Archives for posts with tag: The Coalition


As you may know, last Tuesday saw the release of the Xbox One X, Microsoft’s second bite at the current generation cherry which aims to redress the power balance seen between the base PlayStation 4 and Xbox One since they released back in November 2013. As the Xbox One has been my primary platform this gen, I decided to pick one up, and you can check out our unboxing of the ‘Project Scorpio’ edition console over on A Game with Chums.

Having bought a 4K television in the middle of last year, I’ve been waiting for this console to push some ultra high definition content to it; I have previously borrowed an Xbox One S for a few days, and found myself wowed by Warcraft: The Beginning in 4K/HDR, but I was really looking forward to seeing how games fared on the new system, especially favourites like Halo 5: Guardians, which uses dynamic scaling on original hardware, sometimes reaching as low as 1152×810. Even unpatched, the game should run at a full 1920×1080 at all times, plus receive forced 16x anisotropic filtering, cleaning up textures at oblique angles and making the game just look better all around.

Fortunately though, Halo 5 was one of the (many!) games slated to be updated for the One X, with many patches dropping before the new console even went on sale. In the week running up to release, I had a good handful of my games updated and ready to go on my external hard drive; I just needed to plug it into my new console and get going.

Obviously, being a massive Halo fan, Halo 5 was the first game I wanted to try when my system arrived, and the results were immediately obvious. The game just looks so clean now. It still uses dynamic scaling, but now both the upper and lower bounds are far, far higher. Texture filtering has also been improved, and though the core assets are untouched, the fact that resolution and filtering are so much better just means you can see far more detail than you ever could before – even down to tiny incidental text on weapon models. Halo 5: Guardians was always a pretty game, if a bit blurry. On Xbox One X, it looks spectacular, and I can’t wait to see what 343 can do with Halo 6 on the new machine.

The next game I wanted to check out was Gears of War 4. Honestly, I thought this game looked absolutely ridiculous on the base Xbox One, so I was intrigued to see how The Coalition would update it for the new machine. The answer, apart from a much higher rendering resolution of course, is higher resolution textures. The game already offered HDR if you had an Xbox One S (and I did try it out on that console when I borrowed it – it looked great), but the higher fidelity textures are the real standout here. With the game looking so crisp and clean at 4K, the upgraded texture work really shines, and the game looks absolutely phenomenal. Every time I load the game up, it drops my jaw.

Gears 4 already looked fantastic though, and the game that has impressed me the most so far, offering the biggest leap from base hardware to One X, has to be Dishonoured 2. Just look at the image at the top of this piece, a screenshot I took of the Dreadful Wale’s engine room – it could pass for a bullshot! The textures and materials look spectacular, and there’s not even a hint of aliasing.

Dishonoured 2 is another title that has received upgraded textures, and the difference is immediately apparent. Everything seems to have been improved, from geometry to textures to skin shaders; just take a look at our video below, where you can immediately see the upgrade in texture work on the door behind Captain Mayhew. Then pay attention to the Captain herself, who looks far more detailed than she ever did before. Where her face seemed a little flat on the Xbox One, you can now make out creases, scars and freckles in her skin.

It’s a massive upgrade. When Arkane announced Dishonoured 2, I was extremely excited for it, and watched all the footage the Lyon-based studio put out. I thought it looked wonderful. But when my Xbox One copy turned up, I was a little underwhelmed by it, visually. The excellent art design shone through of course, but it didn’t look great on the console. One Xbox One X it looks like the same game on a different generation of hardware, the leap is that big. In fact, it looks so good that, after recording the above video, I decided to shelve my One X-enhanced Gears of War 4 playthrough to play this instead, finally getting around to my high chaos Corvo run (I previously did a zero kill Emily playthrough).

It’s safe to say that I’m incredibly happy with my purchase, especially as I already had the TV for it. Now I can play console games in the highest fidelity and watch some more UHD blu rays. And that’s without even mentioning how small and quiet the machine is, or what it can do for backwards compatible Xbox 360 games. This thing is an absolute monster, and I can’t wait to see what developers can do with it going forward.

