Title: Gears of War 4
Platform: PC and Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: The Coalition
Release date: Out Now
tl;dr: If you like the first three Gears game, you’ll love this.
Price: Standard Edition: $60 / £40 / €45 and Ultimate Edition (includes Season pass): $100 / £80 / €89
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Gears of War 4 takes place 25 years after the Imulsion Countermeasure weapon which destroyed all Imulsion on the planet Sera, taking out the Locust and the Lambent in the process. The game focuses on the son of Marcus Fenix, J.D. Fenix, who, alongside his friends Delmont “Del” Walker and Kait Diaz, will have to deal with a new threat to humanity’s survival.
Let’s get this out the way first: Fear not, long time Gearsheads. The Coalition has brought back the classic control scheme from the first three games where weapons are delegated back to the d-pad: starting this new fight will have players feel right at home.
Seeing as it takes place 25 years after Imulsion Countermeasure, the developers could not simply bring back the famed Locust. They managed to craft a new army of baddies to take down, which can be reminiscent of the Locust, but stronger. Called the Swarm, they are highly more aggressive than the original trilogy’s enemies; they will charge at you and even stick grenades on you. Thankfully, in order to counter their aggressiveness, our trio of former C.O.G.s have a new trick up their sleeve. When in cover behind an enemy, pressing X will have your character grab the enemy and bring him over to your side, where you’ll be able to execute them.
While the Swarm looks a bit different and acts more aggressively than the Locust, there’s not much variety in the bunch. For example, previous games had Grinders and Boomers; while two massive Locust enemies, they had their distinctive weaponry and look. They are referred as different types of enemies, but they look the same, which can feel a bit disappointing as the enemy variety feels a bit phoned in, aside from weapon variation. There’s also the Juvis, a white transparent creature which is basically this game’s answer to Gears 3’s Foamers.
Along with new enemy forces, players will need massive weaponry. Most the game’s weapons are familiar such as the Lancer, Retro Lancer, and Hammerburst, just to name a few. Some of the past weapons have been re-balanced (for example, the Hammerburst has less recoil), while the Markza has increased recoil. And of course, the game also features a few new weapons such as the Dropshot, Buzzkill, Overkill, among others.
The first part of the game doesn’t really feel like Gears of War. While the prologue will take players back through the past by accompanying familiar faces through wars, once players get a hang of J.D. and friends, they are pitted against armies of… robots. Yes. Robots. Which made me wonder if I was playing a sequel to an underrated gem called Binary Domain.
In order to avoid repetition, the developers decided to throw in Horde-like sequences in the middle of certain chapters. Players can place a Fabricator (more on that later) which can be used to create weapons and fortifications. To survive the waves of enemies, fortifications are required, building barriers and turrets. Unfortunately, while I understand the reason behind putting this twist into the standard run and gun formula, it ends up breaking the flow of the game. For example, Gears of War 3 has a few Silverback sequences used to mix up gameplay. This was a smart way to go about it as it doesn’t hinder your progress for 10-15< minutes, and players could still move forward. Those Horde-like sequences will have players stuck in the same spot for some time, ironically making the sequence more repetitive than anything else.
Much to the delight of the Gears community, Horde mode is back and bigger than ever. If you’re new to the franchise, Horde Mode is a co-operative mode, which can be played solo, where up to five players take on wave after wave of enemies. Every 10 wave feature what is called a Boss wave, where along with the usual enemies, players are also expected to face one of the game’s campaign boss. Horde 3.0 also includes fortifications first introduced in Gears of War 3, instead of having players individually gain money to spend, players are now pushed to put their money into the Fabricator. What is the Fabricator, you ask? It’s a box that players needs to “activate,” in order to kick off Horde Mode and where players dump all of their money in order to buy either weapons, revive downed teammates or purchase fortifications.
One thing the game brings back from Judgment is character classes. When playing Horde Mode, players can choose among five classes (Soldier, Scout, Engineer, Sniper and Heavy) which can all be upgraded to unlock better perks. While back in 2013’s People Can Fly’s take on the Gears franchise, classes were restricted to certain weapons, players can now obtain new weapons created in the Fabricator. For example, even a soldier can now yield a repair gun to fix damaged fortifications. Sadly, players can’t just run around the map and pick up weapons spawn at certain spots as The Coalition unfortunately removed this neat little feature. Picking up a Sniper Rifle in Gears 3’s Horde was only 700$ of in-game money, now it’s 3000$. Inflation even affects in-game things!
