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Why Gears 5 Updated Its Visual Style with More Color and Brightness


Gears of War—or rather now, just Gears—is one of the prodigal sons of Xbox, up there with the likes of Halo. The chainsaw-wielding, testosterone-oozing, co-op cover shooter got its fifth installment, Gears 5, this Friday, with some spicy twists. And it’s likely that you’ve noticed something new, something fresh, something exciting about Gears (of War)’s new look. Out is the glumness of the old days; in is a vibrant, colorful world that feels immediately more energetic and lush. Maybe you find it refreshing, maybe you find it appalling. Either way your gamer attitude sways, it’s clear Gears‘ visual style had to change.

In entertainment and gaming as a whole, we’ve recently seen a remarkable stylistic shift. All that was old, gritty, and monochromatic is being updated in bright, retro vibes. Think back to games like Far Cry, Rage, and Gears of War in the Playstation 3/Xbox 360 era. Everything was dark. The color palette for a new game was nearly indiscernible from the 300 other dark-as-hell (literally) shooters released that same month. Beyond gaming, take the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s evolution. While they were by no means the grittiest movies you’d ever seen, you can’t argue that Thor 1 and 2 vs. Thor Ragnarok were night and day, both visually and tonally.

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Similarly, recent releases Far Cry New Dawn, Rage 2, and the pièce de résistance, Gears 5, have completely ditched the monochromatic grit for an energetic color scheme that in turn energizes the gamer. Gears has always been strong stylistically, especially with the modeling. The characters show off angled, chiseled faces and stocky bodies, covered with that rustic, battle-torn Coalition armor. Previous Gears installments favored a very washed-out, texture-driven look, with the exception of vivid reds for blood and yeah, a few banners too. With this new release, stark changes are apparent from the start.

“Starting with Gears of War 4 and continuing through Gears 5, we felt that we needed to break away from the traditional ‘Greys of War’ look,” says Aryan Hanbeck, art director for Gears 5 (and previously associate art director on Gears of War 4). “At the time, that look was very prevalent in cinematic war movies and gave the game a certain feel that made a lasting impression. When the Gears franchise came to Microsoft [in 2014], the time was right for a fresh perspective on color in relation to the Gears universe. I certainly don’t think the war, creepy, horror vibe and color are mutually exclusive.”

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You can see that as you open onto a boot camp in Gears 5, where players don bright blue armor in a stunningly colored city—all without losing that same old Gears feel.

“From a purely art direction perspective, Gear 5 is an extension of Gears of War 4 but with some adjustments,” says Hanbeck. “For example, I really wanted battles to leave a lasting impression on the gameplay spaces they happen in. To this end, there are a handful of places in the game where you will notice a distinct difference in the environment from the time Kait walks into the space and the time the battle is over. Atmosphere builds up with every bullet fired and every pillar destroyed. More objects than ever are destructible and the environment effects the player like never before.”

It’s a breath of fresh air that really gives this universe a sense of life we haven’t seen from it yet. This Gears world feels stimulated compared to previous titles.

“I certainly don’t think the war, creepy, horror vibe and color are mutually exclusive.”

But why? Why did Gears and the others make this change? Of course, visual trends come and go in the entertainment and video game industries, but there’s always some catalysts for change. For one, so many color technologies (ie. HDR, True Tone) are becoming mainstays in TVs, gaming monitors, what have you. They make it easier to create stunning detail while interjecting vibrancy, when back in the day there was a thin line between detail and color, and crossing it took you from realistic to cartoony. This gives game designers the tools needed to make that extra artistic leap. Besides, in the mid-aughts, everything was grunge on purpose. My Chemical Romance was still kissing us with sweet despair as we tore it up on an Xbox 360.

Beyond just the tech, both the film and gaming realms have seen a remarkable influence from the indie community, with studios like Yacht Club, Owlchemy Labs, Devolver, and so many more injecting extreme stylistic flair into titles such as Heave Ho, Vacation Simulator, and The Messenger. On top of all this, society as a whole is mesmerized with throwback culture. The ’80s and ’90s are radical again, what with ten thousand remakes and remasters, and borrowed color schemes from past decades in shows like Stranger Things and video games like Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled and Link’s Awakening.

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Gears 5 shows us exactly why this was a necessary change. Opening the door to more creative and meaningful artistic direction helps titles restore energy to games. Gears 5 feels like one of the most fast-paced, exciting titles in the series, and it’s absolutely not due to all the new (albeit great) mechanics. It’s because there’s greenery and bright lights. Gears 5 wastes no time from bootcamp, to the first mission, to the first story-heavy cutscene to make the change clear, and the result is absolutely gorgeous.

“One of my main goals was to give each location a look that would make a mark and leave a lasting impression,” says Hanbeck. “This is really hard to do if your whole game is desaturated and grey, so color played a huge part in that.”

For me, the new style not only gave a sense of what I should be focused on, but it also kept me engaged. While the game is a tried-and-true Gears title and would still be well worth your cash without the style change, the new visuals add so much more depth, taking it from a good game to a great one.

