Marcus and the gang find a quiet spot to break for toast in Gears Of War 2 ’s weirdest secret
Gears Of War’s original trilogy always had an image problem, one only exacerbated through the lens of 10 years of hindsight and progress.
Despite its tight, third-person shooter design, impressive action and revolutionary cover-based mechanics, the gruff, muscle-bound triangular heroes (absolute units), always gave it an alienating, noxious masculinity. It’s no wonder Gears 4’ s slight reboot of the series – introducing more genderdiverse characters in place of the chiselled bro-mountains – was met with such a warm response.
But loading up Epic’s second instalment for a celebratory 10th anniversary playthrough, I was struck by its rare but more nuanced moments, and one in particular recaught my attention.
No, it’s not the reveal of Dom’s long-lost wife, now in the clutches of the Locust horde and reduced to a moaning husk quickly euthanised by her sobbing husband.
It is the surreal moment the game asks, “Who wants toast?!”
Granted, the otherwise genteel breakfast query is delivered in such a way you’d feel pressured into answering yes just to avoid Marcus’ next slice of farmhouse being slathered with your Lancer’d-out innards, but this surreal Easter Egg perfectly punctures the game’s relentless momentum, offering players a chance to step back and indulge their virtual bread cravings among the chaos.
It could not come at a better time either, deep into the third act with the death of Dom’s wife a fresh memory.
Among the slithering body-horror surrounds of the Locust Hive, Delta Squad hatch a daring plan to sink Jacinto – humanity’s last major settlement – and flood the enemy from their encampment. It’s a madcap strategy in keeping with Gears Of War’s over-the-top approach. As the team splits, you soon find yourself in an open area with pillars arranged in a half-circle. Shooting away a central pedestal reveals a Locust toaster, and pressing X lowers two thick-cut wedges of loaf into it. A red glow, a puff of grey smoke, and the freshly grilled dough is ready to consume. Marcus and Dom even banter over the whole bizarre scenario, discussing how they “like ’em crispy!” in dialogue that sounds suspiciously like it was originally meant for another kind of roasted grub. With that, the whole offbeat moment is over, and you’re back to the Locust-slaying grind.
Toast of Landown
Okay, so it doesn’t skew the game’s exaggerated visceral tone to the extent it suddenly appeals to all audiences, but the Easter Egg brings humour to a doggedly barbaric game.
Gears’ original boss Cliff Bleszinski once proffered the advice that people should create shooter games that “make guns feel like guns, not weird toaster devices”. Perhaps Gears 2’ s most curious moment is a cheeky nod to that mantra?
Or perhaps, in a game that often takes itself too seriously – though it is arguably allowed to do so on the back of its merits – it’s just a silly juncture. It definitely could do with taking its foot off the pedal occasionally.
As gameplay designer Lee Perry once told me, “You can’t just have a single tone for the whole game. Walking muscle bags shouting ‘wrarrgh!’ just gets old, quick.”
“Shooting away a central pedestal reveals a Locust toaster and lowers two thick-cut wedges of loaf into it”
PublisheR Microsoft / Developer Epic Games / Format Xbox 360 / release date November 2008