To say The Coalition had big shoes to fill taking on the Gears Of War franchise would be a massive understatement. Not only is it one of Microsoft’s three biggest exclusive franchises, it has a huge, passionate fan base, who naturally have pretty massive expectations for the beloved series. In the same vein as the trend set by the likes of 343 Studios with Halo 4, and even J.J. Abrams with The Force Awakened, The Coalition played it relatively safe with Gears 4, for the most part sticking to the tried and true formula that fans love. Though I approve of not trying to fix what wasn’t broken, they admittedly could have tried to bring more to the table, though much like the aforementioned examples, one can assume they will do so with the next installment, having now proven their respect for the franchise.

 

Gears of War 4 signals a new beginning for the franchise. Whilst it very much continues the story fans have been following for the last decade, it does so in an accessible manner, welcoming in new and old players alike. The campaign kicks off with a fantastic prologue, a subtle tutorial, serving as a method to catch up new players on the events leading up to Gears 4, while giving existing fans some time with familiar faces, and reliving old battles from fresh perspectives, before kicking off the exhilarating main story. Designed as a “night-in-the-woods” esque story, from the word go our heroes really dont catch a break, as a simple government heist turns into a crazy night of survival, mystery, and discovery. Oh and lots and lots of blood, gore, monster slaying, executions, cursing, death, the standard Gears affair.

The game’s tone instantly feels different from previous games, for now…

Starring three brand new protagonists, Gears 4 has very much a fresh but familiar tone. The originals featured grizzled war veterans, already pushed well beyond breaking point, fighting for humanities very survival, in a bleak, desperate world. Humanity had been at war for as long as anyone alive could remember, and the surrounding environments were depressing reminders. Right off the bat Gears 4 feels fresh with its bright colorful scenery, and its new cheerful leads. Having grown up after the war, the horrors of the Locust wars are merely history to them. Our trio has known only peace, and it shows. Their biggest known threat is now the weather, and the destruction left in their wake . Massive, insane storms that occur far too frequently, the cause of which unknown (the game hints at a bigger mystery at play here). These storms essentially replace the Kryll from the original Gears, or the Razor hail from it’s sequel, and are a visual treat to experience. Later on in the campaign, when fighting enemies during the storms, they also add in additional challenge, with the destructive winds altering the flight path of grenades and launcher-based weapons, as well as providing debree-based explosively gory ways to dispatch your enemies.

The three new heroes leading the new saga could definitely do with some more fleshing out in future installments, however provided some fun banter and were suitable vessels for the story being told. James is very Nathan Drake-like, full of witty comments and remarks, but genuinely earnest. An AWOL COG soldier he bravely looks out for his squad through thick and thin, and despite having daddy issues at the start of the campaign, has a great relationship with his father Marcus that develops over the course of the main story. His best friend Del is right beside him the whole way, as he seemingly has been since childhood. Also very witty, he fills more of the sarcastic, intelligent role, (will remind existing fans of Baird) and provides some hilarious back and forth banter with James, even during the darkest moments of the campaign. Lastly we have Kait, James’ romance interest, with a big part to play. Admitedly she can be a bit annoying, often being overly sassy and arrogant towards Marcus, who promptly puts her in her place every time, however she does round off their squad nicely, and as revealed towards the end of the campaign, is going to play a mysteriously big part in the times ahead, facing the new genocidal threat to humanity.

Meet the DeeBees, the new ‘face’ of the COG

Speaking of which, what would Gears be without a plethora of foes to hyper-violently murder in as many creative ways as possible. With the Lambent threat taken care of, and seemingly with it the Locust, The Coalition were essentially granted a blank canvas with which to provide a new enemy threat for the ongoing Gears franchise, and while many of the new enemies simply filled the spot of previous archetypes, overall the majority of the new enemies differ greatly from each other and foes encountered in previous titles, creating a a threat that often requires a little more tactic than simply sitting in cover and playing duck hunt. The first new threat faced comes in the form of the robotic police force employed by the COG, aptly named ‘DeeBees’. These comical robots are reminiscent of the lambent, no concern with self preservation, will aim to close in and force you out of cover, and all explode upon kill, inflicting damage (or death on the harder difficulties). Then along comes the swarm, bringing with them a wide variety of challenges, and deadly combinations. These enemies are the backbone of the story, providing much of the mystery and discovery, which to delve into would cross into spoiler territory. They are fun enemies to fight however, filling in the gap left by the Locust and then some…

The horror/mystery element makes a most welcome return to the franchise

The mystery behind these enemies is one of the campaign’s strongest elements. Their appearance, and the subsequent discoveries play out in a similar fashion to the original Gears of War, with the horror/mystery element making a strong comeback. Especially from the perspective of our new heroes, who have yet to face such fearsome foes. Luckily, with our main lead James being son to none other than the Marcus Fenix, the guy responsible for destroying the Locust threat 25 years prior, they have a perfect go to guide to the new apocalypse. Like a good whiskey, Marcus has improved with age, while still a grumpy, sarcastic, grizzled old man, he fills the role of wise old mentor to the young band of heroes seeking his aid, as he is once again seemingly unwillingly dragged into another shitfest. He isn’t the only returning character, many old faces make returning cameos, though to say who how and when would spoil the surprises, it was definitely fun seeing the interaction between them and the newbies.

