For something like a year now, fans of the critically acclaimed and highly innovative Gears of War game franchise have been teased with the tantalising possibility of an all-new game in the series designed and built specifically to take advantage of the hardware and software of the Xbox One gaming console.
Judging by the rumours thus far, the new game will take place before the cataclysmic, pivotal in-game event known as “Emergence Day,” and will feature all-new characters, new battles against the original Locust Horde, and will certainly feature new weapons. Looking at the evolutionary leaps that took place between each installment of the GoW franchise (exempting, of course, the worst game in the series, Gears of War: Judgment), the new game should represent a qualitative shift in third-person shooters of the first order.
This is great news for devoted fans of the series (like me).
Or at least, it should be.
Yet, in my case, I greet the news with a rather indifferent shrug, instead of elation. And that should tell the folks at
Black Tusk The Coalition quite a lot about the size of the task in front of them.
Here are a few reasons why this fan of the original, awesome, standard-setting trilogy is not terribly keen to see a new game added to the franchise’s storied history.
1. There is nothing more to say
In Gears of War 3, Epic Games crafted quite possibly the perfect ending to their saga. In keeping with the dark, brooding, and nihilistic tone of the entire series, Marcus Fenix was able to save the human race… but only at truly staggering personal cost. He lost his best friend; he lost his father; and, for a little while, it looked like he would lose his own humanity.
The story was nicely wrapped up at the end of that game. There was nothing else to tell. The monumental battles between humanity and its enemies were brought to a decent conclusion. The epic three-way conflict between humanity, Locust, and Lambent was all done and dusted.
The only place left for the series to go is back in time, to in-universe events such as the Pendulum Wars, Emergence Day, and the Hammer of Dawn Counterattack. And there is rich ground to be mined here, for sure.
However, the series itself has a definite ending point. And, thanks to a great deal of canonical fiction published in the interim, we also have a pretty good idea of what went on before and between the various games. This isn’t like Microsoft’s other console-selling blockbuster franchise, Halo, in which, at the end of Halo 3 (my personal vote for greatest FPS of all time), the protagonist was last seen lost in space, floating toward a then-unknown and unknowable Forerunner planet. Unlike the Gears franchise, the HALO franchise has huge amounts of unexplored territory open before it.
And that leads me to my second problem with a new Gears game…
2. The canon is being handed over to an untested team
Once again, a comparison with the Halo franchise is appropriate. When Bungie cut loose from Microsoft after ten years of producing genre-defining, mind-bendingly brilliant FPS games, the intellectual property was owned entirely by Microsoft and was retained by the same. Key personnel from Bungie stayed at Microsoft and created 343 Industries, the studio that is now charged with overseeing and guarding the future of the Halo franchise.
And, so far, I think it is fair to say that 343i has actually done a pretty decent job.
Before the hate mail and comments start flying, let’s be very clear that 343i’s handling of The Master Chief Collection was abysmal. Let us also, however, be gracious and aware enough to recognise the severe technical and development challenges associated with taking four different games, designed across two different platforms, all with different graphics and physics engines, handled by something like five different studios, and putting them into a single coherent united product with new features built specifically for a next-generation console. The fact that they even managed it at all is something of a miracle.
Yes, they made a complete hash of the multiplayer aspects of the new collection (which I personally couldn’t care less about), and they’ve got a long way to go toward regaining the trust of fans like me who want the best for the franchise. Yet, overall, they’ve actually done pretty well at expanding the canon and producing great games. And that is because 343i is helmed by people with deep background within the Halo canon and lore.
Despite my reservations about Microsoft’s management of the franchise, I still think that my beloved Halo universe is in relatively safe hands. (For now. Until and unless Halo 5: Guardians proves me horribly and spectacularly wrong.)
But 343i isn’t just some fly-by-night outfit popped out of nowhere and handed the keys to the Cadillac. The people who joined it had and have a long and proven track record of releasing great games. The studio proved its mettle by pulling off a spectacularly great anniversary edition of the original Halo: Combat Evolved. They proved that they had the necessary ingredients to take what already existed and build upon it.
Contrast this with the developers of the new game. The Coalition, formerly Black Tusk Studios (as of this writing, they still haven’t updated their website), has Rod Fergusson at the helm. That is no bad thing, given that Mr. Fergusson was director of production for Epic Games back when the original Gears trilogy was released. Yet the rest of the studio remains something of an unknown quantity. We simply don’t know how good their future output is going to be.
All we can go on is the past examples in the canon. And that’s when we run face-first into the elephant in the room…
3. Gears of War: Judgment was not up to standard
Every game in the original Gears trilogy has scored 90% or better in most critic and many user reviews and Metacritic-averaged scores. The fourth game in the franchise, which as far as I can tell used the Gears of War 3 engine with some nifty tweaks and enhancements, scored around 77% on average.
The reasons why are pretty simple to figure out. (I mean, other than the fact that they couldn’t even spell “judgement” correctly. Americans…)
First, the epic battle between good and evil—or humanity and Locust, if you prefer—was de-emphasised. In its place, we basically got a bunch of flashbacks taking place during a trial. I don’t know about you, but if I’m playing a shooter game, I’m more interested in shooting Alpha Bravos in the face and less interested in listening to eyewitness testimony and taking depositions.
Second, the plot was pretty thin. There just wasn’t very much to the story. I remember enjoying playing the game, but once it was over, I just wasn’t terribly impressed by the experience because there was nothing to really latch on to. Other than the return of fan favourites like Augustus Cole and Damon Baird, there really wasn’t much else for us as gamers to sink our teeth into.
Third, the game had very little real replay value. I remember feeling a tremendous sense of elation and accomplishment after completing Gears of War 3, not least because that final boss battle was stupidly hard until I figured out how to actually win it properly. But with Gears of War: Judgment, there was no real sense of achieving something amazing or monumental.
There is no getting away from the fact that several of the people who released Gears of War: Judgment are now in charge of the IP. And they will have a long way to go before they can convince me that they know what they’re doing with it.
Wait And See
In comparing the possible output from The Coalition and the proposed future Gears of War game, one could draw comparisons to 343i’s first “true” Halo game, Halo 4, and argue that 343i didn’t do a great job with that game. I am not among those critics, as I regard Halo 4, with its far more personal storyline, gripping gameplay, fantastic soundtrack, and spectacular (but balanced) new weapons to be a highly worthy installment to the saga, but I get where those critics are coming from.
The point is, 343i proved, one way or another, that they have a vision for the Halo universe and they have some powerful new ideas about how to get from the original Bungie games to great future games.
Black Tusk Studios The Coalition, I have no such assurances. And as I said, the previous installment in the series was not reassuring; in my opinion it was actually quite a let-down. Whereas new Halo games introduced great new features and ideas without ever sacrificing the core elements of the Halo universe, the Gears of War formula is now well-known and has been copied and rehashed many, many times.
I’m willing to give The Coalition the benefit of the doubt. Let them prove me and all of their other doubters wrong. Unlike the HALO franchise, I’m not worried about The Coalition pussifying this franchise with yet more unnecessary STRONG GIRRRRRRLS in combat trousers… not unless they’re dumb enough to let the likes of Bonnie Ross get near the game, that is. Let them create the greatest third-person shooter game of all time. And when they do, I’ll be the first one standing in line cheering them on.
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