At E3 2018, Microsoft announced three games from the well-known Gears of War shooter series at once. Gears Pop and Gears 5 were released last year, and Gears Tactics will be released in April 2020, promising to transfer the familiar universe to the turn-based strategy genre.
This year the series will be 14 years old, and, quite possibly, a new look at the line will just open Gears of War a second wind.
Gears of War (2006)
The first part of Gears of War was born in the office of Epic Games under the direction of Cliff Blesinski. At that time, the company had already managed to leave a noticeable mark on the industry, as the author of the Unreal Engine and the successful line of Unreal shooters.
In 2000, Epic Games began to create Unreal Warfare, which was supposed to be a spin-off of Unreal, but still the main resources of the company went to the development of Unreal Tournament 2003 and Unreal Championship. When the developers were able to focus on Unreal Warfare, they decided to completely rework the concept of the title and present it in the original universe, thus launching the Gears of War story.
First, impressed with the Unreal Engine 3’s abilities, Bleszinski decided to switch to a third-person view, moving the camera over the character’s shoulder, as in Resident Evil 4.
Secondly, while playing paintball with friends, the game designer realized that modern shooters lack a cover system that would add realism and force players to act tactically. Implementing this idea, Blesinski focused primarily on the Kill Switch and Bionic Commando of 1988, in which the hero methodically moved from platform to platform, reaching his goal.
“Gears of War is a tactical yet fast enough title. Players can attack enemies from the flank, throw grenades or go ahead. Orders can be given to members of the squad so that they attack specific targets in the places you need, ”Blesinski said.
As for the plot, the developers promised to present the players with characters and a world that they cannot ignore. The story, revolving around the themes of redemption, paranoia, fidelity, and the destruction of beauty, was supposed to be a new word in the genre, as a rule, pushing the plot into the background.
The events of Gears of War take place on the fictional planet Sera, where humanity is at war with the Locust, which appeared as a result of interaction with the radioactive liquid “Imulsion”, used as a source of energy. The player takes on the role of convicted soldier Marcus Fenix, one of the members of the Delta squad, with whom the main character will contribute to the battle against the enemy.
John DiMaggio was called in to voice Phoenix, who provided the voice for characters such as Bender from Futurama and Jake from Adventure Time.
In order not to get lost among other representatives of the genre of that time, the developers vetoed the addition of laser weapons and aliens to the game. Moreover, Blesinski wanted to introduce more human characters to the players, as well as get rid of any images of skulls in the game. The rest of the designers did not share his opinion, and as a result, the skull logo became one of the hallmarks of the series.
Interestingly, according to Blesinski, one of the main inspirations for Gears of War was the Legend of Zelda series. The game designer claims that he built the universe and the plot of the shooter, keeping the Japanese line in his head, and also compiled the Phoenix’s arsenal, focusing on Link’s inventory. As a result, the favorite element of the arsenal among the players turned out to be a bayonet chainsaw, which came with an assault rifle and allowed sawing enemies in two.
Initially, Gears of War was supposed to be a PC exclusive, but when it became known that Halo 3 would not be released until 2007, Microsoft needed a strong title that would support the popularity of the Xbox 360 in 2006.
After signing a contract with Epic Games, Microsoft tried to reduce the level of violence of the shooter by removing the chainsaw from Gears of War. Fortunately, Blesinski, who had been trying to find a place for such a weapon since 1997, was able to convince the publisher to keep it in the game, for which he was rewarded with enthusiastic screams from fans during the first demonstration of the title.
Despite the fact that the developers threw their main forces into the story campaign, Gears of War offered the players a strong multiplayer, which was gaining more and more popularity with each part. A two-player co-op was also available, in which Phoenix’s friend Dominic Santiago acts as the second hero.
Gears of War was released on November 7, 2006 and was subsequently named “Game of the Year” by multiple gaming publications. Of course, critical acclaim was reflected in sales – in the first two months, Microsoft sold three million copies of the title. Among other things, Gears of War managed to take the status of the most popular game on Xbox Live from Halo 2.
