Please note: Due to the fact we had access to the game well before release date getting a multiplayer match was almost impossible. Therefore we have decided to do a single player portion review, with a multiplayer look coming in a week or so once we have had a good amount of time with crowded servers.
Gears of War 4 – Single Player Review
When the first Gears of War was released on the Xbox 360 it was something of a revolution. The cover mechanics, crouch running and meaty gunplay were a breath of fresh air in a world of FPS. In fact, it was so successful that variations of the Gears branded cover mechanic have appeared in just about every 3rd person shooter since. It won a legion of fans and as a result became a tentpole franchise in Microsoft’s IP library. Fast forward 10 years and there have been 2 sequels, a prequel and a HD remake of the original to appease fans but due to saturation or a changing audience it seemed some of the shine was lost from the franchise. Now we come to Gears of War 4 and with new characters, new enemies and some entertaining new gameplay features it may just be enough to put Gears back on top of the shooter pile.
The first thing I noticed was how good this game looked. It is simply put one of the best looking games on the Xbox One and on the PC things only got better. Character models are wonderfully detailed and nowhere near musclebound as the previous games. Don’t get me wrong these are fine examples of the human body they are just a little bit more realistically proportioned this time around. The real star of the looks department however, is the weather effects. Quite often during outdoor levels, I was confronted with a wind flare. These flares are more than their name implies, in fact, a better name for them would be swirling hell storm of lightning doom. Wind flares are simply stunning to watch and bring a wonderful contrast to the dark tones of the indoor levels.
The wind flares are more than just a sight to behold, they have serious gameplay ramifications as well. These flares can alter levels, destroy cover, redirect projectiles and even move playable characters. Fighting within one was one of my highlights as I could use the battlefield more effectively than in other areas. Destroying a wall and watching the rubble crush the surrounding enemies never grew old. The only annoying part of these storms were in small sections when lightning would strike the ground. These moments seemed to take skill out of the equation and added an element of blind luck to proceedings that served to frustrate me more than entertain me, especially as a lighting strike was an instant kill. Luckily these segments were tiny and didn’t last for long.
What I have always seen as Gears’ best feature is its wonderfully visceral combat and Gears 4 has kept that tradition alive. Cover based shooters are pretty common these days but I still think that Gears does that mechanic better than anyone else. Sprinting to and snapping into cover as enemies fire on your position is as satisfying as ever and getting that perfect active reload always feels like an achievement. Some new options have been introduced into Gears 4 that add a little spice to proceedings. I could reach over cover and drag an enemy back towards me, finishing him with a knife to the face. I could also leap over cover, kicking any enemies in the way, leaving them open a quick kill. These two mechanics add a fair bit of strategy to the gameplay and encouraged me to push forward to get some quick kills as opposed to hanging at the back wasting ammo taking potshots. Teammate AI also feels like it has had a spit shine as in most cases they seem to be quite competent companions, more than capable of taking out a few enemies on their own.
Speaking of enemies, Gears 4 features two new breeds of enemies, the Swarm and the DBs. The DBs are basically just different variations of robots. They tend to wander around levels and stay out of cover, absorbing a huge amount of bullets in the process. There are few different variations including a bomb type that rushed me and exploded when it came in contact and a flying type that had hefty shields and missiles. The Swarm are a more traditional Gears enemy that has a monstrous appearance and uses cover well. There were multiple different types of Swarm enemies that ranged from leaping monsters that swallow players to humanoid figures that had no hesitation in chainsawing me before I could chainsaw them. In all, I found a wonderful variety of opposition that forced me to alter my tactics and adapt to different situations. Special mention must be made for the boss battles as in my mind they are easily the best the franchise has seen.
I am not going to go too deeply into the story as I think it is certainly worth discovering on your own but I will say it is sufficiently entertaining for the duration of the game. The story wraps up in a satisfying way while at the same time pointing to the inevitable sequel and it rarely journies into boring territory during the game. Make no mistake this isn’t an award winning tale but it is more than most games of this nature offer and will certainly keep most players happy. It is worth noting that the tone is noticeably lighter than previous Gears games. There seems to be much more quippy banter between the lead characters as well as more natural interactions with other NPCs. This makes sense considering the game is set 25 years after the events of Gears 3 and the main two characters have only known peace throughout their lives as opposed to Marcus and Dom who we first met after they have been fighting wars for most of their adult lives. Perhaps my only major gripe with the game is actually the length. It felt probably 1-2 hours shorter than other Gears games and I felt a little disappointed that it was all over so quickly. Considering the generous multiplayer component, including my favourite Horde mode, complaints of the story being short may be a little bit self-intitled.
With Gears 4, developers The Coalition have proven that they are perfectly able to continue the Gears franchise into the Xbox One era. They have delivered a stunning and entertaining entry in the well-loved series that will make fans smile from ear to ear. It isn’t likely to win them new fans or convince people that write the Gears games off as shallow and violent to pick it up but it will make shooter fans everywhere happy. So if you have the urge to duck walk, hide behind cover while lobbing grenades or jam a chainsaw into an attacking monster your needs are more than met with Gears of War 4.