Preview: Gears of War 4
Do you remember the world where “cover shooter” was at its infancy and that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Ghost Recon were the only example. A world where The Division, Ex: Human Revolution, and many other didn’t exist yet. Behind the beefy aspect of the TPS and pools of blood, Epic Games’ 2006 Gears of War hid in reality the foundations of gameplay that influenced many other titles. With its cover system, Gears of War brought a whole new dimension – relatively tactic – to the Third-Person Shooter genre. The history between Epic Games and Microsoft continued for 5 years, which eventually formed a trilogy, with Gears of War 2 and Gears of War 3. Desiring to continue to support the license, Microsoft then asked People Can Fly to tackle a new game Gears of War, thus in 2013 Gears of War Judgement was born. Sadly with an uninteresting campaign and a multiplayer lacking souls, the licence was put to sleep.
And so, with the ambition to resurrect Gears of War from the dead, Microsoft bought the rights of the license in 2014, and founded its own dedicated studio called The Coalition, which will be tasked to create a brand new sequel to the original trilogy. The Coalition, is technically Microsoft Vancouver (which also changed names to Black Tusk Studios), led now by Rod Fergusson, mostly known for his GearsViking nickname, and former director of production for Gears of War back at Epic Games. And so after given the task to remaster the original Gears of War – which probably was a great training for the production and development team – and releasing Gears of War: Ultimate Edition last year for Xbox One and PC, The Coalition is now ready to share some details on their upcoming Gears of War 4, with its first exclusive Beta for rare fans and journalist, which will mainly focus into multiplayer.
In general a beta is risky for a developer. If mastered as good first impression, it is a gateway into the gaming communities and can create true organic hype. Conversely, it can ruin the hopes of a game and a community if not taken care of. If this Gears of War 4 beta is technically more conventional, it avoids the pitfalls of its predecessor: it is here possible to reach friends and throwing to many. With three different modes and maps, the Beta gives a good overview of what the multiplayer of Gears of War 4 will be. I won’t delve much into the classic Team Deathmatch, but will focus on the two nontraditional ones. First one is Dodgeball, which is a dangerous mode that will make sense when Gears eSports switches to this new title: a 5v5 elimination based mode, but with a unique twist. Everytime you kill a oponent, you’ll be able to respawn a downed member of your team. In other words, the match winning tide can switch in intense ways, as it happened during my playing sessions, where one final member of the opposing team pick each last 3 member of mine, one by one, turning this 4v1 manhunt into a 1v4 survival story! The last mode, meanwhile, is especially important for beginners. If the game mechanics are relatively intuitive, being great at it requires surgical precision. Thus in Co-op Team Deathmatch, 5 players are invited to play against a AI-powered team. For some, this is a good way to learn the controls in Gears of War if you’re a beginner, or a refresher for those that already played the previous ones.
At first glance, we discover that Gears of War 4 is a sure way to reboot the franchise and making us forget Gear of War Judgment. The objective is clear for The Coalition: start again on a sounder footing which is closer to Gears of War 3. Using the setting and heart of the gameplay, everything is based on the ability of the player to cover at the right time and move from cover to cover without risk. If the controls are almost immediately easy to get used to it, the timing to make the cover switch requires a foolproof dexterity. This is especially true since another peculiarities of the series is to provide a field of view rather reduced, making each movement, every moment and every decision in the game dangerous. The player must constantly be on high alert to avoid eating a devastating Gnasher shot in the face around the corner. If all this seems like conventional Gears of War mechanics, three new movements were added and bring new depth to its cover system. COGs can now run and jump over a wall by pressing B, Rush and knife an enemy with the Y, or even grab the enemy with an X stab him to death As you’ve noticed these three movements strengthen a little more the perpetual insecurity that is felt while playing Gears of War, and of course badass new executions.
Gears of War 4 Beta also made me realize that the game abandons all verticality that it was in Gear of War: Judgment; maps are also more symmetrical and horizontal in shape. In this context, each team will initially need to focus on recovering two dangerous power-weapons on the map and lethal grenades, which are back in the sense of GOW3, by being scarce and more valuable. On top of the typical weapons such as the famous Lancer equipped with its chainsaw “bayonet”, the shotgun (Gnasher), sniper, crossbow, we have a new weapon, called the Dropshot. That weapon is sort of an inverse Digger Launcher, which upon firing it, has a mine hovering over the battlefield vertically, which you can then release onto the ground exploding 10 seconds upon impact, or gruesomely drill through an opponent if timed properly.
Finally, a few words about the visual aspect of the Gears of War 4. Presented as a Beta version of the game, it’s still hasn’t really wowed me with its graphics. If the viewing distance was very good, the textures clearly lacked finesse, a fault that was seen from the character selection screen. At least, it seemed like the console stayed true to its 60 frames per second without too much trouble, disregarding the occasional hiccups. In short, in the present state of things, Gears of War 4 is not really a graphical slap in the face, but let’s remember that it’s still only a Beta, and it is also common that multiplayer modes are less impressive than the campaign part, as developers favor fluidity over anything, to make sure the game is stable in a competitive theme.
If the goal of the beta was to reassure the future of the license, then it is reached. From the first moments, there’s a sort of flashback to the original Gears of War, where we take a naughty pleasure to turn the map into a bloody slaughter with all sorts of crazy weapons. The few innovations added in terms of gameplay perfectly adds a little more depth, without falling into the trap of denaturalization. In short The Coalition has worked to stay true to the spirit of the series without staying in its comfort zone. Everything else remains to be seen about the game, including the final graphical rendering, but also its campaign, which will hopefully make us forget the bad script that was Gears of War Judgment.
Gears of War 4 launches this year only for Xbox One. The impressions were made based on a Private Beta access provided by the Xbox team. The Open Beta started on April 24 for all qualifying Xbox Live Gold members and for those that purchased Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and will last until May 1st. Note that you’ll need an Xbox Live Gold subscription to take full advantage of the Gears of War 4 Beta.