When I bought my first Xbox 360 I remember me and my brother spending many nights playing the campaigns of Gears of War and Gears of War 2 in co-op. What a ride!
But The Coalition, Microsoft’s own studio, proved the importance of the series by remaking the original Gears of War for the latest Xbox. The result of their success is the new fully fledged Gear of War game, also known as Gears of War 4.
I will try to keep the review short, because ultimately the mark in the final section is what matters the most, and it will likely be the thing that will help you decide whether you should buy the game now or wait for a discount, or even buy it at all.
The story in Gears of War 4 picks up 25 years later after the events in Gears of War 3. The COG won the Locust War and the society lives peacefully. But there are “Outsiders”, who think the new government might have become too oppressive with the citizens that decided to live their lives outside the protection of the large robot-built cities.
The life in an outsider settlement is not always easy, because most of them lack supplies. This is where JD, the protagonist of the game, comes into play. Together with his longtime friend Del – both of which are now COG deserters – and an outsider named Kait, he goes on a mission to raid a COG construction site in the search of a Fabricator, a device that will restore power to Reyna’s (Kait’s mother) settlement.
But things go south rapidly; the village is attacked by an unknown enemy, with Reyna and the other inhabitants ending up abducted. JD and his teammates are now forced to seek help from his father, none other than Marcus Fenix, the protagonist in the original Gears of War trilogy.
The new developer, The Coalition, borrows a lot from the other games in the franchise but it’s more than often afraid to take chances, because it rarely deviates from the old formula that worked so well before. Why change something if it works, right?
In the first two acts of the game you are introduced with a new enemy in the form of robots known as DBs or DeeBees. This is great, since it forces you to utilize new tactics, for the fact that the enemies behave differently from what you were used to in Gears of War.
But it doesn’t take long to replace the DeeBees with something more familiar. The Swarm enemies are Locust look-alikes, but the AI is much more polished and their move set is improved, similar to your moves.
I found myself more than often pulled or kicked from cover just to be gruesomely murdered by a knife in my face. And let’s not count how many times I’ve been killed by a stray grenade which I noticed a second too late in the heat of the battle. Yay!
The old weapons are back, but there are some worthy new additions. There is a new sniper rifle named EMBAR which is similar to the Longshot, but it lacks a scope and it needs to be charged before shooting – but not for too long, or it will deactivate. The Overkill is a new shotgun that fires twice per shot, once when you press the trigger and another time when you release it.
But the game changing additions are the heavy weapons that are discarded once you deplete their ammo. The Buzzkill shoots saw blades that ricochet against surfaces, creating new opportunities to kill enemies hidden behind cover.
To use Dropshot’s laser-assisted bombs you pull the trigger and then release it once you are satisfied with the landing location. These are rare to find and hard to master weapons, but the feeling of using them is unmatched.
Another noteworthy addition is the weather, which manifests in the form of furious storms named Windflares. The storms change the weapons’ physics and you have to adjust accordingly – meaning you deplete all the Buzzkill’s ammo in a rage while trying to find a viable trajectory.
Although it’s a new mechanic, I feel that the developers didn’t harness its potential, because I rarely felt “in danger”. The enemies didn’t pose an extra threat and the only thing that did kill me more than once was the lightning storm that was present at the end of a Windflare section.
Now that I mentioned the wind storms, let’s talk about the graphics. To get this one off your chest I can tell you that the graphics are very good. I can even say amazing, but I played Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, so I have something to use as a comparison. However, Gears of War 4 is arguably one of the best-looking games on Xbox One at the moment.
Albeit the gameplay formula feels too familiar, with areas filled with enemies followed by buffer areas where you catch your breath and listen to dialogues between the characters, I can say that I had my share of fun while playing the campaign… twice!
It does deviate from this formula from time to time to mess with your head. You see a room with a lot of cover objects and you tread carefully preparing for the battle ahead of you, just to find out that there isn’t one.
The boss fights are also a break from your “go to cover and then shoot” routine. While I mentioned the Swarm as a new enemy, though similar with the old Locust, I never said a thing about the Pouncers, Snatchers, or Carriers, which can be considered mini-bosses found throughout the chapters.
These new enemies really make you adapt to each particular situation or die if taking too long. You can no longer stay in cover, because a Pouncer might flush you out after he gets bored shooting his quills.
The Snatcher can insta-down you with his tail and then abduct you in his chest cavity; pray that a teammate releases you in time. The armored monstrosity named as the Carrier doesn’t give a damn about your cover because he’s like a tank, he can slowly advance to your position without a problem, being vulnerable only when he opens his chest plates to fire projectiles.
While it lacks many of the jaw-dropping moments found in other Gears of War titles, you can say that the story is more family related instead of the classic end of the world scenario, and it does have the occasional jokes throughout the campaign. My favorite moment was probably when you pilot giant mechs and nothing can stand in your way (Titanfall 2, anyone?).