This new way of doing things can be a detriment to the whole experience when playing with others. While most players will be “team players,” there will always party poopers that will hoard their money and refuse to put it in the Fabricator for whatever reason. Or while some of the team members might want to save for fortifications in the later waves, some players might blow through the cash faster than you can count.
Additionally, as they play, you’re rewarded with credits, which in turn can be used to unlock new crates containing cards that offers perks such as 40% more ammo for the Lancer. Problem is, the game’s credit rewarded is broken and it takes a long time before being able to obtain new stuff to use. Which brings me to another unfortunate thing: microtransactions. Yes, sadly, Gears of War is now part of the microtransactions trend. This controversial feature allows players with too much money to burn to speed through unlocks and buy everything. Again, this is not mandatory, but having to decide to suffer through endless hours of grinding or spending more money on a single game is kind of a bad bind to be in.
While I can certainly appreciate what The Coalition has done, I personally feel they over-complicated things. Unlike where you were simply able to pick a map, pick a character and simply survive as long as you can, the RPG-like elements feel like they can drag the experience down a bit for players. Obviously, there will be players who will max out everything out of pure dedication or O.C.D, but it feels more like a chore than a mode you could just boot up in seconds with friends and have fun.
If you need a more competitive edge, Gears of War 4 features a handful of multiplayer modes (all of which run in beautiful 60fps) that players can test out their skills in:
- Team Deathmatch: Pretty self explanatory. Kill the oppposing team until they run out of lives.
- Dodgeball: Eliminate the opposing team, but there’s a catch. Every kill revives a teammate.
- Arms Race: Get a kill with every weapon.
- Escalation: This new mode makes its debut in Gears of War 4. Escalation is inspired by eSports and features frantic gameplay. Similar to King of The Hill, teams need to hold all three rings placed on the map: one at each spawn point and one in the middle of the map. The team who comes up short can decide to spawn a power weapon somewhere on the map.
- Guardian: Kill the opposing team leader so they stop respawning. Once the leader is out, eliminate the rest.
- Execution: Take out the opposing team, however once an enemy is DBNO (Down But Not Out), he will revive after the bleed-out period. Weapons (except headshots) won’t work against downed enemies as players need to execute them.
- King of the Hill: The first team to reach the target score by securing rings wins.
- Warzone: Each players has a single life and can be revive if in DBNO status but can also be taken out by weapons or bleeding out. The team with surviving players win.
The Coalition showed us what they could do with Gears of War Ultimate Edition last year and somehow Gears of War 4 tops those visual with flying colors. Characters look amazing and the emotions really comes out very detailed, especially the freckles on Kat’s face. Environments are spectacular. Earlier on, when outside, the game’s colorful environments really pop out, pretty much going the opposite of their idea of making the game a bit darker. Audio wise, each voice actor interpret their characters convincingly and the comedic banter they’ll have throughout the adventure will lessen the game’s rare dark tones. While they requested the services of Ramin Djawadi, the same man behind the Game of Thrones music, it doesn’t feel that different. Djawadi kept the same sound as Steve Jablonski did in the past. And that’s not a bad thing.
I might’ve been too hyped for this game, which results in me being disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, Gears of War 4 is a great game, as it serves for the beginning of a new trilogy and it’s a great new entry into the franchise to a certain extent. The game features a great cast, interesting new (and old) characters, a well-paced story, and the true original Gears of War feel from the first trilogy. Unfortunately, some of the game’s new additions such as Robot enemies, Horde Mode 3.0, feel like unnecessary tweaks and can fall flat. Rod Fergusson, the game’s producer, said that they were returning to the game’s darker tones, unfortunately, they missed by a long shot. Overall, Gears of War 4 is a great experience, especially for the story and its great competitive multiplayer experience. The campaign does have its faults and Horde Mode feels overly complicated, but it is worth a playthrough.
- Story development perfectly paced
- Interesting new characters
- Awesome new weaponry
- Horde like sequences mid-campaign
- Lack of “Holy shit” moments
Gears Of War 4 is rated M for Mature thanks to the presence of blood, gore, intense violence and strong language.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game purchased for reviewing purposes.