Throughout the years, the third-person shooter genre has experienced several changes that helped shape the genre and elevate it to new levels. Each new game came out with a new idea, and on the one hand, each new title attempted to refine that idea through either re-inventing or tweaking. Much of this reinvention and innovation through the ages has resulted in spawning several successful titles such as Max Payne, Dead to Rights, Syphon Filter, The Suffering, and Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy. These games are regarded as timeless classics due to the fact they've integrated multiple concepts into the genre, creating unmatched titles to this day. However, after the release of the critically acclaimed Resident Evil 4, many thought that the genre's potential of evolving has come to a halt, and that it will be doomed to repeat the same ideas over and over again to no end. But in fact, it was the complete opposite. Capcom's masterpiece has only fueled the many developers' efforts to surpass what Capcom has achieved, and thus games that paid tribute to RE4 have emerged, including Dead Space and The Last of Us. Amidst their journey, many games had hit the dead end. They couldn't surpass Resident Evil 4's gameplay design, the only choice left was to replicate the formula and acknowledge Shinji Mikami's masterpiece as the king back then.
It was at that moment that the world would witness the release of one of the best Xbox games to this day. The game I'm talking about is Gears of War. Released back in 2006, it went on to be one of the best-selling franchises of all time. Today, we will be diving into the influences behind Gears of War including the gameplay, the story, and the mechanics.
The Impact of Kill.Switch, Winback, and Resident Evil 4 on Gears of War
There's no denying that titles such as Max Payne and Dead to Rights have elevated the genre to new levels by incorporating unique mechanics such as the renowned bullet-time mode. This mode enabled the player to slow down time while he pushed through a myriad of bullets and shoot enemies left and right. The mode made the game addictive and spectacular. Surprisingly, playing through these games nowadays will still manage to blow away many gamers.
Likewise, games such as Kill.Switch, Winback, and Resident Evil 4 not only were mind-blowing in terms of what they brought to the genre but also influenced many developers to bring something to the genre as well. However, more importantly, what the Gears of War developers were aiming at is a fun game with a solid campaign and simple co-op multiplayer. Cliff Bleszinski talks about this in one of his interviews with GamesTM back in 2012, and explains how Kill.Switch made a major impact on him when it came to creating the gameplay for Gears of War.
Winback was the first game to feature two crucial mechanics that would be further adopted by the likes of Kill. Switch and Resident Evil 4. The first is the cover system that allowed players to take cover, and the second is the laser sight mechanic that was later incorporated in action games such as Metal Gear Solid 2 and Resident Evil 4. Meanwhile, Kill. Switch introduced the blind shooting system which in turn was also embraced by a plethora of titles. With all these influences and ideas aside, the question is: Did Gears of War rip off these titles? The answer is no. It's noteworthy that Gears borrowed several inspirations that helped shape the game to be what it is, but instead of ripping off these ideas directly, the developers brought their own touch to the spine. When Gears was initially released, it polished the genre to a degree. The controls' fluidity was drastically improved, as well as the cover system, and the ease of aiming the weapon. For an Xbox 360 game, everything looked fresh.
How a Failed Marriage Inspired Cliff Bleszinski
The first time I read about this, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. But the more I dug through the matter, the clearer I could see what Cliff truly meant. Cliff Bleszinski spilled the beans on his Twitter back in 2015 and talked about how his first failed marriage and a visit to London have played a major role in inspiring him to make the first Gears of War game.
The failed marriage was responsible for creating the name Fennix since it symbolizes Bleszinski rising from the ashes as he fought through the sadness. On the other hand, Anya was based on the person who broke his heart. Although the original character was supposed to have larger breasts and an arousing body, Bleszinski opted for a less cartoony character and more of a female fighter. Digging further into the character's names, Baird’s name came from a childhood friend of Cliff. The latter claims that his friend was a bit of a jerk and that the name itself could be associated with a jerk. Cliff Bleszinski didn't just use his personal life as an inspiration but also his father. He pushed for Marcus Fennix to have blues eyes because it reminded him of his father. Many inspirations were drawn from Bleszinski's personal life and the people around him. No wonder why the game has some of the best emotional cutscenes in video games. There are other inspirations that I didn't state, so I'll leave it to you to hunt them down.
The Themes of War
Gears of War is all about war, and surviving amidst the chaotic events. But have you wondered what inspired the creators to make the action so thrilling and epic? Well, before Gears of War was a thing, the developers were creating a Battlefield-kind of game. The game would have been called Unreal Warfare until the developers re-considered the direction they were headed to. In an interview by GamesTM, programmer James Golding revealed how Medal of Honor and Battlefield inspired the first project, and how it was going to be a multiplayer focused title until it was later shifted to a single player campaign.
Unreal Warfare underwent several changes. Firstly, the game went under the working title of Warfare with the development team focusing largely on the main campaign. Later on, a revised version of the game appeared at GDC 2002 showcasing something similar to Conflict Vietnam. The short gameplay videos demonstrated four armed soldiers exploring underground areas set on an alien planet. Yet, although there was a noticeable transition from Unreal Warfare to Gears of War, the core inspirations were never scrapped. In fact, if it weren't for these inspirations, I believe Gears of War wouldn't have existed in the first place.
Among the other things that influenced Gears of War is The Lord of The Rings. "How?" you may ask. Well, Gears of War's Locust were actually inspired by Tolkien from the Lord of The Rings franchise. In an interview with CVG, Bleszinski explained how they wanted the Locust to be intelligent savages, pretty much like the Uruk-hai in LOTR, but with guns and tactics under their belt.
Digging further into the inspirations, it's safe to assume to Gears of War not only borrowed from video games but also from historical events. Cliff Bleszinski stated in one of his tweets that World War II and the Gulf War played a major inspiration when designing the game, but he ended up deleting the tweet for reasons unknown.
Marcus Fennix, William J. Blazkowicz, Duke Nukem, this trio shares something in common
There's no denying that we often see big muscled tough males in video games, equipped with gigantic arsenals, loaded to shoot anything that moves. Characters like BJ Blazkowicz, Duke Nukem, and Doom Guy have that in common and were already around before Marcus Fennix existed. These characters are renowned for their prestige and machismo. Unsurprisingly, Gears of War leans into that side and borrows as much as possible from the trio, even though this is just my own theory.
However, that doesn't mean the developers ripped off everything from these three. Before Gears of War, it seems that the past Unreal games already had big muscled guys. For instance, if we take a look back at Malcolm from Unreal Tournament 2003, we notice that Epic Games was renowned for including tough male characters into their titles. In light of what has been stated, it's safe to assume that Epic drew some inspiration from their previous titles when designing the characters' look.
What do you think about these inspirations? Was it informative? Let me know, and if you have anything to share, comment it down below!