Game: Gears of War 4
Developer: The Coalition
Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, Xbox One (Reviewed)
Release date: October 16th, 2016
In 2006 Gears of War helped to shape and define what multiplayer shooters were and could be, ten years later it’s more of the same, so it’s a good thing Gears is awesome. It’s a new shiny package, but everything you remember about Gears of War is here. You still get in cover, still blind fire like a madman, and you still carve open enemies with your trusty Lancer chainsaw. The team over at The Coalition did a great job of passing the torch to a new generation in the Gears of War universe while staying true to what made the original games amazing.
We had three fantastic and one not so great game starring Marcus Fenix and his squad of misfits and like all good things their adventures had to come to an end. Gears of War 4 is the set up for the next generation of Gears. You play as Marcus’ son JD Fenix and his friends Kait Diaz, and Del Walker. The new Gears are a little less rough around the edges than I remember Marcus and pals, their conversations are noticeably more quippy and fast paced adding a larger element of humor that the original series lacked.
Gears 4 story begins 25 years after the events of Gears of War 3. It’s interesting to see how the planet of Sera that I, as a player left behind so long ago had changed. Humanity has managed to rebuild after the long war against the Locusts of the original trilogy, and most of the human race is living safely inside heavily fortified COG cities. However, it appears that after time groups grew tired of living under COG law and opted to live in smaller villages outside of their territory.
In the game’s opening hours, we learn that both JD and Del were COG soldiers who left for some reason to join up with a group of outsiders led by Kait’s mother. In these early sequences, the possibility for a more in-depth story in the Gears universe seems limitless. The concept of going after the people we spent four games calling allies is very intriguing indeed. The COG’s new fully robotic military force, nicknamed DeeBee’s are cool as all hell, but conflict with them is limited, in addition to that some propaganda on repopulation that Kait comments on early in the game is quickly brushed under the rug. More than a few opportunities like this for incredibly smart storytelling are shoved aside in order to give me something new to shoot at, but the last thing I’ll complain about in Gears of War is shooting up the Swarm.
Gameplay feels as tight as ever; headshots still feel incredibly satisfying, nothing beats that classic Gears head pop. All of the core mechanics are mostly unchanged. Take cover, blind fire or lean over and aim you can pull enemies over cover for an execution, or knock them off balance by leaping over, and don’t forget to correctly time that RB press for your active reload. The shaky over the shoulder cam and the weight put behind the character animations of sliding into cover and leaning over a sand bag to look down your rifles sight is still something no other game can get right, every move feels deliberate and meaningful.
The new weapons feel perfectly at home amongst the existing Gears arsenal. The Markza is a rifle that has an excellent range and satisfying impact. The aptly named Overkill is a shotgun that fires twice, once when you pull the trigger and another time when you release it. The other new weapons feel great and unique as well, and all the returning ones like the Lancer and Torque Bow feel just as good as they did back then.
Enemies, for the most part, seem just like iterations on the Locust. Drones are normal foot soldiers; Juvys are similar to wretches and so on.However, some of the Swarm feels entirely unique, Pouncers for example move like cats on all fours, leaping from point to point and firing quills forcing the player out of cover and shaking up the Gears of War formula.
Online multiplayer is Gears of War for the modern day. However, I’m not sure how great that really is. As in the campaign, shooting is tight, and the perfectly symmetrical maps of Gears make for an absolutely balanced playing field no matter where you start. Casual matches seem like a better bet if you want to enjoy yourself, only two game modes are available for ranked matches, Execution, and Escalation. Both of these game modes are enjoyable, but I’ve found matchmaking for ranked to be a bit more of a chore.
As was the case with the Gears game of the past most multiplayer matches seem to slog down to a bunch of players hunkered down in cover for 20 minutes and poking out every so often to fire. Eventually, you’ll land a shot, or you or your enemy will get bored, jump out and get mowed down. While it can feel somewhat monotonous at times the games satisfying gunplay more than makes up for it.
As you play across Gears multiplayer modes, you’ll earn credits that you can use to unlock crates containing things like character and weapon skins. While earning these points through gameplay is easy enough, it would seem even Gears of War was unable to escape the lure of micro transactions. You can obtain these crates of unlockables with real money if you desire, though it hardly seems necessary.
Horde mode also makes its triumphant return, feeling a bit different this time. Horde mode centers entirly around the fabricator, a device introduced in the campaign used to build defenses as well as weapons. Before the first wave begins, players can move the fabricator anywhere on the map to decide what point they would like to defend from, from there every killed enemy drops energy which can be deposited in the fabricator and used to build new defenses in between waves. All of the defenses from Gears 3 as well as a few new ones are there. Security gates, turrets, the new shock turrets which pack quite the punch, and so much more.
The biggest change to Horde, however, comes in the new class system. Part of setting up your Horde loadout now includes a player class selection. The different classes are pretty self-explanatory, an engineer’s main job is building and maintaining defenses, the heavy deals more damage, etc. In addition to picking a class, you can also equip various cards to give yourself bonuses to things like health, ammo, or damage output. Some cards known as bounty cards also set specific goals for the match, like killing a certain amount of enemies in a 30-second interval.
The new additions to Horde make it a little less accessible at first but overall add a bit more tactical nuance to what was already one of my favorite Gears of War game modes.
Gears of War 4 does a fantastic job of passing the torch to a likable new cast and setting up for what is sure to be a new Gears trilogy. It shows a great respect for where it came from while implementing fun new ideas, even if some opportunity for more intricate storytelling does feel a bit squandered here. The Versus multiplayer seems mostly the same with some attachments like a more refined ranking system for the modern day, and Horde 3.0 feels better than ever. For fans of the series Gears of War 4 is a must buy, for newcomers, it’s a great place to jump on board. Welcome back to the COG army soldiers!
Score: 8 out of 10