the past, present, and future of Gears of War.
Gears is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the word "meditative," but I'm always interested in searching for the brains behind the brawn. I have a certain soft spot for Gears in much the same way I do for the God of War series. While the violence and impressive set pieces attract an understandable amount of attention, there are plenty of impressive design choices and thought-provoking thematic elements. Sometimes these things things start getting a little bit meta, which is where this week's essay comes in.
I wasn't surprised to see mostly positive reviews for Gears of War 3. Epic knows what it's doing. I was intrigued by a small, but noticeable undercurrent of dissatisfaction that appeared in a variety of reviews. For some, Gears 3 delivered everything it was expected to provide, and yet it felt somewhat lacking or perhaps even boring. Nothing specific is wrong or missing. On the contrary, its many elegant systems and game modes make Gears 3 one of the most robust games out there. What then is the problem?
My theory is that the franchise's fate resembles that of its protagonist. By the end of the trilogy, Marcus has turned the tide of the war and cleared a space for a new world to emerge. But now that the battle is over, what will become of him and the unique skills that define him? As a series, Gears fought a battle to claw out a space for a new kind of shooter. Third-person can basically be broken down into two groups: pre and post-Gears. Things like one-button cover systems have become ubiquitous, as have blockbuster games with both expansive single-player and complex multiplayer modes. Gears helped changed the landscape, but what comes next?
Gears is still the best at what it does, but perhaps its own successes have diminished its impact? Years after the first and second games, we have seen scores of titles learn and implement Gears' lessons. The result is things that initially felt innovative have now become commonplace. Gears of War 3 may be the ultimate refinement of a once-innovative style, but it no longer surprises people. This leaves Epic, Marcus, and players with the same question: What next?