Thursday, October 6, 2011

'Gears of War 3': A Triumphant Past, a Familiar Present, and an Uncertain Future

This week's PopMatters post is a meditation on 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?


  1. Playing Gears 3 reminded me of an article in EDGE a while ago about R-Type Final which back then was designed to be the final game in the series.

    Perhaps if publishers didn’t think one step ahead all the time, towards sequels rather than the games at hand, we’d see more such dignified departures. Irem’s thinking with R-Type Final wasn’t of future or even present success, but of enshrining the past. And the tranquillity of the series’ euthanasia leaves you free to appreciate its place in history, its developer’s resolve, and furthermore the pain of those that still flee their own mortality – Final Fight and the other drowning men of the old guard, clawing frantically for modern appeal and sinking quicker into the sand.

    I mean you almost have to respect Epic for actually putting less crazy shit in the game that was meant to close the trilogy but instead playing a more humble sometimes almost melancholic note.

    That being said, as long as they don't activision it I would actually like to play another Gears game. Gears of War: Pendulum Wars, come on who's in?

  2. I definitely get the sense that Epic was trying to do something similar to that R-Type example you cited. It's kind of nice to have a tribute every once in a while, especially since the industry moves so fast.

    However, like you say, not seeing more Gears games would be more surprising than additional games!