For me, Gears of War has always been the Fast and the Furious of video games. I’ll admit at first I wasn’t on board with them, but they’re franchises I’ve grown to love. Going into either you know exactly what you’ll get – a swathe of action packed moments, some oh-so corny but oh-so good one liners and a dash of emotion to keep you involved past the gore. It’s safe to say The Coalition have returned to form with Gears of War 4, managing to successfully live up to the legacy Epic Games left with the original trilogy.
Twenty-five years after the events of Gears 3, you’re put in the shoes of Marcus Fenix’s son J.D Fenix and his Outcast buddies, Kait and Delmont. This comes after a very welcome refresher on the franchise lore, a twenty minute prologue that teaches you the basis of the game as COG soldiers in the heart of the series’ pivotal moments. The world is ravaged after the destruction of the swarm, with humans stuck under either martial COG law or surviving in pockets outside COG territory.The core campaign starts off slower than I anticipated, giving you almost two whole acts to get to know the new cast and the world as it is now. The opening mission, a raid on an under construction COG outpost by the team for resources, does a great job of setting up the personalities of the team. I found them rather likeable – despite not being the most original character types their voice talent did a stellar job shaping their believability and banter.
As the five act narrative ramps up you’re thrown into a more typical Gears of War affair, with act three sitting as the pinnacle of the game. The smattering of horde style encounters with engaging environments and enemy encounters is hard to beat, even as the gore and explosions continue to unfold. Be it diving into a swarm nest, ascending a mountain top museum or an explosive motorbike pursuit, Gears of War 4 is always a thrill ride. This is all without mentioning old man Marcus, who manages to steal the spotlight on multiple occasions throughout, carving up foes and barking one liners.Once again the emotional hooks are there too, hoping to elicit some nostalgia and feeling amongst the guns and chainsaws. It was nice to get a few quiet moments with the young trio, walking in the footsteps of the conflict before their time and reflecting on some of their own losses throughout. Despite the campaign only lasting around eight to nine hours on normal, it’s a vastly entertaining ride. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to experience the coop narrative, but I suspect that many of my favourite chapters would be a blast with a few friends on replay.
While The Coalition haven’t strayed much from the formula laid out by Epic before them, Gears 4 does play very well. It’s a tight third person cover shooter that just feels good to play. Dashing between cover, kicking and stomping enemy robots and swarm and popping heads doesn’t really get old, especially with some excellent backdrops. Each location in the game is crisp and sets up a mood appropriate for the encounter. It’s a world torn apart and the savagery in locale, enemy and soldier all mirror this.The only lacklustre part of the experience comes in the form of the game’s melee system. You can now pull enemies over cover and execute them with your combat knife – great fun when it works. That and bashing away close enemies or attempting to land a chainsaw didn’t end up working a little too often. Unfair deaths after an enemy somehow lands a melee on you after an unsuccessful chainsaw is never fun.
After you’re done with the campaign the game offers two experiences that should immediately be familiar to series veterans. The influential horde and multiplayer modes have a wealth of content on their own, giving players plenty of maps and gear to dive in and enjoy.Horde 3.0 centres around the defence of a ‘fabricator’, the device you’ll deposit collected scrap into in order to fortify your position and keep your squad armed up through the rounds. You’re also able to level and upgrade the different specialisations you can play as with xp gained, and customise them thanks to the card and loot box system.
Loot boxes are purchasable with real life currency and in game earned currency, raising the stakes for rarer drops the more costly they are. Everyone with the basic edition will get six to get them started, with more dropping for season pass owners. After opening a bunch myself I have quite a few to use throughout horde and multiplayer, offering anything customisation options like skins and characters to class buffs and XP/currency bounties. They’re definitely enjoyable to open and don’t seem too overpowered in their current state, not offering guaranteed advantages for money.Once you’re kitted up and in a match of horde 3.0 it’s a fairly similar affair, with teamwork and strategic currency management delivering round winning results. The maps all offer new strategies and layouts to keep it interesting, and some of the boss waves provide quite a serious challenge. Unfortunately since the servers were not yet live my time with horde 3.0 was somewhat limited, so the review will be updated to reflect any great successes or failures here as the game launches.
I was in a similar scenario with multiplayer, only able to try out a few quick matches and enjoy the maps I was shown there. There’s plenty of new modes and a wealth of maps to keep players invested, and I look forward to delving into these more as the public servers go live.
Gears of War 4 is a triumphant success on the part of The Coalition. It feels like a Gears game at heart, with a great new cast and strong links to its predecessors. While some of the story is a little slower or shorter than the originals, it more than makes up for this with how much horde 3.0 and multiplayer modes add. This is the next generation of Gears of War, and good lord does it feel great.
Developer: The Coalition
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platforms: PC, Xbox One (reviewed)
A review copy was provided by the publisher.