Not content with creating just one new class of enemies, Gears of War 4 developer The Coalition has this week unveiled a second all-new faction. This time, they’re robots.

The unveil comes in a new campaign video, courtesy of IGN, which features grumpy old man Marcus Fenix leading the new generation through his burning home, while fussing about his tomatoes – a fixation he has apparently inherited from his old buddy Dom. The eight minute clip gives us our first look at the ‘DeeBees’, robotic shock troops that come in at least four flavours. First up is a small, rolling drone that seeks the player out before exploding, much like Gears 2‘s ticker, and just like the tickers you can swiftly boot them clear. Next up are two humanoid units, one a fairly normal-sized adversary, the other a much larger, sturdier variant called a ‘heavy’, which comes equipped with a short dash to help it evade fire, close distance or even hurdle straight over cover. Lastly, and most interestingly, there’s the Guardian, a shielded airborne unit somewhat reminiscent of Halo 2‘s Enforcer sentinels.

Of course, this new class also brings fresh weaponry to the fight, and all four new guns look like a treat to use. The Enforcer immediately calls to mind Halo 5‘s SMG, though perhaps a little rangier, while the chunky, rectangular Overkill looks like some kind of super-shotgun, absolutely shredding enemies at close range. Then there’s the Embar, a railgun-type rifle that charges up to deliver enormous damage at more of a distance. Lastly, we have a successor to the Mulcher, a triple-barrelled monster called the Tri-Shot that seems like an amalgamation of the aforementioned chaingun and Gears 3‘s utterly ridiculous One-Shot.

One thing that comes to mind watching this new footage is quite how powerful these new weapons look, and it makes me wonder if that means we’ll see these new enemies used fairly sparingly throughout the campaign. Of course, there’s the question of where these ‘DeeBees’ come from, and I wonder if that name is itself a hint, with their creator perhaps being the original trilogy’s resident smart-arse Damon Baird. He’s portrayed throughout the series as a man who can make anything with two sticks and a piece of old gum, so it stands to reason he’d be building things for the new government in a post-war world. They’re clearly out to get JD, Del and Kait – the former two having deserted – and I wonder if they serve as a means to make the Coalition of Ordered Governments something of an antagonist without the developers having to resort to human-on-human combat, something fans didn’t take to very well with 2013’s Judgement.

Do not mess with this man's tomatoes

Do not mess with this man’s tomatoes

While the DeeBees are something new thematically, they do mostly fall back on established archetypes, and along with the Swarm drones’ familiarity to the dearly-departed Locust, fans may be feeling that The Coalition are playing it a little too safe. Though as Rod Ferguson, head of The Coalition, has previously said, the team need to do it right before they can do it differently – with their first game, they need to prove they understand the fundamentals of Gears before they go too crazy with it. Happily, everything we’ve seen of Gears of War 4 so far suggests that the Vancouver team know exactly what they’re doing, with their game looking like a proper Gears campaign, but with the addition of some shiny new toys – and some seriously inclement weather – to play with.

Kait and JD
It’s more than two years since Microsoft acquired the Gears of War IP from Epic, and a good nine months since The Coalition unveiled their newest title in the third-person shooter franchise at E3 last year. But for all the familiar elements – the chunky armour, the chainsaw bayonets, the destroyed beauty and the waist-high walls – that reveal didn’t really tell us much. Who were these new characters? Where were they, and what were they doing? Were we even on Sera anymore?

