Quite a long article but a very good read about Gears Of War- including some personal expeirences of Tom Bissel as well as some information behind the design of the game.
The first time I played Gears I was not monitoring its innovation levels, but I was certainly struck by its competence. Gears was so polished it practically gleamed. From the mold and dried blood all over the walls and floor of the prison in which the game opens to the naturalistic voice acting, and from the responsiveness of the controls to the way its enemies behaved under fire, its attention to detail was like nothing I had seen.1 The more I played Gears, the more it drew me in.
For one thing, the game’s obvious cinematic aspirations seemed unusually well integrated into the gameplay, and its cutscenes were brisk, evocative, and decidedly mysterious. I had no idea, at the time, that these brief cutscenes were giving the Xbox 360’s hardware the necessary breathing room to stream in the next bits of environment, which preserved the player’s sense of spatial continuity. There are exceedingly few load screens in Gears of War. Almost every environment across which you walk (or, later, drive) has a clear relationship to the previous environment. Indeed, in the highly unlikely event that the person playing Gears does not perish, it is possible to walk across much of the Gears landscape with only a few seconds’ worth of LOADING announcements. That was something very few gamers had ever seen before,2 given that the only game to do this until that point was 1998’s Soul Reaver. Most “cinematic” games, then and now, simply teleport the player from one location or sequence to the next, but Gears put its cinematic aspirations to a clever double purpose.