Gears of War made its way to PC in 2007, offering players additional maps and an expanded campaign.
Gears of War 2 (2008)
In the second part, Epic Games wanted to qualitatively expand the lore of the series and invited Joshua Ortega, the author of several novels and comics. The writer helped add drama to the stories of the main characters, as well as come up with a worthy sequel in general, because the first part ended with a cliffhanger. Six months after the events of the first part, the Locust Queen Mirra again gathered an army and this time struck at the coalition from underground.
Although in terms of gameplay, the sequel was not far from the original, the elements already familiar to the players interacted with each other even better. This also applied to AI enemies, which constantly forced them to change tactics and use different weapons.
The arsenal of heroes has been replenished with new types of grenades and pistols, flamethrowers and machine guns, as well as other options for finishing off enemies. Moreover, duels on saws became possible, as Epic Games announced in the very first teaser of the game.
“It was important for us to show that the Unreal Engine is constantly evolving. We’ve improved character lighting, added more destructible physics objects to the map. The sequel turned out to be five times larger than the original, ”Blesinski said.
Gears of War 2 boasted interesting locations where epic battles unfolded. The game, in principle, turned out to be more beautiful and cinematic than its predecessor.
Improvements have also been made to multiplayer. The developers responded to the complaints of the players and fixed some technical problems of the multiplayer, and also introduced the co-op mode “Horde”, which immediately became popular, in which the players had to fend off the waves of the advancing Locust.
Microsoft released Gears of War 2 exactly two years after the release of the debut part and on the very first weekend it crossed the mark of two million sales. Unfortunately for PC owners, the publisher has decided to limit itself to the console version of the game.
Gears of War 3 (2011)
After losing their last refuge in the final battle of the second part, in Gears of War 3, humanity set out to seek hope on an isolated island. Marcus Fenix will again have to fight for the future of the planet, even if it means losing people close to him.
The developers sent the Delta Force to an island filled with greenery, among other things, to demonstrate the capabilities of the next version of the engine, but later admitted that by doing so they deprived the series of its originality a little.
This time, the task of diversifying the familiar gameplay fell on the shoulders of the new Lambent enemies, who acted much faster than the standard Locust, not to mention the habit of mutating and exploding during combat.
A major upgrade to the multiplayer was four-player co-op, and the addition of “Beast” and “Capture The Leader” modes.
Five DLCs were released for the game with fresh maps and a story revolving around minor characters familiar to players from the franchise’s comics.
Gears of War 3 was supposed to be released back in 2010, but Microsoft decided to push back the release to avoid unnecessary competition with Halo. Epic Games was unhappy with the situation, because if the developers had known in advance that they had much more time at their disposal, they would have planned the project differently. Instead, they had to spend an extra six months polishing the nuances of the gameplay.
Whatever the case, when Gears of War 3 finally hit the shelves, it topped Epic Games’ hit list, selling three million copies in a single week.
It is worth noting that, despite Blesinski’s assurances about the superiority of the title over the second part in all respects, the key mechanics of the series no longer seemed so unique to the public.
In 2012, Epic Games left Blesinski, saying that after twenty years in the industry without a vacation, he decided to temporarily quit video games.
“I’ve been in game development since I was a teenager and have literally matured in this business. Now, as an adult, I feel like I need a break,” Blesinski explained.
Gears of War: Judgment (2013)
Judgment is the first title in the line that was no longer handled by Epic Games. Instead, the game was developed by Polish fans of first-person shooters People Can Fly, who once gave the Painkiller and Bulletstorm industries. By the way, it was People Can Fly who developed additional content for the PC version of Gears of War.
While Gears of War put a clear emphasis on furious action, players love the series, including for its story, and in Judgment, which is a prequel to the line, it was served in very small portions.
