I found myself thinking “Well, this is more Gears of War all right” while playing Gears of War 4, but that’s not a bad thing by any means. There is a lot here to love for fans of the series, and it isn’t a bad place for newbies to get into the series either, considering it requires no previous knowledge to enjoy. Plus, for a limited time you can get all four of the original Xbox 360 titles when you buy the game.
That said, it may be hard to go back and play previous titles considering this entry features the best gameplay in the series.
The game centres around a group of anti-establishment characters living outside the normal society made by the COG government. Gears of War 4 has a whole lot of diversity. Of course, the lead is a white male and the son of Marcus Fenix, the hero of the original trilogy, and his sidekicks are a black guy who serves as the comic relief (just like Cole did), a girl of questionable race, and a Spanish guy that is a drunkard (probably a stereotype they should have avoided). I appreciate that the series has always included characters of colour, but they always seem so stereotypical aside from Dom, a character from the original trilogy who was Spanish without being a drunk. The characters here aren’t huge departures from what we have already seen in the series, and the lead character, JD, doesn’t get enough time to shine as his dad shows up and steals the show for a lot of the game.
I rather enjoyed the story of these rogue humans fighting both the COG, with their army of oppressive robots, and the other monstrosities they come across. There were some definite missteps however, such as essentially trying to remake and reuse some of the most emotional moments from the original trilogy. I suppose if this is your first Gears of War these moments will hold more weight but I didn’t love seeing something I’ve already seen before acted out with different characters; it just felt cheap. The worst parts of the story are the two times where characters are going to ask for help from another, specific character but refuse to say their name. This comes across like a parent talking in code in front of a child, but in this case, the players are the children and it’s just insulting. I get that the developers were trying build up a surprise, but having the characters awkwardly avoid saying someone’s name for multiple cutscenes is just poor writing.
While the story in Gears of War 4 isn’t the strongest there are two scenes that really stole the show for me: the ending and another ‘so-bad-its-good’ puking scene that I can’t stop laughing about. The latter scene is so unintentionally comical that it rivals the record-setting vomiting found in Team America: World Police. I’m probably going to go back and replay that scene after I finish writing this review because I love it, it’s special to me and The Coalition better not dare to change it.
The waist-high walls and weapons from the original trilogy are back and both feel very familiar. The Gnasher shotgun still dominates, chainsawing a foe in half with the Lancer feels as good as ever, and the gore is more detailed than in prior entries and is so meaty. There are plenty of new additions to your arsenal, like the weapons from the COG robots , which include a fast-firing electric shotgun called the Overkill, a gun that fires saw blades appropriately named the Buzzkill, and a few other less memorable additions. There’s also new movement options available to players like the ability to automatically jump over walls by holding another button while running that also allows you to kick enemies in the face if they are crouching behind said wall, or alternatively, you can crouch behind the wall and reach over and snatch them to quickly perform an execution. These new movement options allow the game to flow faster than ever and will certainly have a major impact in competitive multiplayer. The snatching ability also eliminates the waist-high wall stand-offs seen in previous titles, which is a welcome change.
The first half of Gears of War 4—featuring most all of the new weapons and enemies—is easily the better half, with the later stages slowly slipping back into familiar territory—which gets a bit repetitious. Thankfully there are a few scenes involving some new vehicles that provide a break from the same old same old that I won’t spoil here.
Early on you get to experience an intense electric storm, but by the end of Gears of War 4 there had been so many scenes in these storms they no longer felt exciting but annoying, as grenades fly sideways because of the strong winds. There is one particular storm scene where you have to aim a catapult while adjusting for the wind that is easily the worst (though very minor) part of the game, as it is near impossible to predict where your shot will land. For some reason the developers decided to place wind physics over gameplay and that section suffers for it.
From a visual standpoint, this is hands-down not only the best-looking Gears of War yet, but easily one of the most graphically impressive titles for the current generation. Not only have the browns and greys been ditched for more colourful settings, but there are also tons of particle effects such as fire, rain, wind, and (of course) the chunks of your opponents’ bodies. While you’ll see many of the areas in this entry appear similar to those that you’d find in previous titles, they all look leaps and bounds better than ever. One thing to note, however, is that the Xbox One version only runs at 30 fps in the campaign and horde modes and at 60 fps in versus multiplayer, while the PC version runs at whatever your computer can handle.
Thanks to Gears of War 4 being one of Microsoft’s Play Anywhere titles, those that purchase the digital version get a copy for both Xbox One and PC for the price of one physical copy of the game, so I played both. Graphically and mechanically the campaign suffers from running at 30fps on console, though competitive multiplayer is about the same. Obviously, a $300 (or less) console isn’t going to be able to compete with a $2000 (or more) computer which typically ran the game between 80 to 100fps, and rarely dipped below 60fps.. The PC version is the best version and seems to be properly optimized (unlike the recently released Forza Horizon 3).
While I didn’t get a chance to sample multiplayer at length, I did manage to get in a few matches with the bots who, surprisingly, made for formidable opponents. The classic elimination style game types are back as you remember them including fan favourites Warzone and Execution. Joining these are fun new additions such as Dodgeball, where your goal is to eliminate the enemy team while every kill you achieve brings back a teammate, and Arms Race, where your team’s weapon changes every three kills.
Horde mode has been completely revamped with a new class system and a progression system. There are five classes, and each spawns with different weapons and have different unlockable perks available as you level up. Also new is the fortification system, which allows you to build weapons, decoys, barriers, and turrets using energy that enemies drop upon their death. These new additions make Horde play like a combination of the classic formula mixed with a hint of tower defense mechanics as well as weapon purchasing—like what is found in Counter-Strike—and it is a ton of fun and a great change. Gears 4 has easily the best version of Horde so far and is a must play if you’ve got friends as it requires a lot of cooperation.
The game launches with ten maps (for use in both competitive multiplayer and the revamped Horde mode), including a sexy remake of the classic Gridlock map. 24 maps will also be coming over the next year at a rate of two a month, according to the game’s season pass. Ten maps, feels like plenty, I can only imagine the variety we will have in a year’s time.
Also new to the series are unlockable customizations for multiplayer that include characters, costumes, and skins for your guns, but these are purely cosmetic content. They can be unlocked via an in-game currency earned by simply playing matches, but can also be purchased with yet-to-be-revealed microtransactions that were not available at the time of writing. While I typically frown upon full-priced games adding microtransactions, in the past, these customization options were locked behind paid DLC, so in a way this is a positive and gives players something to work towards in multiplayer other than merely level or rank. If you’re a zombie fan there are zombie skins of many of the characters, though if my experience with Zombie Dom is anything to go by they will constantly yell “brains” at such an annoyingly frequency that your teammates will hate you
As a big Gears of War fan, I can honestly say this is the best entry in the series. While the campaign isn’t my favourite it still has a lot of character, the graphics are unmatched, the new Horde mode is fantastic, and it is all around one heck of a good time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to curb-stomping locust scum as ‘modern day Fred Durst look-a-like’ Marcus Fenix.