of a human? Do I hate everything on principle? Have I lost that spark of happiness that gaming used to bring me?
This has even been happening with some recent films and TV shows. The Mandalorian is the new hotness online, but I'm not really hooked. It's fine and has excellent production, but it's a pretty basic tale cribbed from a lot of samurai films. The story focuses on a guy with basically no character walking around a desert in a meandering manner for an hour. How is this supposed to be the savior of Star Wars that fans are raving about?
I listen to new songs and I get nothing from them. I see trailers for highly anticipated films and shrug my shoulders. Even big games, such as Death Stranding or The Last of Us Part Two, just look like the same old crap. It would be one thing if my job didn't center on criticism, but I'm now questioning my own ability to write. If Gears 5 is this bad to me, have I lost sight of what good game design is?
The rational part of my brain tells me that I'm not wrong. I can dislike whatever I want and not stop others from enjoying it. The emotional side, though, makes me worry that I've lost a part of my humanity. Gaming is my favorite hobby, but it's now possibly not enough. My standards are seemingly too high for any game to scale.
I've found solace in many indie games and Nintendo still brings a smile to my face. Luigi's Mansion 3, as a matter of fact, is my personal choice for that ever-coveted "Game of the Year." I clearly enjoy things, but it's not what's popular with average players. That's what scares me more than anything, really - that I may have lost that connection to the greater cultural zeitgeist.
Once my friend and I finished Gears 5 (which, admittedly, ended on a high note), we came to a realization. Triple-A games just don't do it anymore. Either because of an increasing prevalence of microtransactions or corporations more willing to sacrifice quality for quantity, we just don't find mainstream media all that enticing.
I can't seem to reconcile my different tastes with this idea that I'm a bad person. I'm not sure if I'll ever truly accept that I'm different, but I do know that I'll no longer be engaging with this side of the industry.
Maybe all of my current sadness is just mourning for the person I once was: a boy willing to blindly ingest what was thrown at him.