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Gears of War shows how hefty design shifts can help revitalize a series, even five games in, and pull it off with grace and confidence, setting a waypoint for other series like Call of Duty and Battlefield to try their hand. (It also doesn’t hurt that the game has a fantastic amount of depth, both online and local play, and the Terminator, Sarah Connor, and Dave Bautista). Gears 5 is a killer example of a series evolving with the times.

Gears 5 is available now exclusively on Xbox One and will also be part of the Xbox Game Pass or Ultimate pass.



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Lifestyle

How to Break Up on Social Media


Ending a relationship in 2019 involves a lot of unfollowing. To get over someone, common wisdom holds, you can’t have little reminders of them popping up on your phone nonstop. So you delete their number and you block each other on social media and you try very hard not to open an incognito window just to look at their blocked Twitter. But while I’ve done my share of unfollowing, my general approach to breaking up in the extremely online age involves surrendering to the digital footprints my exes have left in my feed. Lately, this has meant watching a lot of BMX videos on Instagram.

Earlier this year, I spent a few months hooking up with a BMX biker. (I am cool.) During this time, I followed him on Instagram, where he almost exclusively posted videos of himself BMXing. He tagged BMX publications and BMX teams, and I followed them, too. I decided it would be weird to follow the guys on his team—known in many circles as “his friends whom I had never met”—but I gave in and followed one guy anyway, mainly because I saw a video of him dunking a basketball using the wheel of his bike. I showed it to a friend, who responded, “I would follow him to hell.”

All of a sudden, my Instagram feed was largely BMX. To be totally honest, before hooking up with this guy, I did not know or care what BMX was. I thought maybe it was like snowmobiling. Turns out it’s just biking, and it has to do with men grinding and bonking their pegs at skate parks or on ramps and rails in the real world. It also turns out that BMX is actually very interesting.

When this guy and I decided to call things off, I didn’t unfollow him or any of the BMX accounts. By that point, they were some of my favorite things on Instagram. Watching any video of any dude rail-hopping any fence is much better than seeing screenshots of people’s tweets.

It feels a bit weird to be so into something solely because of someone I was romantically linked to. I’m afraid that I’m “watching boys do stuff” instead of pursuing my own interests, or that I’m obsessing over the thing they introduced me to as a metonym for them. But we all get into things because of romantic partners. Men and women have told me that, for exes, they went down wormholes of anime accounts, pro wrestling, experimental instrumental music, and “new-age chakra shit.” The last one was from my friend Harris, who explains, “To date in Brooklyn, you have to learn about tarot.”

He tagged BMX publications and BMX teams, and I followed them, too.

So why not just unfollow those anime or wrestling or “new-age chakra shit” accounts when your relationship ends? Why subject yourself to those painful reminders when you could give yourself a clean slate by removing them, and your exes, and your exes’ friends, from your feed? I’m certainly not opposed to that, especially when you never liked the wormhole to begin with. I learned all about the Manning family of football fame for my high school crush, and when we graduated, I was very happy to stop pretending to care about Peyton Manning’s career and about the concept of football in general.

But I still love a lot of the things I learned about through old romantic interests. I became interested in Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell for a guy, and those women are now hugely important to me. Patti’s Just Kids showed me it was possible to be a young, broke idiot making art in New York. I listened to Joni’s travel album Hejira too many times and quit my job to drive around the country. (I’m fine.) It’s lame that I didn’t like these women until I had a crush on a man who did, but at this point I don’t remotely associate them with him. As a friend told me, “[My ex] got me into biking, and even though I wish he were dead, biking and its community have changed my life.”

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This article appears in the October 2019 issue of Esquire. Subscribe here.

Christian Anwander

And frankly, the idea of a “clean slate” is a fallacy—you can’t shoot people into space once you’re done with them, and you can’t magically erase them from your brain. Pretending that people you used to kiss just don’t exist anymore won’t change the fact that they had an effect on your life, so I don’t even try. (I am friends with most men I’ve ever been iNvOlvEd WiTh, which I consider healthy and cool but which many people consider strange and concerning and which I might be five years away from realizing is extremely self-sabotaging.)

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Ultimately, I don’t necessarily mind falling down wormholes and picking up interests from exes. You have to learn about stuff somehow, and your mom and your friends can only recommend so much. It’s hot when people are passionate about things, when they can talk to you about those things and teach you about them. And if your relationship ends, it doesn’t mean you lose the right to care about, say, the Fast and the Furious movies or the article about the goat trapped on a roof who respects only one man.

I ran a poll on Twitter, in fact, asking what I should do about all the BMX accounts I followed: Should I unfollow them, forget about BMX via concussion, start dating a new BMXer, or start BMXing myself? I’d been thinking about that last option for a while—learning to at least bunny hop or maybe skateboard, because watching so many men grinding and bonking their pegs on various ledges and poles had inspired me to be more adventurous with my body on simple machines, less of a physical coward. Twitter wanted me to BMX.



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