Now, new details have emerged in a Game Informer cover feature. Set 25 years after the climactic events of Gears of War 3, Sera is a very different place. Though it is a time of unprecedented peace, the remnants of humanity now live in walled cities, while violent windstorms batter the planet, an effect of the Imulsion bomb set off at the end of Gears 3. A community of Outsiders – think Stranded, but not nearly so downtrodden – live apart from the COG in their own villages, preferring a freer existence. Into this strange new world come our three protagonists, JD Fenix, Delmont ‘Del’ Walker, and Kait Diaz. The son of the original trilogy’s Marcus Fenix, JD has gone AWOL at the start of the game for reasons unknown, followed by his fiercely loyal childhood friend Del. Taking refuge in an Outsider community, they meet Kait, daughter of the village’s leader Reyna, and described as a capable survivalist who offers a different perspective on the world. When all of Kait’s people are kidnapped, dragged off into the night, the trio set out into the deep, dark woods to look for them, and uncover the mystery behind the Outsiders’ disappearance and the arrival of a grave new threat to the people of Sera.

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Rod Fergusson tells Game Informer that the goal for Gears 4 is to return to that darker, more intimate feeling the first game had, which often felt like four soldiers standing against the night. “It felt like, as the series progressed, we lost some of the intimacy,” said Fergusson. “The first Gears was a little bit darker and spookier, a little bit more bogeyman under the bed. But as you went through two and three, especially three, Gears became more of a World War II game where the Locust essentially became Nazis in a way. Because the scale had grown, you had gone from this sort of incursion behind enemy lines to a war at a planetary level. Even though we were trying to make the stakes greater, on a personal level, it actually felt like the stakes were lessened.” To get back some of that feel, The Coalition settled on a story featuring three protagonists that stretched over a single span of 24 hours. Getting closer to their characters has allowed the studio more time to focus on their development, as well as the theme of lineage, something that will no doubt be an important thread in the narrative of Gears of War 4.

But that’s not to say that Gears 4 is looking to be a retread of the 2006 original. While The Coalition don’t want to reinvent the wheel, there will be plenty of new stuff to look forward to. First off, the eradication of the Locust Horde means our heroes need an all-new threat to combat, and we now know they’ll be called The Swarm. We’ve already seen one example of this mysterious new force, the agile Pouncer from the E3 gameplay demo, and there’ll also be at least two new creatures to go along with them. The first are Juvies, fast, agile pale humanoids that rush you down to force you out of cover, and are capable of evolving into another new enemy type, the Drone. Named for their counterpart in the Locust army, these hulking monsters are capable of using guns and will likely make up the bulk of The Swarm’s forces. Hopefully they won’t be too similar to the old Drones we all know so well.

Gears of War 4 Juvie

Our protagonists have a few new moves up their sleeves as well, mostly focussed around close-quarters combat. “One of the problems we’ve always had was with close cover,” Fergusson told Game Informer. ” Occasionally you’ll get into that situation where two people come onto the same piece of cover and it looks kind of silly. It’s kind of The Naked Gun moment where the two people are throwing their pistols at each other. One of our big things in Gears was never make the avatar look stupid, so we started to talk about how we could improve players’ ability to move over cover.” To achieve this, The Coalition reworked the mantle kick system from the third game, making it easier to clear obstacles in one smooth motion. If an enemy happens to be hunkered down on the other side, they’ll be staggered briefly, allowing the player to use another new feature – the combat knife. This can be used in close-quarters situations to quickly execute stunned enemies, and to that end, you’ll even be able to drag your prey out of cover to finish them quickly or, if you’re out in the open, use a new short-range shoulder charge (which can be seen in the E3 demo) to knock your foes off balance.

