"Why is Nathan Drake a mass murderer?" Oh I don't know, but it's the question not the answer that's important. It symbolises a seismic shift in attitudes towards games that may mean, "possibly even for the very first time", that the next generation of consoles also becomes "the next generation of game design".
There was a concept for Bulletstorm 2, and People Can Fly founder Adrian Chmielarz believed it would have made "an amazing game".
With Epic Games hard at work on a showcase Unreal Engine 4 title for next-gen platforms, it falls to satellite studio People Can Fly to give the current engine one last victory lap on existing console hardware. We've already seen Sony pushing the PS3 to incredible feats in recent months, but for the Xbox 360, the series that has consistently reflected the console's technical virtues has been Gears of War.
It feels like things have been fairly quiet on the Gears of War: Judgment scene so far. Strange, really, seeing as it's the latest instalment in a series for which quietness is not what the marketing people might refer to as a 'brand value'. Judgment's not a particularly quiet game to play, either. Reassuringly - even comfortingly - noisy, it's loud enough to dislodge ceiling cornices and to send loose change spasming across tabletops. It has perhaps picked up a reputation for being something of an afterthought, though: the trilogy's over, the main character is MIA, the bulk of the original developer is presumably doing other things.
What this gloomy reading of the situation ignores, though, is that the new co-developer is People Can Fly, the studio behind Bulletstorm, a brilliantly constructed game that redesigned first-person shooters as a kind of quick-witted take on bar billiards. Bulletstorm set its levels alight with delightful regularity, but its effect on the charts was much more, well, quiet actually. At least some of its electro-hillbilly DNA has survived here.
It's alive and well in Judgment if you know where to look for it, in fact. It's not seen in the scripting or the story, necessarily, which, from the hour or so I've played, have none of Bulletstorm's charm or knowing wit (sample line: "I can't believe I'm looking for the missile that burned half my face off!" Agreed, good buddy. What a drag!) but it's there in the new approach to ranking, which sees you earning a series of stars for each level as you play - stars which rack up all the quicker if you shoot with style, picking off headshots, say, or taking less damage. It's there in crazy new weapons like the Booshka, too, which I may well have just misspelt. No matter: the Booshka's a grenade launcher that sends its explosive charges pinging away from you at funny angles, rebounding unpredictably before landing in someone's lap and letting rip. Who cares how it's spelled?
Gears of War is no longer just a game about killing monsters - in the multiplayer space, anyway. Showing off a new free-for-all deathmatch mode for the upcoming series prequel Gears of War: Judgment, Epic's showcase at PAX Prime 2012 gave a glimpse into a seemingly alternate future that once was a franchise impossibility: COG killing COG.
Regardless of its multiplayer status, a human versus human deathmatch mode may seem like a drastic step away from the traditionally Human-on-Locust violence that has permeated the Gears series. But rather than a sharp twist to a core philosophy, design director Cliff Bleszinski says Judgment's free-for-all mode was created out more out of practical convenience for players.
"When you join a server in traditional Gears multiplayer, you don't know if you're going to wind up on COG or Locust," he says, highlighting players' desire to often play with specially unlocked characters or pre-order skins. "By doing human-on-human, we can basically say if you want to play as Baird in the multiplayer when you play on a server you can always be the Baird that you're grinding and unlocking."
In the past, the Gears of War series hasn't been particularly lauded for its writing.