“The story potential of any shooter is quite limited. Considering the fact that the player is looking at the barrel of the machine 99% of the time, it will not be possible to tell too much, ”said Tom Bissell, one of the game’s scriptwriters.
The game’s plot takes the player to a court hearing where Lieutenant Damon Byrd and several of his men are interrogated. Each memory represents one level, and each of them must be cleared of the Locust.
The locations turned out to be much smaller than the open levels of the previous parts, but each of them offered a certain challenge, such as poor visibility, time limits, or a ban on the use of a particular weapon.
The gameplay has also undergone changes from all sides, adding speed and arcade to the game. In multiplayer, People Can Fly introduced entirely new modes, but reduced co-op to two players.
Given all the changes, after the release, the public refused to look at Judgment as a full-fledged title in the line. However, its replay value and fast gameplay won over the players and allowed the publisher to sell a million copies in the first six months.
Gears of War 4 (2016)
In January 2014, Epic Games sold the rights to the Gears of War franchise to Microsoft, as a result of which the development of the fourth part was entrusted to Black Tusk Studios, which was soon renamed The Coalition.
One of the main producers of the series, Rod Ferguson, took over the team, thus becoming the only member of the original team who continues to work on Gears of War. Prior to that, Ferguson had worked at Irrational Games, where he developed BioShock Infinite.
The debut project of The Coalition was a remaster of the very first title of the line, which was released for Xbox One and PC in 2015 under the name Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. As a bonus, the title was accompanied by a beta version of the multiplayer of the fourth part.
In fact, Epic Games had been developing Gears of War 4 for six months before the release of Judgment, but later shifted focus to other projects. The company handed over all the developments to The Coalition, although the latter basically developed its own ideas.
However, it was Epic Games who came up with the plot plot, according to which the events of the title develop 25 years after the third part. This time, the main characters are the deserters of the coalition, the son of Marcus JD and his friends Damont Walker and Kate Diaz.
If at first JD is opposed by the minister of the coalition and her army of robots, then the conflict becomes more interesting when the Locust appears on the scene again.
Gears of War 4 is the first in the series to use Unreal Engine 4, which allowed the developers to please the players with large spectacular locations with destructible environments. In addition, the gameplay is affected by various weather conditions, such as a strong wind that develops into a storm with lightning strikes.
Critics praised the series as a reboot of sorts, praising the younger characters and the lighter tone of the game in general.
Gears 5 (2019)
Rather than continue with JD’s story, The Coalition decided to expand on the supporting character Kate Diaz by introducing a female character as the series’ main protagonist for the first time. Diaz will have to delve into his origins while fighting the Locust, who has found a way to turn the coalition’s robots against their creators.
“In Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Max himself is only an intermediary, and the main character of the film is Furiosa. In Gears of War 4 we did something similar, linking most of the missions to Kate’s storyline. Obviously, she was supposed to be the main character of Gears 5, ”Ferguson explained.
Also, Microsoft decided to remove “of War” from the name this time, because fans have already called the series simply “Gears” for so long. In multiplayer, the developers offered a co-op for three, as well as the ability to create your own maps.
Critics warmly received Gears 5 and called it a worthy continuation of the franchise, but the developers got it again for the lack of serious innovations. The game surpassed the fourth installment in sales and became the most successful title on Xbox Game Pass.
It is known that the development of Gears Tactics instead of The Coalition was taken up by the British studio Splash Damage, which helped to collect the first multiplayer for the last parts of the series. The game will be a prequel to the entire line and will tell about the very first stages of the war with the Locust and its leader Ukon.
As for Gears 6, the title hasn’t been officially announced yet. However, the developers have already made it clear that they want to surprise players in the sixth part. After the release of Gears 5, the art director of the game said:
“After watching The Handmaid’s Tale, I was so impressed with the composition, symbolism and color work that I knew we needed to find a way to do the same in Gears 6.”