If you've played a Gears game before, you know how it goes by now: you stomp through a door, the camera breaks away from your shoulder to show a mass of enemies converging on your positions at the other end of a corridor, and you automatically slide into the closest piece of waist-high cover under a hail of bullets. It was like that in 2006 when Gears of War made its debut, and it was like a decade later when Gears of War 4 launched in 2016. But it won't be like that in Gears 5, at least, not all of the time – and we have BioShock Infinite to thank for that.
"In the previous Gears games, when you went into a room the Locust would immediately see you and begin to shoot at you," recalls Rod Fergusson, studio head of The Coalition and creative director of Gears 5. "The minute you walk into a room they instantly knew you were there. In every Gears game you kind of open a door to a room and immediately slide into cover because bullets are coming. But now, in Gears 5, we have this idea of player-initiated combat."
On The Radar: Gears 5 – A deep dive into the most ambitious Gears of War game ever created
That's where BioShock Infinite comes into the picture. While Fergusson spent much of his career working at Epic Games – participating in the development of every one of the Gears of War games – he did depart the company in 2012 to join Irrational Games as its executive vice president of development. "I was fortunate enough to ship BioShock Infinite, and to work with Ken and his team – and the team that was at Irrational was just amazing. That was one of the reasons I wanted to do that project. It was a very big learning experience."
It was here that Fergusson worked alongside Ken Levine and the rest of the team at Irrational to get BioShock Infinite out of the door after the game endured a famously tumultuous development cycle. Fergusson exited the studio just weeks after the game shipped, mission completed. But it was these eight months at Irrational that ultimately inspired Fergusson to try and inject some fresh perspective into Gears 5, changing your autonomy in combat spaces and the way enemies can react to your presence.
"That idea was something that Ken was very adamant about, player-initiated combat – to give the player the choice of how and when to engage. So we brought that to Gears 5" Fergusson tells me, noting that though the team may have been inspired by the idea, they still sought to make it their own. "In certain circumstances and in certain battles, you can go into levels and you can actually see the Swarm occupying the space but they aren't aware of you yet."
It's all about choice
The reason for this is that The Coalition wants to inject a sense of agency into Gears 5. The pace and style of combat is still the same as it has always been – weighty and with purpose – only now you have a little more freedom to play your way, or at least to shape encounters around the weapons or distances you feel most comfortable playing in.
"It means you get to see the environment, you get to see the threat, and you get to see the opportunities. We have this new thing with JACK too," Fergusson continues, detailing just some of the ways the support-bot can assist your squad in combat. "Where you can go like, 'Okay, how do I want to solve this? Do I want to go invisible? Do I want to get amped up so I can go in aggressively, or do I want to get JACK to go fetch a weapon and bring it to me before we start?'"
"It just creates a lot more choice and really changes up the gameplay. So you can actually play the game the way that your style supports. I tend to like to stay at the back and then snipe everyone, but some people are frontliners and go right in. So now it's up to you how you want to play."
We will be exploring how player-choice and the addition of RPG elements is expanding the scope of play, and what JACK brings to the table, as part of our week long deep-dive into Gears 5. For more on the campaign, multiplayer, and how the game was designed, you'll want to bookmark our On The Radar: Gears 5 coverage hub and be sure to check out our Gears 5 hands on preview for more insight into the campaign.