Microsoft has resumed the quest to lock down both control and exclusivity of big franchises by purchasing the rights for the Gears of War series from Epic Games.
This move not only guarantees that no Gears title will ever been seen on a competing console, it also gives Microsoft complete control over the creation of future games, possible film deals, and merchandising.
Microsoft has already set up Black Tusk studio to handle the creation of the next Gears of War game, complete with series veteran Rod Fergusson helping to oversee production. These moves are familiar to anyone who followed Microsoft’s efforts to turn the Halo series into an internally-controlled property, and that’s great news for fans who want to see Gears given the same push as Halo.
Howlaid a blueprint for Gears
Halo 4 was the end result of Microsoft’s shift from Bungie-developed games to Halo titles created in the publisher’s own 343 Industries. The title featured upgraded technology and visuals, took some startling risks with the game’s story, and focused more on the characters of Master Chief and Cortana.
It was a beautiful, often emotional game, and looked significantly better than any of its competitors in the world of console first-person shooters.
Halo 4 went on to sell around 9 million units worldwide, and we know there is an Xbox One Halo title coming this year. All in all, this was a successful passing of the torch.
Gears of War doesn’t have the luxury of coming off a recent hit; Gears of War: Judgment sold around one million copies as of August of last year. This is a bad stumble from such a high-profile franchise, regardless of personal feelings of the game’s quality.
Gears of War, as a series, benefits from both a long legacy on Microsoft hardware and strong recognition from gamers, Black Tusk would do well to pay attention to how 343 Industries dealt with what amounts to re-launching a franchise after a developer shake up.
A Gears of War game that launches another trilogy, that isn’t afraid to take risks with these characters and their world, and gets us re-invested in that universe is exactly what the franchise needs. The framing device of Judgment was interesting, but it often felt like a side-story, not a major moment in the world of Gears. Players had already won the war before they played the game, leaving the events to feel less than pressing. Black Tusk should focus on shaking the story up before shoving it forward as much as possible.
Mechanics as identity
Halo 4 might have taken a dive into the game’s deep lore, to the point where things could be confusing if you didn’t track down the exposition in game or read any of the Halo books, but it focused very effectively on the relationship between Master Chief and Cortana, and used that as a plot device to change core aspects of the game’s world.
The erosion of what made the Gears series so good is a legitimate fear, especially for the first game being developed by a new team.
Look at what happened with theseries: The overall quality didn’t decrease, but the horror aspects of the game, along with the sense of dread, were all but left behind by the third game. A series that started off as Ridley Scott began to resemble James Cameron, and much of the game’s feel was lost.
The same thing happened to theseries, which ended up feeling like a generic first-person shooter by the third installment. The unique feel of a game and the mechanics that made them so special when these series are launched often get removed piece by piece as they become popular and publishers strive for the largest possible audience.
The erosion of what made the Gears series so good is a legitimate fear
Gears of War is a heavy, thudding, third-person cover shooter that takes place in a ruined but once-beautiful planet. That’s the game, and that’s the formula that helped make the franchise so successful. It’s important that Black Tusk doesn’t try to chase what other franchises are doing, or focus only on increasing sales from Judgment.
A game that tries to appeal to every audience ends up appealing to none; doubling-down on what made us fall in love with Gears originally would go a long way to bringing back the audience.
It’s also worth looking at what 343 Industries released leading up to Halo 4: A graphically updated version of the original Halo in Combat Evolved Anniversary and Halo: Waypoint, a hub that treats that world of Halo as its own platform, complete with stats and lore. Gears of War offers a rich history of games and online content that is ripe for next-generation updates and re-release.
Creating a version of a previous Gears title for Xbox One, complete with for-pay map packs and modes could make sense from a business perspective, and would help remind players of what the series can offer before revealing the next step in its evolution.
This is all conjecture, and neither Black Tusk nor Microsoft may be interested in these moves. But it's hard to ignore the success Microsoft has seen with Halo 4, which launched a brand-new trilogy and will come to the Xbox One this year. Gears of War being returned to its former glory is certainly the goal, and that goal is completely achievable. The trick is to make a game that feels and plays like Gears, while charting a new path in the game's story and setting.