After what was the better part of a day downloading this sucker, I finally got to play the long awaited next installment of the Gears of War franchise. This is the first non-spinoff title by the recently formed Coalition, the developers that replaced Epic Games as the custodians of the franchise. After playing the Multiplayer Beta and having some reservations I was hoping against hope that this game would be good. There’s a lot to unpack here so let’s get started!
Gears of War 4 has the best campaign of any Gears game, hands down, and that is a high bar to climb! All of the staples of a Gears experience are there from cover-based shootouts, to over engineered doors that require two people to open, right down to the electric guitar power chord that signifies “all clear”. The campaign starts off with a prologue that serves as both a history lesson for those who are entering the gears franchise for the first time and as a treat for those who have played all the Gears games, as a number of past Gears alumni feature in it. Since the story starts off in a time of relative peace (even in Gears 1 the fight with the Locust was already well established) the story is a bit more lighthearted and colourful in comparison. Liam McIntyre (Sparticus) brings an almost Nathan Fillion like wit and comic timing to the character of James Fenix, son of Marcus Fenix from the last three Gears games.
James D Fenix is the main character of this new iteration of Gears.
In this game, the COG are now the overbearing government controlling the population with an iron will (and iron soldiers as it turns out) led by an unscrupulous First Minister Jinn. James used to be a COG soldier but has turned his back on them and thrown in with some “outsiders” who are living outside of the law. You find out that Jinn is accusing James of kidnapping “her people” but after his outsiders camp is raided by a mysterious enemy you soon find out that something much more sinister is afoot. Much like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Gears 4 makes use of several generations of heroes to tell its story. This is a lot of fun and adds tonnes to the experience. Everything leads to a spectacular climax that leaves you with even more questions and a yearning for more! Story 10/10.
Gears of War 4 is a huge game but gameplay wise, it can be broken down into four main parts; Campaign, Multiplayer, Horde and account. What do I mean by account you ask? Well let’s start with that.
Under this category are all of the game mechanics that relate to your Gears of War 4 career. So the leveling mechanic, emblems, customisations and newer house-keeping features all belong here. Yes, you have the usual levels 1-100 that you might be used to if you have played earlier installments and as per usual you level up by playing Horde and Multiplayer games. Ribbons, emblems and skins still exist, but the way in which you unlock them has changed completely. They are delivered by means of card packs that are eerily similar to requisition packs from Halo 5. As soon as I saw them I facepalmed. Card packs mean this game has in-app purchases. That’s right – not only are you to fork out $140 for the game and its season pass, you are expected to also pay more for in-game content if you want to fast track your progress. This is gamer exploitation at its finest! There should be a law for these things. If you are paying full tier one price for a game then you should own everything in that title. No more to pay. If you release the game as free to play, then yeah sure have an in game store and go nuts. Doing both in my opinion is having your cake and eating it too. Thankfully there’s no way to purchase an advantage in multiplayer versus games or else this could have spoiled things for everyone.
Card packs are the means by which bounties, skills, skins and other assets are distributed to you. Is this a good thing?
Also included in these card packs are boosts and bounties. Bounties can be assigned to your character and if you complete them in a game of versus or horde you earn its reward which is either experience or credits toward more card packs (card packs are purchasable with in game credits or real money). Boosts are cards that pertain to any one of five classes. Classes are a new mechanic that complements your play style in horde mode. Classes provide a set of perks that grant bonuses to certain behaviors. Say you’re a shotgun runner. You might prefer the scout class that grants bonuses to melee, movement speed and shotgun damage. Maybe you’re like me and prefer heavy weapons, then Heavy class is more your speed. It grants you bonuses such as extra ammo for heavy weapons, extra damage etc. As you level up each class you can have more perks going at once. Cards are randomised in each pack and those who are unlucky enough to not get anything good may be disadvantaged compared to those lucky SOBs who have all of the good cards. One way they have tried to mitigate this is by including a craft system that allows you to burn duplicates to create new cards you don’t have but that is playing the long game. Also most people will be using their duplicates to upgrade cards instead. I would personally feel better about these cards packs if there was no way to fork out real money to buy them. That way card packs are earnt and those with large reserves of disposable income don’t simply buy their way to success. But in the grand scheme of things this is a minor quibble.
We touched on this earlier. It’s awesome. It looks, feels and plays just like a Gears experience should. A whole slew of new weapons have been introduced that there are literally too many to mention here, but almost every weapon from previous iterations are there too so no one is left disappointed. With two new villain armies to contend with it’s no surprise that there are so many new weapons to get your hands on. Playing through the campaign on normal difficulty, I was not hindered too much but battles were intense and challenging. I was sitting there thinking to myself, holy crap this will be hard on insane difficulty! Which is a good thing! At no point did I feel frustrated or that any part of the campaign was unfair or poorly designed. An exceptional job!
