Sat around the TV, as I often did as a child, an advert came on during the break of what was likely a Nickelodeon show. At this point in my gaming world, I had played odds and sods on the PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2, with my strongest memories being of Crash Bandicoot, Tomb Raider and Need for Speed. Visuals were rapidly improving, with huge leaps from generation to generation and most graphics on PS2 were markedly above what was achievable on PS1. At this point I wouldn’t call myself a gamer, but that was about to change.
That advert, for Gears of War, convinced me to swap over to Xbox with the 360 console, as the visual style and sheer graphical quality were like nothing I had ever seen. Paired with the sombre “Mad World” soundtrack, the trailer was instantly memorable. This was the first time I had seen a game have movie-level production value, and the damp dark streets of what would become Sera had me hooked. I had to say goodbye to PlayStation and get myself an Xbox 360.
When I finally got my hands on the game, it exceeded my expectations. The tight, story-focused campaign was replayed over and over, from casual to insane difficulty. Much is said of Gears of War’s “dudebro” aesthetic and over the top characterization, but for the most part I disagree. The development team built an immersive world with Sera, the war-torn planet that Gears takes place in, and the characters had charm and a surprising amount of heart. The story isn’t perfect, but I grew attached to Delta Squad over the course of the series, leading to that moment in Gears of War 3. Games with a stronger story focus were immediately more appealing to me and at this point I would have called myself a gamer.
All of this takes nothing away from the rise of online gaming through Xbox Live, which was another key factor in my growing time spent playing games. Gears of War had a brilliant online mode, which incidentally almost never happened as the developers struggled to make the cover-based system work in PvP. Gears of War’s gruesome, intimate multiplayer battles were unique, and its use of real time combat using cover was a refreshing change of pace for the third person shooter. I was introduced to Xbox Live through Gears, and it opened the door to a bunch of influential titles like PGR4 and the seminal Call of Duty 4.
Gears of War remains one my favourite series to this day. Part nostalgia I admit, but the series has had good entries since its inception in 2006. Although Gears 4 wasn’t as good as I had hoped, it was a solid sequel and has left me eagerly anticipating where the series goes with Gears 5.