Blood, sweat and gears.
Blood, sweat and gears.
“No dubstep” – Cliffy B
With this console generation lasting longer than any which have come before it, it stands to reason that a few ‘trilogies’ may find themselves in an awkward situation, what with God of War being the only major trilogy to launch at the tail end of one generation then power on through into the next.
At E3, we got the chance to sit down with Cliff Bleszinski from Epic and Adrian Chmielarz from People Can Fly and have them walk us through their vision for Gears of War: Judgment, the prequel which goes back to the retelling of the humble story of Baird and the events which lead up to his inevitably COG trial.
Bleszinski explains: “The topic came up to do a prequel, right? You’ve finished the trilogy, you’ve told the story, you’ve saved the world and it seems like a no-brainer. We sat there and looked at our options and thought ‘Ok, Emergence Day, that could be cool – seeing the first moment the locusts come out of the ground’, but then we immediately thought ‘Yeah, but there’s no chainsaw’.”
In order to make the game Gears-ish enough, the team ruled out any time at or before Emergence Day immediately, mostly due to a lack of chainsaw. Landing on a Baird’s downfall story, their aims with Judgment are twofold: create a spawning system which will give the players a completely different experience each time they play (including during the first playthrough), and have both a COG-censored version and a ‘real’ version of each mission, so players can jump through and play multiple times and get entirely new enemies, challenges and more.
The team created a new system called S3, short for Smart Spawn System. Chmielarz muses over the old way of having difficulty settings merely increase damage taken and reduce damage given, saying: “[it] worked very well, but S3 does a lot more. So, it constantly monitors your performance, but it’s not just about your accuracy or your skill set, it’s also about (for example) your position on the map. So the system will look at the combat and say ‘Ok, so the player is in this corner here, so we should attack him now with this kind of unit and this kind of strategy’.”
“It’s like there’s been this desire to try and expand the gaming audience, and the torque of challenge in a game has been somewhat lost.” Bleszinski continues. “You look at Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, which are really hard, but to their credit, you really have to learn things and prove that you’re actually improving in that game, and it becomes a real accomplishment when you finish something. That’s where that ‘sweaty palms’ campaign (which Adrian always brings up) comes into it, which I love, because that’s always my sign of a game that’s interesting and good is that it does make your palms sweat.”
The main focus of Judgment’s showing at E3, however, was the new multiplayer mode called Overrun. Running around slaughtering folk in Gears of War has never been a particularly strategic prospect until now. As we’d hammer away at defensive fortifications set up by the COG as a locust, we’d be fending off (or freaking EATING) grenades as one of several classes available. On the COG side of things, we can take our time as a Scout, Medic or heaps more.
“I’m really excited to finally have class-based gaming in Gears.” Bleszinski continues. “We’ve had a little bit of it with Beast mode and things like that, but we’re really blowing it out here by taking Horde mode and Beast mode and kinda fusing them, then going on from there and layering on all these nuances and features and abilities and things like that.”
The pair continue to stress their intention to make this Gears game faster and more intense than any which have come so far. In accordance with this desire, they’ve created, for the first time since the first game laid down the groundwork for the rest of the series, a new control scheme.
“In theory”, muses Chmielarz , “it shouldn’t be a big deal, but judging by the forums (who are very passionate people) it certainly is.”
It comes down to this: no more d-pad to switch weapons (which means no more remembering which weapons were where), and the addition of one-button, tapped, grenade throws. Subtle changes, but with the combined new pacing of Judgment they make a hell of a difference.
Fast-paced, frenetic gameplay is moving in to Gears for the first time, it usually solidifying itself as a measured, cover-based franchise. But, as Chmielarz puts it: “it’s getting pretty crazy, so QA hate us. Just as an example, the Ticker has this ability to eat grenades as a countermeasure. Somebody from COG throws a grenade and before it blows up, he can eat it. And then he carries it around in his belly, so when the Ticker explodes, the explosion is much more powerful because of that grenade.”
Make no mistake, this will be the first game in the Gears franchise to push for some changes. Still honing that same old mechanic, perhaps, but there’s a freedom to explore here which will shift the game around somewhat. The new pace of the action and way the team are weaving the narrative and storyline together is looking set to make a huge difference, but it’ll only be driven further home by the assurance that you’re never going to be able to predict where or when enemies will hit you.
Bleszinski makes no bones about being inspired by the Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls games. It’ll be very interesting to see a more hardcore, fast-paced Gears do its damage when it hits early next year.
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