Horde 3.o needs only two words to describe it; HELL YES! But hey, this is me, of course I’m going to use a lot more than two words! This new horde experience has removed the shackles previous iterations had placed on you. Instead of fortifications existing in predetermined locations, you now have the freedom to build anything anywhere thanks to a new mechanic called the fabricator. Basically it’s a device that you power up (with power dropped by the bodies of the dead) to build anything you want (from a predetermined list). Fortifications, defenses and weapons are all on the menu. The fabricator also allows you to bring back players that have died that round. First resurrection is free but subsequent ones cost power. The more you buy the more stuff becomes available. Smart purchases become the cornerstone of a successful hording experience in this version and it is so easy to make a wrong move you regret later. This experience is best enjoyed with a party that can all communicate. Randoms will often spoil this experience by making unnecessary purchases or failing to revive teammates. But overall this is a massive improvement on something that was already pretty awesome.
The fabricator is a new mechanic in horde that allows you the freedom to set up camp wherever and however you want.
The multiplayer experience is sadly still the realm of the shotguns. This could be because only those who have preordered the game have access to it and those players would predominantly be made up of gears veterans who are used to shotgun running. I don’t have anything against it as it’s a legitimate strategy, I just feel there needs to be a more adequate counter to the strategy so it stops being all that anyone ever does. Gears has always had a problem with mitigating the effectiveness of this strategy. Roadie running and wall bouncing make covering ground and closing in on enemies quite easy and at close range a shotgun one-shots. The only way to counter this is to come up with a counter that affects a player’s ability to cover ground quickly. In Gears 3 they introduced a slow down effect when a roadie runner was under lancer fire and that seemed to work to a certain degree but that doesn’t seem to be in effect here. One suggestion I have is once you are down to half health or below, bullets interrupt your roadie run. This would allow players who are close enough to you to still get all up in your face and blast you to bits whilst stopping players ignoring cover altogether and crossing an entire map to get you.
All of the usual game modes have all been included. TDM, Execution, King of the Hill, Guardian and Dodgeball have all made a triumphant return and a new game mode has been added in – Arms Race. In Arms Race your team starts off with powerful weapons and for every three kills your team makes your weapon changes to something slightly less powerful (eg lancer to retro lancer) until you are running around with boltoks. Get your quota of kills to win. This mode doesn’t seem to be very popular, it took me having to set up a private match in order to get a game of it going. New mechanics to multiplayer are centered around active reloading. There is a cooldown on active reloading to stop people spamming it and you can now active reload a full clip so you don’t have to half empty your shotgun anymore. Gears 4 has cherry picked all of the fan favorite maps from previous iterations and the new inclusions all have the feel of Gears maps. Overall multiplayer is a good experience but it could be better. Gameplay 8.5/10.
Gears of War 4 is a visual treat, designed to be enjoyed in glorious 4K resolution. I have been running it on 1080p and I still think it’s breathtaking. Trust Gears to be one of the first games to begin to really push Xbox One’s capabilities. This game is also a “Play Anywhere” title so I can only imagine how it looks on high end PCs. The game is a bit prettier than previous iterations. Sera has enjoyed two and a half decades of peace. Nature has started to regrow itself, the COG have started to rebuild glorious clean looking settlements and some of the game’s settings are also breathtaking. But one thing you just have to experience is the weather in this game. Sera’s equivalent of mother nature has concocted something known as a Windflare. A tornado with vicious lightning. As it approaches the levels get darker, red hues are introduced and the physics engine goes on overdrive as objects are picked up and tossed around. However as the story takes a dark turn so too do the visuals. The new villains look gruesome and visceral which is in keeping with the overall horror theme that Gears games like to adopt. All of the above is delightfully consumed without a single drop in the frame rate either. Visuals 10/10.
The visuals really put on a show when a windflare rolls around.
Gears games have always had a good sound track, they have always had excellent voice actors (mostly) and they have always had those awesome sound effects. The active reload sound, the rev of the chainsaw bayonet, the dong of the new objective gong, the sound of being downed and that iconic power chord when you hear when you kill that last enemy are reverently preserved. The music has been composed by Ramin Djawadi. You might not have heard of him but you have heard his music, he is the composer for Game of Thrones. The music is as epic as the action it’s set against. It perfectly sells the moment whether it’s the lighthearted banter from early on or some of the more melancholic moments. I cannot pick fault with the sound at all. Audio 10/10.
Gears of War 4 has been designed with the long game in mind and there is plenty for you to do if you intend to have a long Gears 4 career. There are level up and prestige mechanics for your account, classes can be leveled up for a more rewarding horde experience and seriously, that campaign is so good it’s worth playing again. The Coalition also have a plan to release 2 new multiplayer maps every month for a year for a total of 24 new maps plus all of the new season pass content, there is certainly going to be plenty to do and the hits will keep on coming. Replayability 10/10.
Coalition has promised 24 new maps over the next year to keep things fresh and interesting.
TL;DR: Campaign: Awesome! Horde: Hell Yes! Multiplayer: Good. New Stuff: Nice Touch. Visuals: Holy Crap! Audio: Wow! Replayability: If I had a disc copy is would live in my Xbox! Overall this is a finely crafted game and well deserving of its AAA status. It has hit all of the right notes and in my opinion is the best version of Gears to date. A game worth getting an Xbox One for (not that you have to if you own a PC). Well done Coalition!