Landed on my desk was Gears of War 4, a continuation of the series I am all too familiar with. If you were following the gaming press in 2006, you would know the name Gears of War as it kicked off a new series for the Xbox 360. Back then, Gears of War was known for its incredible storytelling, it’s beautiful presentation and outstanding performance. Does Gears of War 4 meet those same standards now?
The struggle I have with Gears of War’s story mode is it’s pacing. It felt as if the entire game, I was waiting to hear more about the characters that were on screen. You run into several characters during your time with the game, including Del, Kait, J.D. Fenix and his father, Marcus Fenix, the protagonist from Gears of War 1, 2, & 3. The entirety of the game was delivered in a way that wanted you to get to know about these new characters, but didn’t want you to forget about the old ones either. When it felt like the game was going to speak more about the detail between J.D. & Marcus’ relationship, something happens which either leads into a massive firefight or subtle throwbacks to other Gears of War titles. The story did tend to pick up during the final hours, but it felt like the trade-off was less exciting gameplay.
Earlier throughout the campaign, players will be spending a good deal of time searching empty rooms and an equal amount of time stuck waiting around for things to happen. Given, these were the moments when the character chatter was active and when you start learning about the backgrounds of each person. As you progress, specifically near the beginning of Act III, the game dramatically picks up regarding graphic story content and immersive gameplay. The firefights are tight, the carnage is extreme, and the AI seems smart enough to have their own unique fighting styles. During these times, I’ve had the exhilarating experience of blowing things up, and flushing millions upon millions of bullets into alien bodies. Several situations ended up being more than I bargained for though, and left me running for my money as I aimed to survive the harsh battlefield of oncoming chaos. The exhilaration lasts until the final act of the game, where things tend to slow down. Specifically, it wasn’t until we were fully retrofitted with Gundam-like robots that I turned a 180 on my excitement level. Oh, and no, you didn’t read that wrong. Mechs.
The problem with the Mechs is that they are surrounded by an undemanding challenge; a cake-walk if you will. Even playing on the harder difficulty levels, I found myself not in need of such monstrosities as you traverse through villages and fields crushing hundreds of Swarm as if they were ants. This wasn’t a difficult part of the game, but it felt out of place in the Gears of War universe. To further my point, these characters are super soldiers, who just cleared through enough enemies to make God of War’s Kratos jealous.
While I have some complaints, I do have good things to say. Gears of War 4 is a very engaging experience which keeps you on your toes. Staying behind cover too often will result in the enemies flanking you and numerous times you will find yourself out of ammo, only needing to search for a nearby option. This system forces you to go out of your comfort zone and play scenarios which may seem uncomfortable. This forces the player into unfamiliar situations, which proves to be a refreshing challenge when carving it up in the high-octane battlefield.
The action found throughout the campaign is as exciting as it is bloody. Using the power of Unreal Engine 4, the series has never looked better on a console. Detailed textures and environments lead to an immersive impact that cannot be overlooked through normal gameplay. The dark, gloomy atmosphere played well with the tone of the game, where there is another threat awaiting to be discovered. The satisfying explosion of meat that comes from shooting an enemy point-blank with Gnasher continues to leave me in total awe.
Horde mode made its return in Gears of War 4, introducing a few new mechanics to help players along the way. I initially had my hands-on with the game mode during PAX West 2016, but now that I’ve gotten more time in with the feature – it’s a lot harder than I would have anticipated. It is clear that teamwork is a struggle in the game, utilizing points used to purchase defenses and additional weapons in a matter that would become operational. Even playing on the game’s easiest difficulty, we only just barely managed to reach wave 29 out of the mode’s 50 waves before passing away to severe gunfire. I consider myself experienced enough to walk through the game’s campaign mode without much resistance, but Horde Mode is a whole different beast. A requirement to success if great team work to make proper use of this gametype, so if you dare to challenge it, bring a good set of trusting friends.
“Multiplayer has never been so stimulating when compared to previous Gears of War entries.”
If Gears of War has done something right since its inception, it would be multiplayer. In Gears of War 4, there is an overwhelming amount of playlists to suit anyone’s game style. A big key feature to making multiplayer great is the game’s maps, and with genius level design, strategic placement of power weapons and smaller multiplayer maps, players are guaranteed to get right into the action from the first few seconds into a match. With the buttery-smooth 60 frames-per-second gameplay, low latency servers, and of course, the same bloody executions found within the game’s campaign mode, Multiplayer has never been so stimulating when compared to previous Gears of War entries.
On the Xbox One, the game runs at an unsettling 30 frames-per-second during the campaign but a smooth, buttery 60 frames-per-second during its multiplayer gameplay. The Windows 10 PC version of the game runs even better, with 60 frames-per-second running across all available game modes, provided you have the hardware that supports it. Regardless, I can’t say my campaign experience was less enjoyable on the Xbox One because of 30 frames-per-second.
Unlockables play a unique part in Gears of War 4, which offer an assortment of weapon skins, characters, and bonuses through loot chests. A variety of different experience rewards and missions are earned through opening these chests, which are handy to level up your profile throughout the game’s progression system. After each match, whether that be in Horde Mode or Multiplayer, players are rewarded with credits. These credits come in minuscule increments, making it difficult to purchase higher-level chests that unlock further customization, but it is a welcomed addition as it rewards skilled players with more loot.
We don’t think Gears of War 4 is the best in the series. An entirely new development team taking on a whole new saga is challenging, especially for a series as well known as Gears of War. With this said, they have set up its sequel to answer a lot of questions, which can be good or bad depending on how hung up you get on the game’s ending. One thing The Coalition did get right was the game’s multiplayer, as they added lots of different options for gamer’s to explore and discover their play style.
Gears of War 4 releases on October 11th for Windows 10 and Xbox One.
Thanks to Microsoft for providing InformedPixel a copy of the game before its release.