Gears of War 4 just hit stores right as we mark a full decade since the Gears of War franchise first launched. The original Gears of War debuted 10 years ago on Nov. 7, 2006, exclusively on the Xbox 360. Its impact on games was immediately felt. Let’s explore the influence of the Gears of War franchise and how it changed the face of shooters forever.
Gears of War may be responsible for HD gaming on consoles. The story goes that Epic used a Gears of War tech demo as a showcase for the Unreal Engine 3, and how it ran on the Xenon processor powering the Xbox. In order to get the demo looking the way they needed it to, Epic Games‘ founder Tim Sweeney convinced Microsoft to double the memory in the Xbox 360 from 256 to 512 megabytes.
This ended up costing Microsoft millions, but had a huge upside: The extra RAM allowed Gears of War and other Xbox 360 titles to run at 720p resolution, the minimum spec for HD gaming. In other words, without Gears of War, HD gaming on consoles may not have taken off the way it did.
Unreal Engine 3
Speaking of Unreal Engine 3, all four Gears of War games used a modified version of Epic’s proprietary engine. The fidelity of the textures and facial animations were unmatched at the time, and developers took notice. Many games of the era tried to copy Gears’ visual aesthetic, but few even came close. A diverse range of game series since have used the tech, including Batman Arkham, Borderlands, Mass Effect, Mortal Kombat, Tony Hawk, and XCOM.
Gears of War wasn’t the first game to utilize third-person over the shoulder perspective or cover-based shooting mechanics. It just perfected the formula. The game’s close perspective gave you a wider view of the battlefield and made for some intense cinematic moments as your character would roadie run from cover to cover, pop out to toss a spike grenade, then chainsaw any enemy Locusts who got too close. It remains one of the most intense and satisfying moments in gaming.
Epic’s lead designer at the time, Cliff Bleszinski, has gone on record that he was inspired by the camera in Resident Evil 4 and the lesser-known kill.switch. In fact, the lead designer for kill.switch worked on Gears of War, which explains why they have so much in common.
One of the biggest features of the original Gears of War was the drop-in-drop-out co-op campaign. What good is it having a game full of so many set pieces and awe-inspiring moments if you don’t have anyone to share it with? Gears of War 3 further upped the ante to 4-player online co-op so you and your friends could make up your own Delta team.
Since Gears of War was all about playing with your friends, it makes sense that the series’ signature multiplayer mode is the cooperative Horde mode. In the mode, first introduced in Gears of Wars 2, up to 5 players fight wave after wave of increasingly difficult computer-controlled enemies. It was all about seeing how many waves you could survive. The mode became so popular that the name “Horde mode,” while specific to Gears of War, became shorthand for this style of co-operative multiplayer in all games. To fully understand the impact and importance of this groundbreaking multiplayer mode, see our article dedicated entirely to Horde mode.
One of Gears of War’s most memorable moments isn’t in any of the games. It’s the “Mad World” trailer that featured scenes from the game over a melancholy cover of the Tears for Fears hit song of the same name. The commercial became so popular that the particular cover of the song by Gary Jules hit #1 on the iTunes charts 5 years after its initial recording.
Much like Horde mode, the song has become synonymous with the games. Eventually, it came full circle and the score for Gears of War 3 incorporated the “Mad World” tune. Many games since have tried to copy this type of trailer, to varying levels of success, but “Mad World” will always stand out. It was the first of its kind to show us just how powerful and impactful a good trailer can be.
Gears of War Has Style
Video games have featured larger than life tough guys since their inception. Characters like Duke Nukem and B.J. Blaskowitz were around well before Marcus Fenix and company. But Gears of War leaned into that uber masculinity and machismo and seemingly reveled in it. This may be one of the reasons it works so well. The Gears games are self-aware enough to know exactly what they’re doing, yet they know you’re along for the ride anyway. As cheesy and over-the-top as it is, it’s impossible NOT to smile while listening to the Cole Train rap
Marcus Fenix and his crew were hulking masses of muscle and testosterone that would give any WWE SuperStar a run for their money. Armed with one of the coolest weapons in video game history, the Lancer Mark II assault rifle (a.k.a. the chainsaw gun), playing as these heroes made anyone feel like a badass. The game even managed to take something as mundane as a weapon reload mechanic and make it cool. When it comes to style, Gears is in a class all its own.