In anticipation of the upcoming Gears of War 3, Microsoft and Epic contracted novelist and Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter author Tom Bissell to take a deeper look into the design and history of the Gears franchise.
Titled "The Art and Design of Gears of War," it covers most every aspect of the Gears universe, from inception to design to the series' pending final chapter. (Though I'm having a hard time believing that this is truly the "last" Gears game.)
The website Grantland, where Tom is a video game columnist, has published a lengthy excerpt from the book, and it's most definitely worth a look. Some choice excerpts:
These days, Gears of War, despite being one of the most critically acclaimed games of this generation, earns the occasional knock for lacking innovation. The august authority, Wikipedia, in its summary of the first Gears's reception, makes note of this, citing some spanking admonishment courtesy of Eurogamer: "[L]et's not pretend that we're wallowing in the future of entertainment. What we have here is an extremely competent action game."
The first time I played Gears I was not monitoring its innovation levels, but I was certainly struck by its competence. Gears was so polished it practically gleamed. From the mold and dried blood all over the walls and floor of the prison in which the game opens to the naturalistic voice acting, and from the responsiveness of the controls to the way its enemies behaved under fire, its attention to detail was like nothing I had seen.1 The more I played Gears, the more it drew me in.
Regarding the weaponry in the game:
That, of course, and the combat, which has an Isness as intense and significant as anything in the game, despite such initially ridiculous-seeming weapons as a chainsaw-bearing assault rifle and bolo-chain grenade, the tossing of which looks like a rejected Olympic sport. I know that my French friend and I had a couple big laughs the first time we chainsawed a Locust in half, the first time we popped out of cover and pumped fifty rounds into a Locust chest, the first time one of us twirled a frag grenade and lobbed it into a crowd of Locust and watched them come apart in a burst of stumps and gore. How could such horrific imagery be so funny, so weirdly exhilarating, and not push the rest of the game into tonal incoherency?
And my favorite bit, on the difference between Mouse/Keyboard and Gamepads:
Hardcore PC-shooter fanatics still lament the genre's Great Console Migration, and they maintain that the controller provides only a fraction of the mouse's precision. Almost certainly, this is true. But Bleszinski understood something vital: If the shooter is about a visceral connection between player and avatar, action and reaction, perhaps nosing a mouse along a felt pad was a poor approximation of the shooting experience. Perhaps the approximation of holding a big rattling piece of hot and deafeningly noisy metal made precision somewhat beside the point. Perhaps the messier controls of the console shooter actually had the potential to make shooting profounder, somehow. Many developers who went from PC to console shooters never understood the necessity of this leap and thus never made it themselves.
The entire excerpt is worth checking out, particularly since the only way to get your hands on the full book will be to buy the $150 epic edition of the game.
The Art and Design of Gears of War [Grantland]