Those violent windstorms mentioned earlier – called windflares – will also play a part in changing up how you use cover. More than just ominous background elements, the wind can affect projectile trajectory, hinder your movement through the environment, and even tear pieces of it away. Game Informer describes a scenario where you could shoot out support struts during an intense windflare, sending a piece of heavy machinery barrelling across the battlefield, killing everything in its path, and The Coalition intends for the weather to heavily alter a play space, so much so that after you’ve moved through it’s almost a different environment. Additionally, these windflares are separated into four categories, with a category 4 also bringing with it lightning strikes. Thankfully, you won’t have to fight off The Swarm while you struggle to survive these intense moments: “Our original idea was that categories one through four would always involve enemies,” said Fergusson. “But when we started playing around with the wind, we realized that just trying to survive in a category four – just trying to do that rock-climbing-like movement to get from cover to cover – was exciting. I was like, ‘I don’t think we need enemies in a four, but we need something else.’ That’s where the ideas for those lightning flurries came up. I wanted to feel like we were swimming through jellyfish, like we were surrounded by danger on all sides and it was beautiful.”

windflare

With Gears vet Rod Fergusson heading the studio, and with The Coalition’s sterling work on Gears of War: Ultimate Edition under their belts, it feels like Gears of War 4 is in the right hands. “We have to do it right before we do it different,” said Fergusson. “That’s the message I came to The Coalition with. We were new stewards to the franchise, and we had to show that we respected the franchise and that we knew the franchise before we went off and did something crazy.” From what we know of Gears of War 4 so far, it’s sounding like it’ll be an exciting mix of the familiar and the crazy – exactly what we need for the return of one of the last generation’s classics.

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With the recent release of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition for Xbox One, the maiden release from Microsoft’s Vancouver-based team The Coalition, one of the biggest franchises of the previous generation is back in the spotlight where it belongs.

First announced back at E3 in June, its stage presence in Microsoft’s keynote put to bed months of rumours that we’d be getting remasters of the entire series, along the lines of the Master Chief Collection. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition brings Delta Squad’s first adventure to Xbox One, with some extra bells and whistles and visuals rebuilt from the ground up.

Now nine years old, Gears of War was a graphical powerhouse when it burst onto Xbox 360 in 2006, but in the cold, harsh light of 2015 it’s surprising how rough around the edges the game now looks. For most people though, that’s not how the game lives in their memories, and that’s the problem The Coalition had to tackle with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. To that end, the team decided to keep the base geometry, AI scripting and source code – ensuring the game plays exactly as we remember it – while rebuilding absolutely everything else. Every single model and asset – over 3,000 of them – were rebuilt from the ground up for the Xbox One. That includes cutscenes, which have been re-framed, re-shot and re-mo-capped in their entirety, while five previously PC-exclusive chapters of the game – comprising roughly two hours of gameplay – that had to be excised from the original Xbox 360 release have been reinstated here. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is not so much a remaster as it is a remake.

It’s not just in the visual department that the new team want to make their mark, though. Back when Epic were first building Gears of War, they had no idea whether it would become a franchise, with sequels, merchandise, companion novels and the like. As the franchise evolved, so did the games, with Gears 3 in particular digging deep into the backstory and characters from the extended universe material. The Coalition wanted to draw some of those interconnecting lines back into the very birth of the series, though to preserve the game mostly as we remember it, they chose to go about it in fairly subtle ways; in a panel at this year’s SDCC, the team talked about some of their efforts to tie the original game more deeply into the wider world of Sera, mentioning a message scrawled in blood – “Welcome to the Slab” – in the opening prison level as an example of this – that prison wasn’t actually named until Karen Traviss’ 2008 novel Aspho Fields. Other touches are more overt, yet still hidden to a degree; collectible CoG tags now unlock pages from the series’ canon of comic books, that you can later read in the game’s menus.

Just as they did on the 360, Microsoft are looking to push Gears in a big way for the Xbox One. The difference this time is that they now own the IP, having acquired it last January from original developer Epic Games. It’s not often we hear of IP changing hands in this way, but Microsoft had to move to secure the exclusivity of one of their biggest franchises from the previous gen; Epic’s ex-president Mike Capps had previously indicated that he’d like to see the series hit PlayStation platforms, and not long after the acquisition, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney revealed to Polygon that the developer had no plans for a continuation: “Because we weren’t planning on building any more Gears games,” Sweeney said, “we were just going to let that sit on the shelf for a decade or more, in case it had any future value to us.”

