Today brings us the news that Microsoft have bought the Gears Of War license from Epic Games, meaning that the franchise will now become one of the Xbox One's core exclusives. Black Tusk Studios are already working on the next game in the series, which has the potential to take the series in some exciting new directions.
So much potential, in fact, that we've come up with a quick wishlist for what we'd like to see from the franchise, both in terms of its setting, gameplay and features we so desperately crave.
Every death, every twist, every hard-won battle and every sacrifice in the Gears Of War canon harks back to a single pivotal event in Sera's history: Emergence Day. The Locust blitzkrieg changed everything, yet the games have proved surprisingly reluctant to actually show it to us beyond a couple of brief cutscenes. Even Judgment chickened out, opting to set its campaign after this all-important conflict. It's high time we experienced E-Day in all its savage and desperate glory, seeing how the pristine cities of Sera became the charred rubble we've seen in game after game, as massive sinkholes open up beneath the gathered COG war machine.
Yes, we do remember Raam's Shadow. No, it wasn't anywhere near enough.
Should Black Tusk go down the prequel path, they'd also have the opportunity to throw a completely new twist on the action: showing the Coalition Of Ordered Governments in their prime, with massed legions and enormous armies facing off in huge pitched battles that contrast with the isolated small squads of the original games. Indeed, the last days of the Pendulum Wars could be a great place to start, letting us get our hands dirty in the miserable human-on-human campaign before the arrival of the Locust. Not to mention bayonets being phased out by the legendary Lancer chainsaw.
New Faces, New Places
We're a big a fan of Cole, Baird and Dom as anyone (especially Dom, rest in peace you utter legend), but let's face it, they've had their day. They're done. We're out.
What we need is a cast of new characters with interesting backstories and motivations, new heroes for a new console. Though let's face it, a Carmine relative will have to show up at some point. Perhaps we could even play as him/her, using their faceplate to read more of ourselves into the protagonist? Whatever happens, Marcus Fenix needs to stay off the roster beyond a cameo or support role, since his story arc is complete and his retirement is fully deserved.
Some new locations would also be much appreciated. The Locust put the entire planet at risk, after all, so there's scope for varied, colourful and interesting locales. A sequel could set itself practically anywhere, even outside the Coalition Of Ordered Governments, while a prequel could give us a glimpse of what Sera's cities used to look like before the fall.
Bring The Challenge Back
Gears Of War was not an easy game. The monstrously tough opponents and revolutionary (at the time!) cover mechanics brought swift death to those who tried to play it like a conventional shooter, instead forcing us to adopt an entirely new mindset along with extreme patience. It was very tricky in parts, making players simultaneously powerful and uniquely vulnerable. My flatmate and I ended up spent many a happy rainy day blasting through it on Insane difficulty, limiting ourselves to nothing but the Lancer chainsaw for extra kicks. And dying constantly, as you'd expect.
Conversely, Gears Of War 2 practically played itself on anything below the hardest difficulty settings.
Judgment made an attempt to bring back some of the challenge, which we appreciated, but we'd like to see the next games in the series adopt a more ruthless mindset. I know that games need to be accessible - accessibility isn't a bad thing - but more intense encounters and longer odds would make for a more memorable campaign.
A New Gameplay Mechanic
It's hard to think back to the original Gears Of War, but as mentioned, its reliance on cover-based shooting was actually fresh and exciting all those years ago. Now, though, what felt revolutionary comes across as a little passé. Gears 2 pushed the boat out on crazy set pieces and scizophrenic pacing, which I personally relished, but the next Gears Of War will need to offer more than chest-high walls and the occasional tank.
What we need, then, is a new gameplay mechanic: something to give the action we know and love an extra twist.
Off the top of my head: what about a tactical layer using Kinect's microphone to provide streamlined yet powerful squad commands? If we've got bigger units under our control, perhaps even large task forces fighting in larger more freeform battles, this could add a cerebral new kick to the experience. With so many once-great tactical games losing their edge, Ghost Recon perhaps being the most annoying example, it'd be nice to see Gears seize the opportunity.
Some more non-linear levels might also be a interesting approach, perhaps providing optional objectives that can affect the outcome of later battles, or iterating on Judgment's Declassified Missions. A little choice, or at least the illusion thereof, certainly wouldn't go amiss, such as being forced to choose between objectives at the expense of sacrificing potentially important characters.
Naturally slicing up Locust with chainsaws still needs to be the main focus, but a new gameplay style or new mechanic would punch things up a notch.
More Multiplayer Madness
At a bare minimum, the next Gears Of War game needs to retain four-player campaign co-op (splitscreen or bust), horde mode and a suite of competitive gametypes. Hopefully they'll actually test it to avoid the disastrous deployments experienced by Gears and Gears 2, but beyond polish, we can't help but demand more from the experience.
Intimate deathmatches are all well and good, but there's scope to push the boat out on bigger engagements, larger maps and more outrageous varied gametypes, all backed up by unimpeachably solid netcode. Put that cloud to work, Microsoft.
Oh, and I wasn't kidding about the splitscreen. The original Gears Of War only supported two local players, but frankly it's high time more flagship series got gamers together into the living room. Go on, make it happen. And stop screenwatching, dammit!
Bigger, Bolder... Badasser? Maybe.
It goes without saying that we should demand more from our games, so when it comes to our favourite series, we usually want them to push the boat out in every way possible.
In no particular order, we'd be rather partial to bigger guns, better writing, more epic battles, wider levels, massive bosses, outrageous vehicle sections and more intense set pieces as part of a concerted effort to trump the pre-existing games in practically every regard...
... or not. Feature and spectacle creep can make parodies out of long-running franchises (you need only look at the difference between Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 3), so actually there's a case to be made that pulling things back in could be the way to go. Black Tusk could successfully look to tighten things up, putting the focus on the tense gunplay and hectic, desperate firefights that made the original so compelling.
Whatever happens, though, we do want those bigger boomsticks. We'd urge Black Tusk to consider doubling the number of barrels of every gun in the game as a decent starting point. Then doubling it again. Then adding explosive ammunition.
A Graphical Revolution
The original Gears Of War made jaws hit the floor. I still remember calling practically everyone I knew to witness the new console graphical standard set by Epic's benchmark (wow, what a difference 512MB of RAM makes!), and almost believing that things couldn't get any better.
They did, of course, but there's no denying that Gears brought the 'wow!' factor to Xbox 360... and the next game needs to do the same for Xbox One.
Though Epic aren't handling things this time around, meaning that it won't be the poster child for Unreal Engine 4, Black Tusk will still use the brand new engine in what will hopefully be a graphical tour-de-force. I've recently been moaning about the stubborn pursuit of shiny visuals over gameplay, but let's face it... 1080p 60FPS or bust, guys.
A Bit More Colour?
Come on, it couldn't hurt.
We'll learn more about Black Tusk's Gears Of War debut later this year, but for now, tell us what you'd like to see from the next game in the series! Where should it be set? What new gameplay ideas should it embrace? Should the franchise just go away and reallocate all resources to Crackdown 3 [shut up Jon - Ed]? Let us know in the comments.