But the story is far from perfect and it often leaves you with more questions than answers. At the end of the singleplayer campaign you have the feeling that this is the first game from a new Gears of War trilogy.
The length of the story is pretty decent, clocking just past 8 hours. There is also a replay value, not only due to the dozens of collectibles that you can find, but also because of the different levels of difficulty. I can assure you that each level of difficulty will feel different. On casual, I could stand toe-to-toe with a DR-1 and barely get a scratch, whereas on hardcore even the little Juvies posed a threat if left unchecked.
Moreover, you can play the campaign in co-op with a partner in split-screen or over the network. Too bad the campaign was designed for only two co-op partners instead of four.
However, the game truly shines in its other modes, Versus (competitive multiplayer) and Horde (cooperative multiplayer), which refine on the classic Gears of War formula. While I didn’t have the chance to test all Versus modes, I played a fair share of multiplayer matches.
The standard Gears of War Versus modes like Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Warzone, and Execution are back and they look and feel better than ever in 60 fps.
But the main innovation where The Coalition tried something that succeeded are the new modes, specifically Dodgeball, Arms Race, and Escalation.
In Dodgeball, you can respawn only if your team killed a member of the opposing team, meaning the tides of the battle can quickly change in a round.
Arms Race is similar to Call of Duty’s Gun Game. Each team starts with the same weapon and after 3 kills the teams switch weapons. Escalation is also round based. The objective is to capture and hold three different zones; if you capture all three zones at once you win the round instantly.
Horde 3.0 – as it’s now dubbed – received a big overhaul in Gears of War 4. In Horde mode, you fight for survival against increasingly difficult waves of enemies with up to four other co-op players.
Although you manage to get a sneak peak of the Horde mode during some of the chapters in the singleplayer campaign, it’s nothing compared to the real deal.
In the new Horde mode you have a Fabricator, which is a device used to build fortifications and weapons alike. You start the game by placing the Fabricator in an easily defensible position and then you begin to build fortifications around it.
The Fabricator runs on power that is depleted when you or your team members buy something. Killing an enemy earns power that can be turned in at the Fabricator between waves or whenever is safe.
Classes were introduced in this iteration of Horde, and can be game changing if played wisely. For example, Engineers can repair fortifications, while Scouts can go across the battlefield to collect power from dead enemies.
You can outfit a class with Horde specific skill cards and the higher your level, the more slots you open to attach cards. You can also use bounty cards that require you to complete specific tasks during a match in order to receive XP or credits (bounties can also be used in Versus mode).
The specific improvements and additions to the multiplayer and the decision to bump-up the frame rate to 60 frames per second – compared to the campaign’s 30 fps – make the multiplayer in Gears of War 4 the best in the series.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the game is “cross-play”, meaning you can play in co-op with PC players. The same thing does not apply to the competitive modes of the game, where a mouse and a keyboard can give you an edge.
Now to the thing(s) I don’t like. I don’t like the microtransactions that were introduced in Gears of War 4, which have become common in many recent video games, a practice that I don’t condone.
Basically, the in-game store is selling you packs that include mostly customization items, which don’t affect the competitive aspect of the game. However, there are skills and bounties inside the packs which can help you progress faster or even give you an edge in Horde mode.
But that’s not the problem. Although you are not forced to buy the packs with real money – you can use in-game currency – you have to grind a lot to afford even the basic packs. And I mean A LOT!
And let’s not talk about the prices. An Ultimate Airdrop which consists of 100 different packs (25 of each type) can cost you a whopping $99!
I know that you have a business to run, but after asking the full price for the game and then releasing a Season Pass that costs nearly the same price – if purchased separately – don’t expect us to put even more money in your pockets. Although they say the DLC maps will be free for all… while playing online that is.
In our country, we have a saying: “It’s not stupid the person who asks [for money], but the one who gives them.”
I rarely encountered any technical bugs, so I can safely say that you won’t be annoyed by anything while playing the game – except for those guys that use Gnashers in multiplayer. Have I ever mentioned them?
Should you buy the game now?
Most likely, if you’re into cover-based third-person shooters and you want some multiplayer action. If you’re getting it just for the story you can wait for a price drop, JD’s not going anywhere. But definitely give it a try, and you won’t be left with a sour taste in your mouth like other recent games might have done to you.
When I finished Gears of War 4’s campaign I was standing at my desk asking if that’s all of it. While it can be lacking at times, I immediately jumped in for another round. In fact, I might do the same once more with a co-op partner, but then again, Horde mode or even Versus seem more appealing to me after I gave them a spin.
Disclaimer: We have reviewed the game on a Halo 5 Xbox One console (because why not?). Our review is not endorsed by Microsoft and The Coalition, and we didn’t receive a free copy to review this title. We have purchased the game at launch, just like everyone else.