It’s been a long time coming: the return of one of gaming’s mighty shooters is here and plans to be more brutal than ever. The fifth instalment to the Gears of War series has been on the minds of Xbox fans for quite some time. It’s the game that could define the Xbox One and bring forth the sales and reputation the console needs. But I dare ask if The Coalition can bring back the series to full glory, or has this bloody chainsaw run out of juice? Be ready, here’s Gears of War 4.
We’re taken to 25 years after the fall of the Locust hordes and where Sera has known peace ever since. However, not everything is peachy on old Sera as the effects of the bomb have left devastating natural disasters called Wind-Flares, which are pretty much tornados made of fire. There’s also the added trouble of a new COG order which has the iron grasps of a fascist government while also being the people’s only protection against the Wind-Flares. However, those who remain outside the city walls have total freedom from the COG.
Enter our heroes JD, son of famed war hero Marcus Fenix, along with his friends Kait and Del who make our new squad. The trio find themselves stealing vital COG equipment that turns into all-out war for their village when the COG find out. Things get worse when the village is attacked one night by a new enemy force, known as the Swarm. It’s up to JD, Kait and Del to band together and stop this new enemy and along the way they reunite with an old war hero to do so. So our new heroes are introduced with a hell of a bang and this shows the strongest aspect of the narrative. Our leads are likable, they’re relatable and above all they’re different from the previous leads. They do spout a ton of banter, jokes and puns, which work incredibly well to show their softer sides. But boy can they grit their teeth and show off those acting chops. This is partly due to the impressive cutscenes and the pacing for the story. Aside from this we get a bigger picture of Sera and the after effects of the war. But where it does kind of fall short is the dull and uninspiring locations we go to. It feels massively familiar with deserted towns, underground caves and isolated factories.
The story doesn’t take enough risks to make it truly gripping and just when you think something game changing would happen they go back on it. I love the theme of evolution and how the planet is growing these organic nests and fleshy structures and this kept my interest in the game world. But the reasoning and the issue I felt is with the Swarm and how they came to be. Basically they’re Locust 2.0. This is kind of disappointing as it holds back on creating a brand new threat. It’s like the Covenant coming back in Halo. It’s just as unexciting.
So how about the gameplay? The formula or design for Gears 4 pretty much follows its older siblings and doesn’t take any notes from Judgement, thankfully. The feel of this new Gears of War will be very familiar to old fans like me and those new to the series will integrate easily. The mechanics are simple to learn as the game does a good job at helping you through the basics without massively holding your hand. Fundamentals such as cover based shooting, tactical action, epic set pieces and brutal combat are still very much important here for engaging gameplay.
But the game is vastly engrossing due to multiple factors. Combat is often a gruesome and gripping affair where JD and the team will face a variation of foes in different situations. Battlegrounds change with multiple points of interest, different terrains, altering factors such as “emergence holes,” mixtures of enemies and of course the most dynamic feature, “Wind-Flares.” Wind-Flares alter the state of play making simple encounters more tactical and complex. The winds will sway players as they move, destroy cover, throw debris to cause more destruction and the effects of certain weapons are made redundant. This places even more stress on a tactical situation yet makes it much more engaging. My personal favorite for new mechanics is grabbing enemies from behind cover and dragging them over to deliver a fatal stabbing in the bowels and face.
The world of Sera is absolutely stunning with some immense destruction which plays an important part in not just the spectacle aspect but the tactical side of things too. Cover can be destroyed resulting in players having to change positions and tactics. Along with the gore and sound effects packing a mighty punch, with shotguns feeling more devastating as they tear your enemies apart and splash their blood on the ground.
We get a rejuvenated lineup of enemies to face, from Robotic COG troops to the deadly beasts from the Swarm. But there’s the feeling that The Coalition are sticking to the same formula for many of the enemies as well. We see smaller NPCs known as Juviees, who are simply Wretches from Gears 1-3, and Heavies, which carry boomshots shots, and Maulers are known as Scions but just act and look the same as each other. New creatures such as the Pouncers and Snatchers are nice additions as they change the flow of firefights. Even if Snatchers are by far the most irritating enemy in the game as they’re big, fast and can down you in one hit. They also snag you up and keep hold of you until someone kills it, which can be a pain in single player. But the Swarm in general are even more brutal than the Locust ever were, pulling off dirty tricks to get the upper hand on you. There is enough of a change to make them different from the Locust but all in all, they’re just Locust with a facelift.
The best multiplayer aspect by far is Horde mode. It’s been revamped and restructured to deliver a tighter and more immersive experience than ever before. The Class system adds a form of structure and progression that grips you with upgrades and perks for each class. While building defenses takes a new tactic as players can place their fortifications wherever they want and whenever they like, this adds pressure on players choosing the best advantage points for defenses and gives more freedom in strategy. It’s excellent.
Verses Multiplayer matches are still very engaging with inventive modes such as Dodgeball and Arms Race bringing new dynamics into Gears, while the return of classics such as Warzone and Execution will make everyone including older fans happy. My only faults are some balancing issues with certain weapons and the some game modes just drag on relentlessly. Best of 13 Rounds for King of the Hill is just way too long in my opinion. Then there’s the lack of progression in multiplayer, which is mostly linked to the new micro-transactions or “Booster Packs” Microsoft wants you to buy into. These can be bought with real currency or points you can earn, but points are so difficult to acquire and you feel that Microsoft want you to spend some ridiculous amounts of money to get the new packs they’ve introduced.
Packs usually contain some decent boosters to increase skills and gaining XP to levelling up. Unlike Battleborn which allows you to acquire packs through playing the game, this takes the Halo 5 route and makes it more obvious Microsoft wants more money from you. I wouldn’t mind so much, but the slow progression and restriction of gaining new gear/loot is ridiculous. Not to mention the pricing for some of these booster packs.
Gears of War 4 remains truthful to the series and its roots and while it does introduce some great new elements it is overall a safe sequel. The story could have taken more risks but does introduce a great cast of new heroes. The pacing could have progressed more aggressively as other instalments have but the combat dynamics are great additions. I do miss beast mode but Horde 3.0 is brilliant! As an old fan of the series I can safely say this is way better than Judgment and even Gears of War 3. This is a great way for fans new and old to get into the series and I look forward to The Coalition’s next entry in the series.