Getting in Gear: A History of Gears of War

A look back at Epic's genre-defining shooter and its world

Gears of War: a grey and brown cover shooter with burly space Marine-a-likes with massive weapons.  There are action movie one-liners and many of the character voice actors sound like they could really use a Ricola.  And yet, the game won me over with a simple exchange of dialogue between the main character and some cannon fodder fifteen minutes in.  An overeager young soldier comments how awesome it is that the main character is a war hero from a famous battle, but the leading man just responds "Not really."

 

It hit me right then: these characters are sick of fighting.  They've been at war for over a decade against single-minded nightmarish monsters, and the only people actually enjoying themselves are either adrenaline junkies, out for vengeance, or were just kind of unhinged to begin with.  It's good motivation to push forward to the next firefight, to run out into a hail of gunfire and help your comrades when they're injured, because every step forward and every enemy put down means they're one step closer to home.

 

Much like the almost too-popular series Firefly, Gears of War has a very deep and thought-out world that for various reasons never really gets to be shown since its story only ever focuses on a small, personal part of it.  So before we get to the story of the games, a little bit of background is in order.

 

Almost a Century of Conflict:  The Pendulum Wars

 

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With the discovery of a subterranean fluid called Imulsion, an energy revolution soon led to all-out war as two major world governments fought over control of the planet's supply--even though there was plenty to go around.  The two factions--the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) and the Union of Independent Republics (UIR) fought to a stalemate in large-scale land battles, until 79 years later when a UIR scientist invented a powerful satellite-based weapons system.  COG soldiers, among them Marcus Fenix and Dominic Santiago, stole the technology in a daring raid, where it was later perfected by Marcus' father Adam Fenix, christening it the Hammer of Dawn.  The awe-inspiring power of the Hammer of Dawn brought about a cease-fire, ending the Pendulum Wars almost immediately.

 

Hell on Earth: Emergence Day

 

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The war-torn planet of Sera had finally calmed down.  People went back to their lives, families were reunited on both sides of the war, and it looked like a new era of peace was about to begin.

 

It lasted six weeks.

 

In a single coordinated attack, they tore out of the ground, a relentless army of creatures unlike anything the people of Sera had ever seen.  Within a single day, a quarter of the human population had been killed.  These monsters, named the Locust for their plague-like nature, stormed across the planet and across all resistance for over a year, until new COG chairman Richard Prescott issued an ultimatum: citizens had three days to evacuate their homes and make it to the Jacinto Plateau.  At the end of the third day, Prescott ordered a global bombardment with chemical weapons and the Hammer of Dawn, razing 90% of the planet's surface.  Only the city of Jacinto, with its solid granite foundation that the Locust couldn't tunnel into, was left.  It was the last safe place on the planet.

 

A Losing Battle

 

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As if they were just catching their breath, the Locust responded to Prescott's scorched Earth policy by attacking in even greater numbers, focusing all their efforts on the Jacinto Plateau.  This ten-year push culminated in a battle at the capital city of Ephyra's East Barricade Academy, where Sergeant Marcus Fenix received a distress call from his father Adam.  Taking a Hammer of Dawn targeting laser with him, he abandoned his men to their deaths to go rescue his father, but it was too late--his father was gone, assumed dead, with Jacinto open to attack thanks to Marcus' actions.  Marcus was court-martialed for cowardice and insubordination, and sentenced to 40 years in prison, despite testimony from his comrade-in-arms and best friend Dom Santiago.

 

The Lightmass Offensive (Gears of War)

 

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Four years later, the Locust had pushed so far into human territory that even The Slab, the prison that housed Marcus, had been overrun.  Setting out alone, Dom rescued his friend and had Marcus drafted into Delta Squad with him.  At the same time, Alpha Squad had been assigned to deploy a device that would map the Locusts' underground tunnels, allowing the COG to strike at them with a new weapon called a Lightmass Bomb.

 

Delta discovered the remains of Alpha, but saved two of its members--Augustus Cole and Damon Baird--and the new, ragtag Delta Squad fought through Locust-infested ruins and planted the mapping device.  After Marcus and Dom engaged in a final showdown with the titanic General RAAM, military leader of the Locust, Delta drove the Lightmass Bomb deep into the underground tunnels known as the Hollow, decimating the Locust population and buying humanity a little more time.

 

Gears of War debuted in 2006 to widespread critical acclaim, becoming the then-new XBox 360's killer app with its detailed HD graphics and tense gameplay, influenced by Resident Evil 4's over-the-shoulder perspective and horror elements mixed with the cover-based shooting of kill.Switch, a NAMCO-developed shooter for PS2 and XBox.

