Microsoft has acquired the rights to the third-person, action-packed Gears of War franchise. The multinational corporation announced that it had secured the rights from Epic Games, likely sealing Gears’ fate as a franchise exclusive to Microsoft platforms. As expected, this means that PlayStation 4 users – along with everyone else that plays video games on non-Microsoft platforms – will not be able to play upcoming Gears of War releases.
Taking into consideration that Microsoft served as the publisher for the first four Gears titles, the latest acquisition comes as little surprise. Out of the four afore-mentioned titles, three were Xbox 360 exclusives; the only non-360 exclusive was the original Gears of War, which was brought to both the 360 and the PC in 2006.
It appears that Microsoft is keen to add as many high-profile titles to their exclusive heap, as possible. For example, PlayStation 4 owners will not see the release of PS4 iterations of the highly anticipated, mech-sporting shooter Titanfall, or any games from the Halo franchise. In a recent press release, Microsoft Studios President Phil Spencer talked about the range of exclusives Microsoft were overseeing:
“It all comes back to our commitment to Xbox fans… The Gears of War franchise has a very strong, passionate, and valued fan base on Xbox… This franchise, and these fans, are part of the soul of Xbox.”
Development responsibilities have now fallen on the Vancouver-based subsidiary of Microsoft Studios, Black Tusk Studios, who will take hold of the reigns from Epic; this news, however, does comes as a revelation. Black Tusk have yet to produce a single title, and some of Microsoft’s skeptics are questioning whether it is wise to hand over one of the company’s biggest IPs to a nascent developer. However, it appears the project’s progress will be watched by veteran producer Rod Fergusson, who was involved in the development of 2K Games’ critically acclaimed Bioshock Infinite, and the first three games from the Gears of War franchise. Fergusson will also collaborate with Black Tusk Studios’ general manager, Hanno Lemke – a developer with previous experience at Electronic Arts, Microsoft and Konami, to name a select few.
Fergusson, who was a former employee of Microsoft, between 1996 and 2006, spoke enthusiastically about his return to the fold. Fergusson stated that he had been privileged with working on many development teams, and had helped shape a variety of video games. However, the former Epic and Irrational Games employee claimed there was something unique about Gears:
“… Gears has had the most impact on me professionally and personally, so this really feels like a homecoming. I can’t wait to share more with you all soon.”
Epic founder and Chief Executive Officer Tim Sweeney indicated that the acquisition would permit the company to focus on “new projects,” while Microsoft assumed control of Gears. Sweeney did not elaborate on what these projects were, however.
The last game in the franchise, Gears of War: Judgment, underperformed relative to its predecessors. Developed by Epic Games and People Can Fly, the game was generally well-received by gaming critics. Some fans of the franchise, meanwhile, were less than enthralled by the series’ apparent change of direction. The game’s user Metacritic score was mixed, with many gamers claiming the new release abandoned some of its core features. Sources of major contention involved aspects of both the single-player campaign and multiplayer; many equated the campaign to an arcade shooter with areas of brief narration, while changes to the multiplayer mechanics were also maligned by many gamers.
On the other hand, some games critics and players praised the new Declassified challenges that were added to each mission, as well as the new weapons, characters and the fast-paced gameplay. IGN gave the game a score of 9.2 out of 10, claiming its unpredictability made for “incendiary combat” and presented a fresh take on an “overly familiar” action series.
Meanwhile, the fate of Black Tusk’s previous, unreleased project – shown in the video, below – also remains a mystery. Although, the developers did showcase a teaser during E3, last year, executives are yet to provide any clues as to whether both projects would continue in tandem, or whether the studio would be reassigned to solely focus on the next Gears of War.
By James Fenner