Review: Gears of War 4
It was 10 years ago that the gaming world were introduced to Gears of War. A game that basically perfected the concept of cover-based shooter, to a point that it pushed gamers around the world to use the word “cover” as a an action that meant “take cover and shoot a bunch of weird monsters with a gun merged with a chainsaw”.
If most people recognize Epic Games’ iconic console game (not just Unreal Tournament) when in comes to the character’s design, I remember more how its dark world was portrayed, completely tortured and broken. Pushed into a corner, humanity was fighting its strongest enemy, barely surviving the invasion of a hordes of monsters which they lived together for years without knowing it. These Locusts did not fall from the sky like a fallen angel, but from within bowel of Planet Sera, known as Borrows, and decided to emerge and exterminate our race. Gears of War was and always will be a dark, desperate, violent and uncompromising story, which quickly became an icon of gaming, especially for Xbox players. Now a 10 year old franchise, the series returns as a headline Xbox exclusive of 2016, led by a new studio, The Coalition, and rest assured fans, they knew how to take care of this licence.
It has been 25 years since the events of Gears of War 3, and the Countermeasure weapon that destroyed all Imulsion on Sera, killing Locust and Lambent combined. While you would assume humanity is finally at peace on the planet, the Imulsion Countermeasure destroy all fossil fuel on the planet and created Windflares, crazy thunderstorms that destroy everything in their path. The Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) led by First Minister Jinn ordered a mass-scale martial law order, and grouped all remaining people into cities protected by large walls and DeeBees (soldiers and labor robots created by Baird’s company), and focusing on re-population, with heavy propaganda reminiscent of the great fascist regimes of our twentieth century.
This is why some have chosen to challenge the authority of Jinn and flee in isolated regions of Sera, to live dangerously like scavengers but at least free, known as outsiders. Among them, is the young Kait (granddaughter of Queen Myrrah of the Locust Horde in Gears of War 2 and 3), James Dominic “JD” Fenix (son of Marcus Fenix and iconic lead protagonist of the 3 first Gears of War games) and Delmont “Del” Walker. Gears of War 4 manages to establish a steady plot linking all these new characters, in the first minutes of the game, and drop the twist: your village is attacked by a Locust raid, even though the reptilian enemy race was supposed to be exterminated 25 years ago, and Kait’s mother was abducted. And so, although never seeing live Locusts in his lifetime, JD and his friend Del decided to reach out to someone that could definitely help, the veteran and hero of the Locus War, his father Marcus Fenix (now aged 62 years old).
I will not reveal more about Gears of War 4’s story, instead will leave you to the pleasure of discovering it for yourself. For fan of the series, you should expect a very classic Gears of War storyline, but this opus manages to create a particularly richer pace that leaves little time to breathe. The gunfights are as always connected and expected, and the game is as gory and gruesome as it always been, but the remake able feat in my opinion is that The Coalition development team intelligently leveraged the franchise lore and evoke little anecdotes here and there, to pique the curiosity of the player. In one way, and as much as I’m a fan of the work of Epic Games, Rod Fergusson’s The Coalition is proudly wearing the Gears of War mantle, and added density to the franchise while allowing its characters to gain in depth. That is something that Epic Game had tried to do without success over the three course of the 4 main games, including what is considered the best: Gears of War 2.
You see, I was worried that Gears of War 4 biggest problem will be the charismatic level of three newly introduced characters? While they pale next to the hyper-virile Marcus, Dom, Cole and even Baird from the first 3 games, they are much more human. Del might seem like a cliche African American comic-relief character and Kait the tomboy, they all have subtle and believable emotions, which change a lot from the always angry Marcus and depressed Dom. These differences are consistent, and above all add something playful to the experience for a fan: the player actually has more experience than these three rookie soldiers. This reverses the relationship with the main characters, and if Delta squad clearly were the stars of the first games, the veteran of this story is the player himself (as long as he’s played the previous games).
But even if they do not have countless of dangerous missions to their service records, JD and his friends are not wimping against a challenge, and show courage but also hints of inexperience and genuinely trying to understand things. But the best part is that the series’ gameplay which has collected dust and rust since Gears of War: Judgment, returns with many significant improvements. If some players expect the typical run to cover and shoot when the enemy emerges, then think again, because The Coalition offers new ways to bring death and destruction in Gears of War 4, including the “yank and shank”. It is now possible to grab an enemy crouching behind the same cover, drag him to you and finish him with knife melee or shred by the Lancer’s chainsaw. The game also feels a bit faster, and the action cooldown changes are great, simple to learn with only a few button presses and works great.
The addition of new weapons also done much good in Gears of War. If you’ll find all the classics (Lancer, Gnasher, etc.), you should definitely give a chance to the new toys, which are primarily added due to the introduction of new enemies, the DeeBees, previously mentioned in the review. The Battle versions of these robots (which are really boring in term of AI) have very specific weapons, including the scope-free Embar sniper rifle with charged shots, the monstrous Trishot automatic shotgun, and the Enforcer uzi and its shock bullet version. On top of these is the extremely accurate and lethal Markza rifle used by URIs at the time of the Pendulum Wars, the Dropshot and Buzzkill. The latter is a heavy weapon that shoots circular saws that can rebound and shear through hordes or big enemies in seconds, while the Dropshot is a mining tool, modified so it shoots fires an aerial mine, that once you release your finger on the trigger will spin downwards and can basically end up drilling into the head of your enemy, decapitating them and causing their body to convulse until the mine detonates… AWESOME!