As per previous installments, Gears 4 looks absolutely stunning. Easily one of Xbox’s nicest looking games, each environment looks unique and and breathtaking. The game features a fair few action set pieces, each time requiring ones jaw to be retrieved from the floor. The roughly 8-hour campaign never lingers in one spot, taking the player on one hell of a journey, and always mixing up the game play, which is as always rock solid, providing some of the most challenging encounters the series has seen yet. The story itself is a relatively personal one, and though small in scale, sets up massive things for coming installments, and though it provides self contained resolution by the end of the story, it also provides various intriguing questions to keep the fan theories going. As with the other titles the games features some fun mini-bosses, as well as a few proper boss fights. The first of which is really fun, however the antagonist involved was unfortunately never fleshed out and lacked screen time, and so the encounter lacked much impact. The final boss also was unfortunately far too easy, relying more on timing and quick time-ish events rather than tactical game play, which was a little anticlimactic after the challenging and fun boss fights of previous games. Raam, Skorge, and the Queen were all fantastic antagonists, and made for satisfying boss fights, something noticeably absent from Gears 4. This is one of the few minor complaints that I have about an otherwise stellar first chapter in the new Gears of War saga.

Prepare the defenses for the intense wave-based horde mode…

As fans well know, GOW offers a lot more than just a solid campaign. Not only is the campaign playable entirely in two player co-op, Gears features a strong competitive multiplayer mode (more on that shortly), and introduced in the third entry was the insanely fun Horde mode, a game mode that has returned bigger and better than ever. Horde mode now features a class based system, allowing players to fill the roles of a Scout, Soldier, Sniper, Heavy or Engineer. Each has a vital role to play, and teams are rewarded for making use of them objectively. The proper use and combination of these classes becomes essential on the harder difficulties, namely Insane and the new to Gears difficulty, Inconceivable. Throw in Iron-Man mode, an unforgivable experience that resets progress upon squad death, and you have a hell of a challenge even for seasoned pros. Also introduced in the new and improved Horde is a handy little device called the Fabricator. This device acts as a portable hub, an engineering box you can drag to a location of your choice to hold out, and from which you can then purchase weapons and defence options, such as barricades, decoys, turrets etc. This opens up infinite ways to enjoy the map selection, each time choosing somewhere new to defend and customise, within reason. Currency is earned through killing enemies and completing bonus objectives every few waves, a currency best collected by a scout with currency bonuses, as an example of the required teamwork. As with its previous iterations, every 10 waves comes a boss wave, featuring one of the many mini bosses from the campaign. These boss fights really bring the team together to bring them down quick; the longer they live, the more time the surrounding enemies have to close in on your position, and the more defences your team will lose, leaving you under prepared for the increasingly difficult following waves, should you make it that far…

Lastly, the third major component to the Gears franchise, multiplayer. Much like Microsoft’s other flagship shooter Halo, Gears of War multiplayer has always gone hand in hand with a solid campaign. This time round has done little to mix up the formula, offering a wide variety of game types, all featuring teams of 5v5. The games mechanics and vast weapon sandbox always make for some exhilarating matches, and the very different game modes ensure a constantly varied experience, across the wide variety of (free) maps. When you can find a match that is. Unfortunately the matchmaking system isn’t an overly refined system, and while there’s plenty of options on who you want to play with and how, there can be a lengthy wait to get into matches, should you find one. Once in a match however, the connection holds up well, making for an overall fun experience. For the customisation-crazy, Gears 4 features an absurd amount of characters/skins, and weapon skins, obtainable through randomly generated loot boxes. These loot boxes can be purchased via a currency earned in game simply by playing, which can be increased via bounties, offering additional challenges for both horde and multiplayer. Or, if you’re so inclined, they can be purchased for real world money, a controversial aspect to many, but a matter of irrelevance to this reviewer, who is happy earning them by playing the game I bought to play, rather than paying to save time…

All in all Gears of War 4 is a well rounded, faithful continuation of the Gears saga. As the Coalitions first entry they add little to the formula, but respectfully deliver a fantastic Gears game that is both a welcome addition for existing fans, and a great starting point for new fans. Since launch they have provided monthly updates, continuously adding in (free) content to support the game, along with game play refining tweaks and fixes. The franchise defined cover based third person shooters for the previous generation, and has proven to still be king of the genre with its newest entry, well and truly earning itself a spot in every third-person shooter fans collection.

Gears of War 4 was reviewed on Xbox One, however is also available on PC

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9.1

Pros

  • Traditional yet fresh Campaign
  • Solid Multiplayer
  • Best version of Horde yet
  • Still king of 3rd person shooters

Cons

  • Main characters lack depth of original cast
  • Lack of primary antagonist
  • Lengthy wait-time for multiplayer matches

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