A reader expresses his fears that Gears 5 will just be more of the same and offers some suggestions on how a series reboot would work.
Never underestimate the power of nostalgia. Despite my best efforts to preserve my gaming past, remastered versions can remind me how quickly some games age. The Resident Evil 2 remake represents the perfect solution to keeping those memories intact.
When I watched the Halo Infinite trailer at this years E3 I was heartened by what was shown. Despite the style of game being left ambiguous, aesthetically it appeared to be a throwback to Halo: Combat Evolved. Reflecting upon the Gears Of War 5 trailer, my feelings were quite the opposite. Completely underwhelmed by this new vision of Gears, I worry its a franchise still searching for an identity. For this feature I shall explain why I feel concerned and provide some suggestions for a potential reboot.
When Gears Of War first arrived on the scene, much of the attention was drawn to its state-of-the-art graphics. It spawned a host of imitators who attempted to emulate its tight third-person combat, cover mechanics, and even its graphical style. The brown shooter became a common criticism amongst its critics, which I always thought was overstated. It was a shame the art style became oversaturated, along with the use of Unreal Engine 3, because I still feel the original Gears design choices were apt. With each iteration a more vivid colour palette was employed, resulting in a more cartoon-ish aesthetic, which diluted its distinct identity.
Not that Gears was ever overly serious in tone, but the first game in particular retained a gritty realism. Not too dissimilar from James Camerons Aliens, which was clearly an inspiration, the action was supported by classic horror scares. The Kryll were the source of much of the tension and formed the basis for the co-operative play – which unfortunately didnt progress past the first game.
Whilst the series evolved to become grander in spectacle, for me it never quite captured the intensity or cohesion of the original, and by the fourth instalment started to look tired. Even its signature chainsaw attachment had lost its allure. If the ill-fated Gears of War: Judgment wasnt a warning shot, then the lack of fanfare for the latest entry was inevitable.
Nothing Ive seen from the Gears 5 trailer has instilled me with confidence. The turnaround period is too short to expect a God Of War-like reinvention. Instead I anticipate a stopgap title. Other than some cosmetic changes and a few new weapons, I fully expect Gears 4.5. Microsoft recognised Halo is due an overhaul, so why not Gears?
When developers look to revitalise a series, there appears to be a template to follow. The default method to divert attention from a lack of innovation is to introduce a new lead character. We all know how that turned out for Baird and Marcus Fenixs son JD didnt fare any better. Its not as though Microsoft havent made similar missteps in the past. Sharing a campaign with the Arbiter (Halo 2) proved unpopular and Locke (Halo 5) has signalled a major rethink. Seemingly, The Coalition didnt get the memo as next up we have side character Kait Diaz promoted to lead protagonist. The only consolation is we no longer have to suffer JDs annoying Nathan Drake impersonation.
This suggestion may come as a shock, but what Gears Of War misses above all is Cliff Bleszinski. Not one to shy away from controversy, he once expressed his fear of only being remembered for Gears Of War. Im sure hed take that accolade after ill-fated attempts at chasing the latest craze with LawBreakers and Radical Heights. Love him or loathe him, he was not only the front man for Gears, but the creative spark behind many of the games concepts. Albeit an unlikely scenario, should he ever return to the franchise he started – tail between his legs – Id like to think his recent failures will hold him in good stead. With a dose of nostalgia, Im sure many Gears fans would embrace his return, if only to inject some passion – which has been lacking since his departure. The days of the powerful Mad World TV adverts have long since faded.
Gamers are notorious for demanding change then moaning about it once it happens. Even God Of War had its sceptics before people got on board with the changes. I feel the key to a successful reboot is to retain the DNA of the original, whilst moving the gameplay ideas forward. Tomb Raider being a recent example, which achieved its goal initially but by the third entry the consensus is the refinements present insufficient progress. Gamers demanding a game to return to its roots is nothing new of course. The evolution of Resident Evil has been fascinating, with a renewed emphasis which not only pays homage to the past but reinvents it. Theres definitely a balancing act for developers, and coming full circle has an inevitability once nostalgia takes over.
With that in mind, aside from getting CliffyB back on board and returning to the originals art style, what do I feel could reinvigorate Gears whilst respecting the past? I see no reason to mess with the main cast: I prefer Marcus Fenix as the lead, Dom alongside, and Cole as back-up. Marcus Fenixs return was no Han Solo moment, but when he does appear in Gears Of War 4, there was a sense of relief. I would like to see an even greater emphasis placed upon horror. Gears is about mankind on the brink, with a team of muscle-bound dudebros entrusted to save humanity. I feel the civilian population you strive to protect shouldnt just be represented in cut scenes or passive encounters, allowing for various rescue situations.
The original is all very 80s action movie when it comes to its archetype heroes and excessively macho tone. Its a game you could take seriously, without over-analysing how silly it all is. The stakes are always high, the personalities over-the-top and the violence wonderfully gratifying. Very self-aware, it just worked and was pitched perfectly.
To retain those ingredients whilst offering something new would be no easy task, so I do sympathise with the developer. Therefore, it stands to reason Battle Royale is the answer? No thanks, whilst Id expect more expansive environments that cater for a less linear structure, Im not sure another open world game is required. Co-operative play has always been a strong point for the series, so it is an aspect which could be enhanced. Perhaps something along the lines of The Division, only a mode which tells a more coherent and interesting story. Actually, Gears is more suited to that style of play than The Division ever was – theres no need to explain bulletproof beanie hats in the Gears universe!
Destruction is a constant theme of the games, without allowing the player to really affect their surroundings, so fully destructible scenery would be welcome. Whilst I dont think a move away from third person is warranted, Id like to see even greater physicality. An increased moveset with more fluid animation would signal an end to the roadie run. It may well be a signature move but can be quite cumbersome by modern standards and lacks precision. Alternatively, the stages between walking and running need to be addressed, bringing more physics into play as characters speed up and slow down. In turn, surface materials, weather conditions, and terrain geometry could play their part as character movement is affected.
Before I conclude, I must add I sincerely hope Im completely wrong about Gears 5, and that it demonstrates significant progress over its predecessor. But I wouldnt put money on it. The Coalition appear to be a very reliable developer who I suspect have been tasked with filling a release schedule, whilst Microsoft gear-up (pardon the pun) for next gen. That being the case, hopefully next gen we will see Gears afforded the luxury of extra development time, just like Halo, because Id hate to see the franchise fade into obscurity.
I began this feature by alluding to games which dont always stand the test of time and are best left to memory. Well, Gears Of War (2006) isnt one of those games. It still holds up today, which is testament to the original vision. And for that reason alone, I feel the franchise deserves a future, oh yeah!
By reader Up4Banter
The readers feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.