Kill Switch: The Inspiration for Gears Of War’s “Cover System”
I think it’s safe to say that most gamers who grew up around the late 80’s or early 90’s spent a lot of time with the PS2, Xbox, or Gamecube before eventually moving on with a great deal of enthusiasm to the Xbox 360 because of its hot new flare that caught so much attention from the media and public alike. If that is indeed a safe bet, then it’s even more likely that at some point, a lot of these folks would get their mitts on the 22 million unit seller that helped define a generation in gaming, Gears of War.
Gears of War was, at the time, hailed as somewhat of a revolution but the truth of the matter is that like so many other things in life, it took a hodgepodge of other concepts and made them its own. Gears of War was in fact inspired by a number of games, a few of which Cliff Bleszinski has elaborated on across the years. As you’ve no doubt gathered from the name of this piece, Kill Switch was perhaps the most important, but some of the games were:
Resident Evil 4
Resi 4 was a big change for the classic horror series, stepping away from the established norms of the setting and casting Leon Kennedy as a secret service agent, tackling a decidedly non-zombie threat while drastically changing the pace. The biggest change, however, from a gameplay perspective, was an over-the-shoulder camera that brought you closer to the action and made your interaction with the world feel as though you had more agency. Bleszinski appreciated these changes, and having seen a new tech demo from Unreal Engine 3, he stepped away from the first person perspective and settled on an over-the-shoulder camera similar to what was used to such great success in Resi 4.
Being more of an inspiration than a game from which a mechanic or perspective was directly adopted, Bleszinski once commented that the idea of moving from cover to cover on the horizontal plane in Bionic Commando was a feature that Gears made use of.
A legitimate cover-based shooting game that would form one of the core pillars of gameplay in Gears of War, Kill Switch was a small hit among fans of shooters on the PS2 and was referenced by Bleszinski as being an inspiration, receiving a nod in the Gears credits. Kill Switch’s inspiration for the mechanics of cover-based shooting goes hand in hand with the horizontally-focused cover shooting that was previously mentioned in regards to Bionic Commando.
Kill Switch was first released on October 28th, 2003, where it arrived on PS2 and Xbox in North America before making its way to Pal regions in March 17th of 2004 (bundled with a Socom II demo). It was developed by Namco USA, and upon its launch it was met with generally positive feedback. It will come as no surprise to most that the game wasn’t exactly a narrative masterpiece, with main character Nick Bishop serving as a super soldier and pawn of global war profiteering. There was potential for a good story, sure, but the clear focus of this game was the cover system combat, which was heavily advertised as a selling point. And rightly so.
Running on the RenderWare engine (developed by Criterion Software), responsible for other great games like Bully, the Burnout series and even Mortal Kombat, Namco wanted to push the cover-shooting-based gameplay as the main selling point of the game. Which it was, for there was little beyond that. “Take Aim. Take Cover. Take Over.” was the tagline they went with, and wherever they could find space, they slapped that slogan. To help sell the concept, it was often compared to games like Time Crisis, which arcade-goers would immediately understand as ducking in and out of the line of fire to place your shots.
Not content with merely aping Time Crisis, however, the free range of movement afforded to your character and the ability to blind-fire was also something that was crucial to the game, while also eventually becoming cornerstones of Gears of War gameplay. Where Time Crisis put you on rails, Kill Switch let you run around freely, performing long dive rolls into cover where you could rise into a firing position and snap off a few rounds. But at the same time, if the fire coming your way was too much, you could tuck your head down, raise your gun and fire sporadically in the general direction of your enemy. Both of these mechanics would later appear in Gears of War throughout the series, with players “bum-rushing and rolling” their way through any number of combat encounters where, for better or for worse, they cemented Gears of War as being a must-play title for the generation.
Kill Switch certainly isn’t a must-play title, that’s for damn sure, but if you ever come across it in a bargain bin or going cheap online, you should pick it up and give it a bash to see what it’s like. It’s always nice to look to the past and see how it inspired the present, so hopefully you can have some fun with Kill Switch.