Rumours of the death (that's to say, exhaustion) of current generation console technology have been greatly exaggerated, it seems. According to Epic's lead level designer Jim Brown and People Can Fly art director Waylon Brinck, Gears of War: Judgment represents another quantum leap in terms of graphics and performance - and Brinck is confident studios can squeeze further gains from the hardware in future.
"I'm trying to remember if it was the transition between Gears 1 and Gears 2 or the transition between Gears 2 and Gears 3, there was like a million different changes to Unreal Engine 3 to get to that point," Brown told OXM at a preview event. "When we first released Gears of War, the first one, people were like 'woah, they're pushing the Xbox to its limits, they're doing crazy things' - and every single time we've been able to step it up and find some corner of the 360 that no one was aware of and more areas for us to push."
"Right off the bat there were two pillars of the game that we had to support by optimising like crazy," Brinck said of Judgment. "We wanted this to be the most intense game ever. More enemies on screen, more action, more dense action, less of that sort of downtime in between. We had to get those enemies in there, we had to stream them fast."
The new storyline obliged a different, more demanding approach to the franchise's proven aesthetic, he explained. "Then also, the other Gears games were post apocalyptic. It was all about the destroyed beauty. In this game, it is the apocalypse. The beauty is being destroyed. There's a lot more fire, smoke, collapsing buildings, just a much more active environment. Once you go down that path, you've got to find some tricks.
"We're pushing way more enemies, way more particles, the environments are a lot more dense than on previous games. Our rendering engine, we've even added a few new features that allow us to do richer lighting, more dynamic lighting, darker darks, brighter brights.
"It's the most colourful Gears game ever, which feels weird to say. But I think it also has the richest darkest mood out of any Gears game since the first one. So yeah, it was all hands on deck optimising this thing, we squeezed a lot more out of it."
So, I asked him - no need for next generation hardware just yet, then? "Yeah, there'll always be something more we can figure out, do better."
The latest Judgment trailer is below. Do you agree? Epic's art director Chris Perna would have us believe that Gears of War's art style has been "hurt" by copycats - if you think it's "generic", in short, that's because the franchise is so heavily ripped off.