Bring Gears to Switch!
Over the past couple of months, my girlfriend and I have managed to complete every Gears of War title, including (yes, I know) Judgment. With the exception of Judgment, I had previously played all of the Gears games, but like virtually everyone, my experience with the series was spread out over the gaps in releases. The difference with this play through, however, is that finishing each title within such a short timeframe has widened my perspective on the cover-based giant, particularly with regard to the fact that despite five entries, there is next to no meaningful change. Now, faced with the announcement of Gears 5, I’m left wondering: given the series’ track record, will they change? And if so, what could they change?
Before I go into my hopes for future Gears games, or rail against the series’ unchanging nature, I think it’s important to note what DOES alter between each title. It sounds so stupid when I put it into writing, but honestly, the first distinguishing feature I noticed between each Gears game was how the Hammerburst rifle operated. Seriously, it ponged from different semi-automatic and automatic versions, until landing in Gears 4 for the FIRST time as a BURST rifle. I’m curious to see what it is in Gears 5.
Beyond the Hammerburst, despite literal changes in setting, playing each game side-by-side revealed that there really is very little difference between environment details and colour, with the exception of Gears 3. I swear, I must have said 50 times throughout the Gears 3: “I just love how this game has colour”. The exploding Locust enemies, the vibrant greens, and overgrown landscape, it was such a breath of fresh air amidst all the underground tunnels and collapsing buildings. Sure, they were different tunnels, and architecturally different cities, but holy hell, if they don’t just appear in my memory as brown and grey blocks.
I’m not even going to credit the narrative by discussing it in-depth. Let’s be real, the series is a product of its time; the pivotal emotional points always failed to hit. But hey, a more nuanced emotional character arc was definitely not what the audience was clamming for, so I can’t blame the developers. In the end, the most meaningful change to game design came in — not surprisingly — Judgement, whereby the new developers at People Can Fly infused aspects of the multiplayer horde-mode into the single player campaign, a technique The Coalition doubled down on in Gears 4. Now look, I think that this implementation of a different game mode was actually quite fun, and didn’t get overused as much as it did in Judgement, but I’d be disappointed if it returned in Gears 5.
Arguably one of the most disappointing aspects of each iteration was the lack of enemy evolution. Every game can essentially be characterised by one additional enemy type, with a slight deviation between pre-existing enemies. Even Gears 4, which introduced new enemies, soon revealed that they were practically the same archetypes that we had been killing for the previous four games. Boss fights are another sticking point. Having been overused in the first two games, the developers eased back on them, essentially only including one boss-fight in Gears 4. However, I don’t think they’ve EVER been fun; they’re just a chore to get to the next shooting gallery.
Okay, look… It’s true, I love to start with the negatives, but despite my persistent nagging about different aspects of the Gears series, I do enjoy the games. The tightness of the cover-based gameplay is surpassed by no other, and the mere fact that they’re still waving the split-screen banner when so many other developers have dropped it, is enough to make me overlook the minor annoyances. Even if Gears 5 doesn’t evolve at all from Gears 4, I’m sure I’ll have a blast side-by-side with my partner in crime. That being said, when I dream of Gears 5, there are certain changes I WOULD like to be addressed, in order to retain that classic Gears feel but show that the series actually possesses the potential to evolve.
Firstly, for the love of God, please weave a compelling story. Previous Gears games have always been hamstrung by what I like to call the ‘Pheonix Syndrome’. The main characters have failed to develop because their core character design is rooted in the overly masculine image of Marcus Pheonix, and whilst his son possessed a bit more rogue-like charm, merely being in the presence of his father brought him down. An exciting aspect of Gears 5 is that judging from the announcement trailer, the game will be centred around Kait Diaz and Del Walker, the ‘side’ characters from Gears 4. With any luck, this move will allow the writers to experiment a bit with a character-centric storyline, because the ‘let’s save the world’ plot has become incredibly stale at this point.
In terms of the setting, I’m totally digging the winterish look for Gears 5 so far, and the few environments we get to see in the trailer are very tantalising. It’s high time for some fur physics in our Gears games! Though, the more difficult subject of improvement is the combat. What can the developers do to spice it up? At least on a very grassroots level, I think there needs to be more weapon variety within each class of guns.
Although every game has added a few new weapons, they tend to be new super guns, or low-ammo semi-automatic rifles. Inevitably, this just leads to using the Lancer for 70-80% of the game, which needs to stop. What if Kait’s weird connection to the Locust’s actually gave her powers? How cool would that be! The Coalition also need to take a serious look at their boss mechanics. Sinking rounds into a bullet spongy enemy, or targeting red weak points has been overdone to death. Or just don’t have bosses; if the main arc of the story is character-centric, you don’t need those ginormous set-pieces to ‘wow’ the audience.
Gears of War truly is a great series. However, with the break between the Xbox 360 games and Gears 4, they failed to deliver on the promise of new hardware, instead opting for a traditional iteration of a tired franchise. With Gears 5, they have a chance to carve out a different trajectory for the series, one focussed more on character-driven stories, and with any luck they’ll jazz up the gameplay a little bit more. I mean for crying out loud, if we can pinpoint a giant laser from space into enemies, surely the Gears technologists can create a glove that shoots fire or something.