Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. Some of these are forgotten gems, some you will guess straight away. Others cover more than one game in a series, or compare two similar games.
This week we continue by joining Richard for a seriously influential, but not too serious, action classic.
#35. GEARS OF WAR, by Richard Flint
Gears of War is one of the most beloved gaming series from Microsoft to emerge out of the late 2000s, and remains highly popular to this day.
The game was conceived by Unreal Tournament legend Cliff Bleszinski and fellow Epic Games colleague, Rod Fergusson. Initially, Gears of War, was set to be a horror game akin to Resident Evil with the cover system of Kill Switch, before the team took a much more action packed direction with the series. However, many of the horror elements remain within the series due to dark yet rich world building and the iconic enemies known as the Locust. The graphic and excessive violence accompanied by the testosterone-teeming design of the characters was a perfect embodiment of classic Sci-Fi horror movies such as Predator and Starship Troopers. This gory approach to the third-person shooter genre resonated with fans immediately from the first, and now classic, reveal trailer in 2005.
While many new franchises ease gamers into the story, allowing them to absorb the world around them, Gears of War throws players into the deep end as they take control of recently incarcerated protagonist Marcus Fenix—kicking off with Fenix being released from prison by long-term friend and fellow veteran soldier Dominic Santiago. The clear bond between Fenix and Santiago is a staple of what made the game such an enjoyable co-operative experience, as fans gradually learn the intricate backstories of the two characters. During the duo’s escape from the jail, audiences are first introduced to the menacing Locust enemies, a species of mostly humanoid creatures the emerged from underground to wipe out humanity.
Few foes in gaming are quite so terrifying and as iconic as the Locust horde. Ranging from humanoid brutes, to creeping bloodthirsty beasts, to hulking masses of explosive power, the swarm of enemies that emerged on E-Day varied greatly which made for great changes in pace during combat. Throughout each game in the series, multiple new villains were added to spice up the gameplay—such as the growing Lambent threat that was hinted at early on in the series. The Lambent was a name given to those, mainly Locust, who had over exposure to a fuel source known as immulsion. After prolonged exposure to the substance, those infected would become explosive. The inclusion of an exploding group of enemies was an excellent addition as it mixed up the otherwise mid-ranged to close combat focused battles with the new fear of keeping the volatile creatures away. Another interesting detail was that the two enemy groups would also combat each other as well as the player making for some intense and chaotic scenarios.
Accompanying Fenix and Santiago in the fight against the monstrous hordes is one of the most colourful ensembles in gaming history. Completing the four man team of Delta Squad are Damon Baird, a genius inventor with a bad attitude, and Augustus Cole, a lovable ex-celebrity football player. The pair would eventually go on to become beloved fan favourites and receive more screen time in later games and even spawn their own prequel game titled Gears of War: Judgement.
The release of Judgement sparked a large divide in the community as it saw the beginning of a new age for the franchise. With Gear of War 3 concluding the main trilogy in spectacular fashion it was a surprise to receive another addition to the series so soon afterwards especially following the departure of Cliff Bleszinski. Bleszinski was not only a face for the franchise but also a driving force behind the production that oozed enthusiasm whenever he made an appearance. With the loss of one its lead creators, long term fans became skeptical of Judgment’s release. What followed was a rather lacklustre release with a fairly underwhelming campaign.
Thankfully, the future of Gears seems bright with the continuation of a sequel series of games following the story of Marcus Fenix’s equally jacked son, JD Fenix. Gears of War 4 managed to continue on the legacy of Gears while still allowing both generations to feel like their own contained story. Without delving into spoiler territory, the game features multiple links to past Gears titles sprinkled throughout to satisfy any returning player. Gears of War 4 even strips back to basics from the otherwise expanding series by reducing the co-op player count back to two players rather than four. By returning to a story focused on fewer characters the game had more room to explore the all new cast including JD’s long term friends and fellow badasses, Del and Kait.
The core essence of Gears will continue on into the announced Gears 5 in 2019, however not all seems bright with the inclusion of a Funko mobile game and an XCOM clone titled Gears Tactics. Some fans may rejoice regarding the additions to the franchise in the form of different genres of gaming, similar to how Halo Wars was a welcomed success. Only time can tell what the new projects will bring to the table, but now is definitely an interesting time to be a Gears fan.
THE THIRD-PERSON ACTION GAME
The scale of Gears of War‘s success is no less than the impact that Super Mario Bros and Devil May Cry had on their own genres. At the peak of their respective consoles’ popularity, each was also responsible for imitators—good, bad, ordinary—and like those other series, Gears of War continues to divide fans of action games regarding its mechanics, presentation, and lasting impact.
The unequivocal upside of Gears was the advent of several equally-beloved franchises in its wake. Mass Effect. Uncharted. Most of Ubisoft’s contemporary settings. True, the off-center, over-the-shoulder perspective had been pioneered by the critical darling Resident Evil 4, but Gears‘s implementation of a cover system sent shock waves through the industry. More than ten years on, the series continues to represent this time of change, like Devil May Cry and Mario before it—but Gears still has more to boast of than the now somewhat-pat ‘cover shooter’ genre.
Underneath the series’ slick bluster and fan-favourite characters is a level-to-level action trip that sits outside modern games. Ten years of RPG elements and design for player choice has left Gears of War as the only blockbuster franchise that is not trying to dilute its formula—and the stop, pop, roll and repeat structure seems practically arcade-y in comparison to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey or Marvel’s Spider-Man.
The downside of this, however, is that very few new games can be directly compared to Gears. Perhaps the key lies in the series’s straightforward action: the aforementioned Uncharted series, as well as the latest Wolfenstein and Doom (though those two are in the first person), all offer exciting, dynamic action. The XCOM series, though not an action game, shares some of the oppressive-alien-war tones as Gears—and games like Quantum Break, Ratchet and Clank or 2018’s God of War are tonally distinct but full of third-person action and varied set pieces.
On the horizon, Remedy Entertainment’s Control looks to be the next innovative third-person shooter with a bevy of supernatural powers at players’ fingertips and a suggestion of metroidvania to the level design. Square Enix are also giving the genre another shot with their Front Mission spin-off, Left Alive. In 2019, though, fans will still be most excited for Gears 5, which naturally introduces more enemies, new weapons and bigger levels.
Thanks for joining us for a look at one of Microsoft’s biggest games. Leave a comment with your own preferred action franchise, or your own stories of Gears of War, and we will join you next week for a fighting game with surprisingly robust single-player modes.