Gears of War series has finally made its return after a long wait. The series has also changed its hands from developer Epic Games to newly established The Coalition, and it is simply amazing to see how The Coalition have handled the transition from Epic Games.
Despite being a new game, there isn’t really much of an innovation in term of gameplay mechanics. The developers have decided to play it safe and focused on polishing the existing gameplay instead of renovating it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the base gameplay of Gears of War still works well. The cover mechanics have been tightened up and now it is easier to stick to a cover and move along it, while the shooting feels solid. There was a slight lag when it comes to taking cover in the previous games and with the latest entry, it is all but gone. Going into and out of cover is relatively smooth now.
The game begins with a recount of the events from Gears of War 1 to Gears of War 3, where humankind was in a constant state of war with the Locusts until COG soldier Marcus Fenix, along with his team mates, managed to destroy their queen and as a result, humans were able to survive the Locust attacks and save themselves from certain doom.
The story of the game is set around 25 years after the end of the Locust war and sees the player taking control of JD Fenix, son of the ex-COG soldier, Marcus Fenix. As we saw at Microsoft’s E3 2016 press conference, Marcus Fenix has been confirmed to be in the game along with a few other familiar faces. It turns out that JD Fenix joined COG before dropping out to become an Outsider, who are a group of rebel forces fighting against the COG.
The start of the game is unfortunately a little lackluster. The pacing is all over the place with the introduction of the new characters, who also lack the personality and charisma of the original Gears of War cast. Not to mention the fact that the main threat of Gears of War 4 isn’t seen until a little later in the game. Thankfully the game manages to pick up in Act 2 and then, it is a constant roller coaster ride till the end of the game.
The main campaign of Gears of War 4 can be played in co-op, either online or offline split-screen, and has been designed for multiplayer right from the start. Since the co-op based gameplay has been a staple for the series, it is nice to see it designed from the ground up for Gears of War 4. There aren’t many games these days that stick with split-screen offline co-op, mainly due to the technical issues that come with it, and Gears of War developer The Coalition has done an outstanding job in implementing it.
The main story is categorized in Acts, each of which is divided in chapters. The single player campaign can take around 10 hours to complete if you play on the normal difficulty, while there is also the option of further challenging difficulties including Hardcore and Insane. My first playthrough of the game was on Hardcore difficulty setting and I really enjoyed the challenge presented in some of the enemy and boss encounters.
Gears of War is all about team work and the same holds true in this latest sequel. Team work is essential in surviving the game, since it is easy to get outnumbered by the enemies. The game truly shines in its split-screen co-op mode where interacting with your co-op partner is important. Players can devise a strategy together to overcome the challenges thrown at them. Team work is also pretty much needed at the higher difficulties where enemies can kill the player in 2-3 hits. Other team members can revive the player quickly and even the computer controlled characters are usually fantastic in this regard, I never felt like they didn’t help much in difficult situations. They always rushed towards me as I was close to certain death, saving me in the countless difficult situations throughout the game.
Gears of War 4 is a fantastic shooter with some exceptional weapon design. While the main story of the game feels like a letdown compared to the past games, the gameplay and the character interactions more than make up for it, and the end result is a thoroughly entertaining product. The new weapons, like the Buzzkill and the Dropshot, that have been added to the game are fun to use. There is also the old school Retro Lancer in addition to the Custom Lancer. So not only we are getting some of the fan favorite weapons, there are plenty of new weapons to choose in the game.
There is a good amount of enemy variety in the game, from the robots that are called DeeBees to the new monsters called Swarm. While there are some enemies that act like mindless bullet sponges, we also have encounters with enemies which require a strategy to defeat. The robot DeeBees have a variant called Guardian which is protected by a shield and can’t be attacked until it is destroyed. The shield can also restore after a while so the player has to kill it quickly before the shield recovers. Similarly the Swarm have their own variety including Juvie, which are disgusting looking creatures behaving like a raging monkey and Pouncers, which use their tails to shoot fast movig projectiles and can one-hit kill the player by dismembering their head.
Gears of War series was also fondly remembered by its hyper realistic gore where the player had the ability to blast their enemies into pieces with a shotgun, or cut them through the Lancer chainsaw. Gears of War 4 doesn’t take a step back here and instead the new deaths by the enemies are extremely brutal and there is body dismemberment and chainsaw slices. Gone are the goofy looking animations from the past games and instead now they look much more realistic in execution.
The Coalition decided to stick with 30 fps for the single player campaign while focusing on 60 fps for the multiplayer, and this seems like a step up from the past games. This setup has also been used by a couple other developers and it works well. Since multiplayer is usually fast paced and requires a certain latency, the higher frame rate really helps in this regard.
In term of multiplayer. the game features the standard versus multiplayer mode while also offering the new Horde 3.0. Fans might remember the old Horde mode from the past Gears of War game and it seems to have returned with a new direction this time around. The new addition to the mode now make it much more tactical and fun. Players can choose between the 3 factions: Outsiders, COG Soldiers and Swarms. The best part is that these modes can also be player in split-screen, which makes for some good fun with friends.
Gears of War 4 is a refreshing take on the series by the newly established developer, The Coalition. It relies on the nostalgic moments from the past game while also establishing a new set of characters and improving on the lore presented in the original game. It is exciting to see what the new Gears of War saga can deliver in term of story and character.
Gears of War 4 is available now for the Xbox One and Windows 10. It was developed by The Coalition and published by Microsoft. This review covers the Xbox One version of the game.
Gears of War 4 Review (Xbox One)
Gears of War 4 is a must-buy for fans of the series. The Coalition has managed to create a sequel to the original trilogy that outshines it in several aspects, while also retaining its true spirit of the series.