Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: The Coalition
Release Date: 10/11/16
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First off I have to say Gears of War is one of my favorite game series of all time. It was the first game to really show me true next-generation fidelity when I got my Xbox 360 on Christmas of 2006. The art style, the characters, the lore, the story, and the atmosphere all drew me in with fantastic revolutionary gameplay and amazing online multiplayer. It was one of the most cloned games since Resident Evil 4 (which I know Gears took much inspiration from). Here we are 10 years and 5 games later. I honestly didn’t go into Gears 4 expecting much after Gears 3 was so satisfying and I accepted that it was the end. When Judgement was released I lost hope in the series and the Gears 4 gameplay trailer didn’t have me impressed.
I expected a huge reboot with all new characters and settings, but I’m kind of half glad they didn’t do that. Yes, Marcus and Co. are back to take shotgun on this ride, but there’s still something missing after playing through this huge beast of a game that didn’t quite click with me. You play as Marcus’ son J.D. who is on a mission to try and stop the COG army from killing him and his friends who deserted from New Sera. On their way to steal supplies, they run into a new breed of Locust and another war ensues. Without giving too much away the story feels more complicated than it can handle as the linear one-mission goal from the last games worked perfectly for the series.
The game is instantly familiar once you get control of J.D. The Roadie Run, snapping into cover, blind fire, active reloading — it’s all there. It’s a little too familiar and this feeling sinks in more and more as the game goes on. It almost feels like The Coalition were too afraid to venture off and try new things which is a repeated pattern with smaller companies getting huge IPs. As I battled through the entire campaign I felt like it just wasn’t as original or memorable as previous games. For one, the level design is sub-par. Yes, the post-apocalyptic scenes are here, but they fail to be memorable or mean anything. I remember Marcus’ mansion from the first game, the Locust stronghold and the driller scene with hundreds of Locusts from the second game, and Jacinto’s remnant of the third game. Nothing here feels unique or sticks out. It’s the same lame corridors or repeated buildings over and over again and it becomes a blur.
Outside of that the same Locust are back that we’re familiar with such as Grenadiers, Soldiers, Grunts, Scions, and so forth, but I miss the other miscellaneous Locusts like the Tickers. Instead, we get larger meaner Locust as they are mutating and can actually grow stronger in battle. Once the first two acts were over the smile left my face as each familiar thing came into play. I realized by the third act that the game didn’t have many new things to throw at me besides a few new enemies and a couple of weapons. The campaign lacks epic set pieces that we were familiar with through the original trilogy. The ending has you riding some sort of giant robot and that’s about the extent of it.
Weapons in Gears 4 feel very familiar with the original game, and not much has changed. All your favorite weapons are here like the Lancer, Snub, Boltok Pistol, Gnasher, Mulcher, Boomshot, Hammerburst, and various other favorites. Some new weapons like the Dropshot are strange. It launches an underground missile that blows up underneath you. The Buzzkill is interesting as it shoots saw blades that bounce around. I love the new weapons that the new COG army robots use such as the Embar which uses hypersonic rounds that pierce through anything. The Enforcer is a fun new submachine gun and my favorite addition is the Overkill. It’s a short-range hypersonic shotgun that devastates more than the Gnasher. Honestly, outside of this, there isn’t much that’s new. There are no new vehicles or old ones for that matter, and the game is full of objectives that have you running around turning on the power, flipping switches, and opening doors. It’s still an entertaining campaign, but I can’t see a reason to play through it a second time like previous games.
The multiplayer is the reason why you’re going to come back and it’s the first Gears multiplayer I actually enjoyed. Many old modes are back such as Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Dodgeball, and various others. The biggest addition is Horde 3.0 which perfects the mode. A brand new element to Gears is the Fabricator. It’s a box that allows you to build defense items and even weapons. It’s a take on tower defense as you kill enemies, gather loot, and bring them back to the Fabricator to acquire new items. I had so much fun in Horde as each match felt different and fun. When a teammate dies you can get their Cog Tags and bring them back to the fabricator to revive them. The tactics and scenarios change so much with each wave that every minute is a surprise.
Lastly, let’s talk about the visuals in Gears. Gears of War was a pinnacle of high-definition gaming and had been up until the third game. Gears of War 4 looks good, but it doesn’t look next-generation and definitely doesn’t look amazing on PC. It feels like it was being developed on Xbox 360 hardware and was ported over to Xbox One. The textures are muddy and grainy, the models are not up to snuff, and the aliasing is awful. Even though this game uses Unreal Engine 4 it uses it poorly. Especially since Gears of War was the proving grounds of that engine.
Overall, Gears of War 4 will put a smile on fans’ faces for a short while and not really impress newcomers. The story is interesting but doesn’t do the lore and or backstory justice, there isn’t much new that we haven’t already seen, the level design is boring, and the only thing that will keep you playing is multiplayer.