Another great change in the series is the new dynamic cover system, which are new cover and destruction opportunities that you can used on the map. There’s a wooden barrier that is holding a bunch of steel pipe ready fly during a Windflares? Destroy it and watch the wind blow them straight at your enemies. Windflares are more than just storm, they are close to what Dynamic Weather Changes act in Battlefield 1, with bullets trajectory being affected by the strong wind, and player will have to analyze the ground to see if there is something they can use to their advantage. Each storm creates one hell of chaotic battle on the screen, and is visually very impressive.
This allows me to speak of the graphical and technical aspect of Gears of War 4. While Unreal Engine is probably one of the most used third party engines in the gaming industry, Gears of War 4 is the first episode in the franchise to use the fourth generation of Epic Game’s engine. To make the story short, Gear of Wars 4 looks definitely like a next-generation game, making the full use of the Xbox One processing power, and the palette has more colors than the usual shades of brown that defined the franchise. But it’s not realy perfect, as some texture seems outdated assets, especially when it comes to the several underground levels. Fortunately for them, the player’s attention is more focused on the action and suspense, as well as trying to stay alive when you are being overwhelmed by the swarm. You’ll trully notice the engine at full blast during the Windflares segment, with shades of orange that become more vivid with every flash and every explosion, like a Michael Bay movie on steroid, and.despite the incredible chaos shown on screen with talent, the framerate of the game is unrelenting and can helps you enjoy the adventure.
Now that we talked about the campaign and the technical and gameplay elements, it’s time to turn our attention to the franchise second (if not first for some) most important feature: multiplayer mayhem! Whether it’s two player splitscreen to play the campaign with a friend (a trend the industry sadly stopped doing), local or online Horde mode to face number of waves of enemies, or face other players in dedicated competitive game modes, there’s something for everyone.
With multiplayer, Gears of War 4 features several game modes, with some completely original, at least for the series. You got the Arms Race mode, influenced by Counter-Strike, requiring players to at least have three kills with one weapon, to get upgraded with the higher tier level until you reach the highest score. Dodgeball on the other hand is a fun one, where every team member has one life, and if your team members manage to get one kill, you’ll get revived and back in the game… This makes for intense swings where one lone ranger could eventually do the impossible and revive his entire team, to then go for the last opposing player. But the centerpiece of these new multiplayer modes is probably Escalation, a mode created by eSports enthusiast and Head of The Coalition Studio, with the sole goal of reviving and nurturing Gears eSports, especially after the numerous Gears of War: Ultimate Edition leagues that happened in the past year. Similar to King of The Hill or Annex, Escalation maps have three rings that need to be controlled around the map, and respawn points don’t rotate, as well as the higher you go into the playing rounds, the higher the seconds to respawn after a death. And since weapon spawn also don’t change, this helps and makes team think about strategically focusing on a certain ring on the map instead of another, to prevent the opposing team to grab the Boomshot.
Multplayer levels have also been reworked, given a more competitive concept, with a similar to League of Legends’ rank system. You’ll have to play 5 placement matches first, which will then determine your skill level and put you in one of the five ranks (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Onyx and Diamond), each split into three tiers. Win a lot of them in a row will get you promoted to the next tier (or rank), but lose too many and you might get demoted.
Finally Horde 3.0 is itself fairly and clearly the best Horde mode done in a Gears of War. Taking the same concept of last two episodes, Horde 3.0 adds a class system (five in total) that will encourage players to get organized and play together as a team. If each class has its weapons of choice, it is quite possible to change during combat, according to your skill. Each player then will accumulate energy points throughout the game, which they can use on the Fabricator, to build all sorts of defensive measures such as ground spikes, turrets, but also weapons and grenades; players will then have to communicate to prepare their defenses and keep them in good condition so they can upgrade their efficiency level. Each class has its advantages, for you to choose according to your playing style … but also that is consistent with the rest of the group.
My finishing part of this review is something that I had in issue with in another Microsoft exclusive game: loot packs. Similar to the modern Halo 5 REQs and Overwatch crates, Gears of War 4 features enhancement packs that you can get with credits earned in-game, or via real money through microtransactions. Although I get the point as it makes people play more to get that legendary Marcus Fenix skin they’ve been eyeing for a while, I would have preferred a more linear mode of weapon and character visual enhancement options than a random loot generated system.
Gears of War 4 was reviewed using an Xbox One downloadable code of the game provided by Xbox. The game is also available on PC via the Xbox Store and Xbox Play Anywhere. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published
• Really intense action
• The feeling of anxiety and mystery of the first Gears of War game
• The Windflare Storms and interactions with the environmenet
• The refreshed gameplay mechanics
• The new Horde mode
• The best multiplayer of the series
• Old Marcus
• The final chapters in the game
• A bit cliche sometime
• Some irregular graphical texture quality