Feature

What Gears Of War 4 Can Learn From Halo 4

by Javy Gwaltney on Apr 01, 2016 at 09:00 AM

In 2009, 343 Industries was founded by Microsoft to take over the development of the Xbox’s biggest franchise, Halo, after Bungie moved on from the series. Carrying on the legacy of one of the most beloved first-person shooters of all time is a tall order but one that 343 has done an admirable job of it with both Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians. The Coalition, formerly Black Tusk Studios, now faces the same challenge with Gears of War, having inherited the series from Epic after Microsoft acquired the franchise in 2014.

Both studios have had similar beginnings, being created or repurposed by Microsoft for the sake of carrying on franchises. Both developers also began their respective tenures by creating remastered versions of each series’ first game, with 343 releasing Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and The Coalition’s first release being Gears Of War: Ultimate Edition. And now, like 343, The Coalition is tasked with continuing a franchise with a fourth entry after the closure of a classic trilogy.

Though there are fans who are disgruntled some of the creative choices 343 has made since the acquisition, it’s hard to argue that the developer hasn’t worked to take Halo in interesting and bold directions. The Coalition still has to prove it can do the same with Gears of War 4, and studio head Rod Fergusson himself has admitted that the two studios share similar paths and talked about how The Coalition is taking some pages from 343's playbook.

In terms of what we've learned from 343, it's a very similar path. I think part of it is the respect....we had our own feeling like "do it right before you do it different" but what's nice about 343 is they really embodied that with what they did with Halo 4 so that you could see it works. So we had something that was reinforcing our opinion of what do next; there's a respect for what they're doing that we felt was really strong. And, y'know, as a sister studio we have a great benefit from them because online service tech is the same tech we share, codes on backends and things like that, and we talk to them about our products, sort of do a postmortem with them and talk about what lessons we had learned.

Here are some lessons we believe that Gears of War 4 can learn from 343's successes and failures with Halo 4.

If It Ain’t Broke…

Halo 4 brought a new enemy to the series as well as additions to Halo’s sizable arsenal and a surprisingly emotional story. However, 343 didn’t tamper with the series’ bedrock of satisfying combat and made sure to bring back Skulls, mutators that have certain effects on the campaign like making enemies stronger or the fan-favorite Grunt Birthday Party, which cause confetti to erupt from their little bodies whenever you score a fatal headshot.

During our trip to The Coalition, Rod Fergusson and the rest of the team spent a large amount of time explaining how the developer was going to do right by Gears. “We’re the stewards of the franchise,” he told us, and part of the reason that The Coalition made Gears Of War: Ultimate Edition was to prove that the team could “Do it right before [they] do it different,” which suggests The Coalition know what elements need to stay the same and which ones need to be changed up a bit.

Take The Right Kinds Of Risks

While 343 didn’t make any major tweaks to the mechanics of its firefights with Halo 4, the game’s campaign was easily the most character-driven of the series yet, exploring the complex relationship between the giant man in the green suit we’d spent over a decade playing as and his A.I. partner, Cortana. It’s a sad story, filled with moments of beauty and surprisingly poignant reflections on love, and one that did a good job setting itself apart from the epic war story of the original trilogy while still letting players get their shooting fix.

The Coalition, like 343, seems to be dialing back the epic action of Gears 2 and 3 for something more personal. “We’re taking it back from planetary war to three people alone in the night,” Fergusson said of the series’ new direction. Gears 4 is intended to be a “Survive The Night” story infused with a sense of mystery while still retaining Gears’ brutal combat.

The first demo we saw of the game offered up a healthy balance of survival-horror jump scares and spooky atmosphere with intense gunfights set in a creepy church. Whether or not the rest of the game can continue to strike this balance, or create an experience that’s just as enthralling, is still up in the air, but the slice of gameplay we watched demonstrated that the creative decisions that The Coalition is making are at the very least interesting and will help set 4 apart from the rest of the series.

Keep Multiplayer Appeal Broad

Though Halo 4 was received well overall, there were a large number of Halo fans disappointed with how narrow the game’s multiplayer component seemed in comparison to previous entries, especially when it came to vehicular combat. Halo 4’s maps don’t seem to pack the same punch or brilliant design that Bungie’s Blood Gulch or Ascension do, though 343 has improved considerably on that front, with modes in Halo 5 like Warzone helping 343 creating its own unique and enjoyable spin on Halo’s multiplayer.

The Coalition didn’t chat too much about its multiplayer plans except to say it was going to be making strides to create a game that would be ideal for tournament and league play as well accessible for casual players.

It’s The Little Things

Halo 4 had a lot of neat little additions that helped the old seem new again, with revised sound design that created powerful and effective audio work. Such changes helped moved the series forward in smaller but noticeable ways while also letting 343 put its own touch on the series it now helmed.

The sounds of gunfire and cover for Gears 4 sounds more or less the same as it did in previous entries; however, there are tiny but noticeable visual differences. The Lancer’s flashlight modification as well as the shell rack attached the Gnasher provide each weapon with some visual flair, without necessarily giving them any tactical advantages over the versions we saw in previous games.

Move Forward, Not Backwards

While paying respect to the legacy of the games that came before can be important, 343 did what it needed to do and moved forward with Halo 4, focusing on a new storyline instead of bringing back old villains and conflicts and taking risks that didn’t always pay off (like the promising but mostly forgettable Spartan Ops series) but helped establish that Halo 4 was very much 343’s game and not Bungie’s.

The Coalition faces that same challenge with Gears 4, having to prove that it can do more than just ape what worked with the previous games, at once capturing the best parts of the past while moving forward with a new story. It’s a tricky balancing act, one that requires an intimate knowledge of the series and a detailed plan for how to bring Gears of War screaming into the next generation.