I love Gears of War. It was the first franchise of the 360 generation that truly struck a chord with me, and I was borderline obsessed with the series right up until the credits rolled in Gears of War 3. I even thought that scene in the third game was portrayed and executed wonderfully well. So brave…
You may have noticed, however, that so far I've only talked about the original trilogy. Judgment - released in March of last year - felt like a huge misstep. Existing to keep brand awareness alive - and given its sales you'd be hard-pressed to fault Microsoft for wanting it to continue - it tweaked with a formula in ways that wasn't necessary, telling a story that didn't need to be told. The multiplayer certainly had its moments, but it was far from what many had come to expect. It withered in the memory - the previous titles had set up shop there.
Which brings us to the announcement that Epic is no longer handling the Gears of War IP. Purchased by Microsoft, development duties have gone to Black Tusk, a new studio set up, it would seem, to deal with the idea exclusively. It's Halo and 343Industries but Marcus Fenix - maybe - is leading the charge. So far, feelings seem mixed.
On one side, you have Gears of War fans now justified in their Xbox One purchase, soothed with the knowledge that Rod Fergusson - a backbone of the franchise - is heading up team. Given how much he's pinged around the last few years, his passion for everything Locust must remain. It seems highly unlikely he'll let all the hard work go to waste.
With that said, there is the other side to the debate. Judgment struggled because it focused its attention on new ideas and introduced mechanics that existed to merely change rather than enhance. There's nothing to say a Gears can't work without Marcus Fenix, but then you have to ask yourself where it goes next.
If a new set of characters take centre stage, Black Tusk has far more creative freedom to do with the series as they will. Aside from the art style, there'll be no visual cues to remind people what they're playing isn't part of Epic's arc. But then you start moving away from what Gears is, or was.
343's challenge wasn't dissimilar. Although Halo 4 wasn't the greatest offering featuring the Master Chief, it wasn't a disaster. Furthermore, for a first effort from a new studio dealing with an incredibly demanding IP, it succeeded. There's no reason why Black Tusk can't do the same.
With Halo's narrative coming to a close with 3 and Reach being a prequel, new ideas and concepts had to be developed. For starters, we all needed a reason as to why the Master Chief was taken out of stasis… again. If Microsoft is desperate to get Fenix's face back on boxes, his motivation will be completely different. There's no locusts; his father troubles are sorted out and Dom… well… we fly the flag for you, good buddy.
Regardless, this won't, and can't afford to be, another Judgment. That could've easily been DLC for the final Gears, and there's no way a brand such as this can come across as fodder on a brand new console. It has to have a unique selling point, a justification for bringing it back. Taking into account how well-received the trilogy was, that's no easy task.
It's a must for Microsoft, though. As one of its biggest sellers, Gears is a pillar in keeping Xbox One's momentum on course. Halo is pencilled in and Forza has already shown its next-gen hand - we could mention the likes of Fable and Kinect, but their appeal has either dwindled or is still yet to get going. Screw this up, and there'd be millions of unhappy customers.
As a Gears enthusiast, I'm confident. The time and money given to 343 was to ensure the ball wasn't dropped and allow a talented team to make a game that stood proudly against its predecessors. Some even said it was a refreshing change to a familiar template. I'd miss Marcus Fenix no doubt - he's has amazing traps - but if Gears of War is to truly establish itself as a brand that can be evolved over the next decade or so, now is the time.