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After yesterday's news that Microsoft purchased the Gears of War franchise, many saw the move as a concentration of Microsoft's power base by locking down the franchise's exclusivity on their consoles.
While that may very well be the case, the acquisition raises another, more serious question:
Does anyone even care about the Gears of War series anymore?
The Xbox has always had a dearth of console exclusives, lagging behind both Nintendo and Sony in terms of first party IPs. The Xbox One in particular has Titanfall, Halo, Killer Instinct 2013, and the still somewhat nebulous Sunset Overdrive...and that's about it.
While the Gears of War franchise is synonymous with the Xbox, is Microsoft just late to the party?
The series debuted back in 2006, and while it certainly wasn't the first shooter to implement a dynamic cover system, it refined it to the point of becoming commonplace. More shooters than we care to count from 2006 on have directly, or indirectly, bit Gears style.
The game was a watershed moment for the Xbox 360 and the console saw the series make a metric fuck ton of cash for both Microsoft, and Gears development studio, Epic Games.
Spawning two well-received direct sequels, the game managed to occupy a rare space of a AAA blockbuster title that managed to also maintain a distinct voice and identity in a sea of shooters. The apocalyptic, science fiction plot of curb-stomping aliens was always anchored by the very humanistic bromances of Marcus Fenix and his fellow marines.
The series never cloaked itself as an online multiplayer vehicle with a flimsy single player narrative. The mythology was always well crafted and the universe was a place that a solo player could spend hours getting lost in. The game was also willing to double down on local co-op at a time when most franchises were investing in online everything all the time. How much more fun was it using a lancer with a friend sitting next to you, cheering you on the whole time?
This balance was struck in large part to Epic Games' chief designer Cliff Blezinski and his distinct vision for the series. When Blezinski left Epic Games in October of 2012, many saw that as the opening death knell for Gears series. Shortly thereafter the lackluster Gears of War: Judgement was released without Blezinski at the helm. The game was considered by many to be lacking in depth and was written off as a derivative prequel. Gow: Judgement sold far less than any of the previous three Gears entries.
So, the question remains, does anyone still care about Gears? Microsoft has tapped Black Tusk Studios, alongside Rod Fergusson, who was the executive producer and director of production on the first three Gears of War to oversee future title developments.
Are we just going to see a reenactment of Gears of War: Judgement? Is the next installment in the series going to be a prequel? A sequel? Where are we in the continuity of the universe?
Blezinski took to his Tumblr to make a statement,
"I’m not going to move to Vancouver and work on it.
I’m not going to consult on it.
My headspace is in the future now, not the past. I have come to realize that until you give people something new to focus on they will obsess about the past. (good problem to have!)"
Microsoft and the Xbox need more exclusives. Given all of the heat surrounding Titanfall, Microsoft has paid EA handsomely for exclusivity of the first game in the series, but future entries, much like the Mass Effect sequels, are sure to be multi-platform.
The Gears of War series will always be intrinsically linked to the Xbox, but one has to wonder if this purchase is akin to spending vast sums of cash on one night with the corpse of a really, really hot celebrity. Sure, they're hot, but ya'know, also still sort of dead.
Microsoft has no shortage of talent at its disposal, but there's a part of us that remains skeptical of what shape the series may take.
Should Microsoft just focus on developing new IPs exclusive to the their consoles rather than reanimating a proven, if somewhat aged, franchise?