Clearly, Microsoft had to do something to secure the future of Gears, a franchise that Xbox head honcho Phil Spencer has called “part of the soul of Xbox.” It’s worth remembering what an enormous impact Gears of War had last gen: for many, it was the first truly ‘next-gen’ moment of the 360/PS3 cycle, influencing future projects like Uncharted, before going on to sell more than 22 million units and break the billion-dollar mark in franchise sales. So while we don’t know how much the acquisition cost Microsoft, and we’re unlikely to ever find out, its value to the Xbox brand is clear.

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We do know that it effectively cost Microsoft a studio though, or at least that studio’s name and potential (read: non-Gears) output. The IP acquisition led to Black Tusk (itself formerly Microsoft Vancouver) changing their name to The Coalition (a reference to the in-universe Coalition of Ordered Governments) and taking on Gears of War exclusively; much like fellow first party teams 343 Industries (Halo) and Turn 10 (Forza), The Coalition will now become ‘The Gears Studio’. This has unfortunately led to the shelving of Black Tusk’s previous project, known only as Shangheist (and of which only a vague concept trailer was ever shown), which has given some cause to decry Microsoft’s strategy of tying their small number of first party teams to a single franchise. However, Microsoft’s strategy for new IP appears to be geared more towards creating and curating new franchises with third party partners (see Platinum with Scalebound, Remedy’s Quantum Break, and ReCore with Comcept and Armature, for instance), while building up top-tier teams to handle their most valuable assets. With Microsoft retaining those IPs, this could be a smart way to do business and increase the brand’s pool of properties, but we shall have to wait and see how such a strategy pans out over the coming years.

One thing’s for sure though: with veteran series producer Rod Fergusson at the helm, Gears of War looks to be in good hands indeed, and the team at The Coalition is using their experience rebuilding the first game as a learning experience for the future. Upon Fergusson’s arrival at Black Tusk, as it was still known then, he tasked the team with a week or two of nothing but playing Gears games, the idea being to bring everyone up to speed quickly and furnish the entire team with an intimate understanding of what makes the games tick. The Ultimate Edition of Gears of War thus serves a handful of different functions: not only does it fill a slot in Microsoft’s end-of-year blockbuster blitzkrieg, but it also gets a Gears game on Xbox One to let people know that the series will see a continuation. Most importantly for the future of the franchise, it serves as, in Fergusson’s words, “the perfect on-ramp” for the team to take the franchise forward with Gears of War 4.

And what of Gears 4? That game was also fully unveiled back at E3, with Fergusson rather surprisingly demoing a six-minute playable slice that introduced the characters of JD and Kait and the beautifully rendered, dark and creepy world they inhabit. Not much is known about the setting for the game – we’re assuming it’ll still take place on Sera, but there’s no indication what time period it’s set in, who these two new leads are, or even what it is they’re doing.

One thing we can discern is, perhaps, the tone of the game. Gears has never been anything other than a big summer blockbuster action game, but the first instalment definitely had some horror stylings to it – it was massively influenced by Resident Evil 4, after all. For all its pale snarling monsters, impossibly-proportioned soldiers and Cole Train “Woo!”s, it was, at times, a darkly atmospheric experience, as anyone who remembers the foreboding, rain-soaked Lethia Imulsion Facility can attest, and while the later games didn’t necessarily lose that atmosphere, they definitely leant more towards the all-out-war side of the Gears experience. Gears 4 seems to be heading back to that tone, with the demo showcasing two lone Gears tracking some elusive, deadly prey through a deserted town in the midst of a deafening storm, only to discover that some hideous organic growth has taken up residence in the absence of people.

Just what is going on in Gears 4 will be the subject of much speculation for fans of the series as we head towards its late 2016 release, but right now, all eyes are on The Coalition’s shiny rebuild of the game that started it all. It’s time to start flexing that active reload finger.