 

Operation Hollow Storm (Gears of War 2)

 

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Nothing ever goes right for Delta Squad.  Marcus and Dom had a knock-down, drag-out fight with a nine-foot tall Locust general atop a speeding train and dumped a bomb into the Locust tunnels.  It turns out that even after all that effort, they'd only destroyed an area called the Outer Hollow, wiping out most of the Locusts' advance forces.  To add to the list of terrible things happening, the Lightmass Bomb had awakened a gargantuan Riftworm, a creature that the new Locust leader Skorge could telepathically influence--and they were using it to sink cities.  Deeper within the Hollow, a greater army stirred, and came boiling to the surface once again, laying siege to the city of Jacinto.

 

With their home battered from all fronts by constant Locust attack, Chairman Prescott ordered the soldiers of the COG on a desperate final assault into their underground catacombs.  Along the way, Marcus and Dom discovered disturbing connections between Adam Fenix and the Locust Horde, and that the Locust were taking human prisoners--something they'd never done before.  Surviving being swallowed by the Riftworm, Delta tore their way out of it and killed the beast.  Shortly after, a brief visit to the New Hope Research Facility revealed that many years prior during the Pendulum Wars, mysterious research involving human test subjects had created "monsters" that were "exceptionally sadistic, cruel, and conniving."  The facility was shut down and its subjects were left to roam free, facility staff assuming that they would all die off in the wild.

 

Following these clues led back into the Hollow, inside the Locust stronghold Nexus, where Dom was reunited with his wife Maria--she had disappeared a year after Emergence Day, distraught over the loss of her and Dom's children.  The reunion was painful, her mind and body broken from years of torture in Locust captivity and hard labor.  In an agonizing decision, Dom euthanized his wife, but was no longer the cheerful, optimistic person he once was--it had all been replaced by an overwhelming hatred of the Locust.

 

As Delta pushed further into Nexus, they saw evidence of the Locust fighting an enemy that was destroying them from within, and heard the Locust Queen urging her soldiers to fight on against this enemy only known as the Lambent.  Coming face-to-face with the Queen and Skorge in Nexus' palace, Marcus learned that the Queen knew his father personally--a startling revelation--and that in order to destroy the Lambent, she was planning to sink Jacinto, flooding the Hollow with seawater.  As the Queen escaped, Marcus and Dom fought Skorge head-on, then racing back to Jacinto to evacuate the city before the Queen could enact her plan.  Their objective: sink Jacinto first, before the Locust had time to clear the Inner Hollow.

 

Jacinto was evacuated, and Delta managed to save humanity once again--by wiping out their last remaining stronghold.  With the Inner Hollow deluged and the Locust army reduced to almost nothing, the now-refugee race of humanity had won at an astronomically high cost.

 

The second game in the series landed in 2008, showing off amazing graphics with even more polish, ditching the grey and brown cityscapes of the first game for bright and varied settings, including the alien interior of the Hollow and the gothic architecture of Nexus.  New mechanics further refined the gameplay, including the ability to take downed enemies as shields and dueling with the games' iconic chainsaw bayonets, adding to the intensity and unpredictability of firefights.  In the excitement leading up to its sequel, Gears of War 2 has remained one of the most-played games on XBox Live since its release, even with the arrival of two Call of Duty titles and the resurgence of fighting games.

 

And Now... (Gears of War 3)

 

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Humanity is homeless.  What land remains has been burned to ash thanks to Hammer of Dawn strikes and almost two decades of constant war with the Locust.  What's left of the COG troops and Jacinto's population live on the ocean, and have just begun to start a new home on the island of Vectes, untouched by the Locust War.  The Locust themselves are scattered and lack direction, thanks to the Queen apparently abandoning her Horde, leaving them leaderless.

 

Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad are no strangers to adversity.  But when is it all just too much?  Dom Santiago is ready to accept death at any moment, and soldiers are forced to fight human insurgents with empty weapons and bayonets.  But it'll all work out--the Locust are dwindling and humanity is growing, slowly but surely.

 

But then the rumors start, the sightings begin.  The Lambent have come to the surface.

 

And that brings us all up-to-date and ready for Gears of War 3 to hit.  It's already available if you're on the East Coast, but some of us have to wait until later to get their copy.  I for one am incredibly stoked about this release, eager to see if humanity can pull through. 

 

What about you?  Are you picking the game up this week?  Anything about the games, characters, or world you especially like or dislike?

 

 

Gears of War is tm and © Epic Games and Microsoft

Images and Info: Gearspedia

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