Gears of War 4 Review
"Like Old Times"
Gears of War 4 opens strong and proud taking us through the events that have left the world of Sera in desolation. It provides not only a glimpse into key moments of the previous games, but also catches new comers up on the series. The story then takes place a generation later where the world has recovered after the devastation of the Locust War. Gone are the destroyed cities riddled with conflict from what Gears soldiers remained. These sites are now flourishing with trees of bright colors, glistening sidewalks and a clean bright future. The story picks up with JD, the son of Marcus Fenix as he sets out in order to grab a fabricator device for the new outsider settlement he's a part of. JD embarks on this quick mission with his close friends Kait and his great third wheel pal Del that mostly sits in the background. As with most Gears adventures things don't go well and they have to deal with the COG's new robotic army. Things countinue to get worse and JD decides it's time to take his new friends home and meet up with the old man. This is actually where things pick up considerably as Marcus is almost more entertaining as a supporting member of the squad and his family banter was hilarious.
The campaign also features a much greater length than previous Gears titles and I was impressed with how invested I had become feeling that it almost ended abruptly. This was most definitely necessary in not only universe building towards the next generation of Gears, but also setting up what I imagine is another fully focused trilogy. At first I wasn't too sure for the direction of the campaign with the first act largely revolving around the new robotic army. Things quickly improved once we went back in familiar grounds facing off against the new Swarm threat. These battles were usually forged in creepy spaces filled with dark or even disgusting environments which felt just as though it was a direct part of the first Gears of War. It did shine brightly as the campaign progressed and I found that the story only grew stronger bringing in friendly faces while also continuously catching us up on what's happened. It also carried many of the previous entries' staple aspects such as splitting up the team though it did so in new creative ways and in featuring destruction within the environments.
There were also new hazards in the world of Sera after the removal of the Imulsion, causing freak storms that impact combat or even strikes of almost lightning pounding the ground during certain scenarios. These moments were absolutely crazy and it was a whole new world when they would strike during combat. Most of what evolved during the campaign felt right and they did a great job in capturing the essence of what made the first Gears of War trilogy so strong. I did however have one issue with Horde integration being put in campaign as they felt awkward instead of enhancing and I wasn't a fan of the Stalker enemy as those moments felt as though they were a part of a separate mode thrown into the story.
This is without a doubt the most refined Gears of War multiplayer experience taking the core modes from the franchise while moving forward with some fun new ones. Returning modes include Team Deathmatch; Guardian, Warzone, Execution and King of the Hill which should all be instantly recognizable for veteran players. Sadly Blitz didn't make it into the new game which is disappointing considering that was supposed to be their definitive ESports mode and one of my favorites. Instead we have a more tactical approach to the ESports side of Gears with Escalation. In this mode teams battle for three strategic ring points on the map in order to hold them for the most points or gain an instant win by capturing all three for a few seconds. This mode is vicious, tactical and intense being a first to seven wins. What also makes this mode interesting is that the losing team picks a new power weapon to appear on the map since none are there at the start, this also gets reset at the halfway point. Other new modes include Arms Race where you need a few kills as a team with a weapon to move forward and Dodgeball where it plays like Dodgeball where when one play gets eliminated from the other team, one of your players can come back.
Gears 4 is loaded with ten maps all of which are brand new aside from the remake of Gridlock which is a must have for any of the Gears games. Each map feels distinct with great lane paths though they do feel a bit more claustrophobic in comparison to past games being more focused than players might be used to. I also didn't particularly find any to really stand out aside from Foundation and Reclaimed though after a few months of play some more will most likely become favorites. Aside from all the core modes having a playlist there's also a Coop Versus Mode where you and a team can take on enemy bots at various difficulty levels.
Combat itself in the Gears 4 multiplayer is also much more of a balanced game than ever before. This being in the vast range of weapons out there to fight with and that the maps are designed slightly to take away from pure Gnasher combat. Not to say that the Gnasher isn't the primary weapon as it should be in Gears, it's just that there are more opportunities to use other weapons. This makes it so that not every combat scenario requires the immediate switch to your shotgun. Executions are back in full steam bringing a wide range of ways to absolutely devastate downed enemies or just meat shield them if you'd like and this option is available in all modes. I found this multiplayer to be not only competitive, but the next logical step for the Gears franchise as it takes strides forward while respecting the versus from past entries.
All larger games have mini card portions to them and while I don't care for it, it's come to Gears. Similar to Halo 5: Guardians you'll be unlocking these card packs that will give you random unlocks. These packs are purchased from the store with credits which seem to take awhile to accumulate and then you can buy from the selection available. When you open these packs they'll give you a series of cards that can be used in all aspects of the game. The first area is for Versus/Horde with Bounties, these are bonus cards you can set before matches that give you a challenge of sorts during that next game. When completed the cards will either give you points or credits at least at launch, I expect some more variation to appear from these over time. The next area these cards feed into is the customization section of Gears which is deep.
Traditionally you can set your gun skins for the primary weapons though in Gears 4 every single weapon in each area of the game can be personalized. You get to customize not only your characters skin for all multiplayer modes, but also every single weapon skin for each of the guns in the game. There are of course tons of these to be found that can also be scrapped for points just like all cards in order to build new ones which is somewhat interesting. The final customization area is for emblems and now your name can have a fancy background image. Horde mode also has a second set of cards to it with class based cards. In Horde there are a number of classes available and cards to choose which grant bonuses. These cards can also be upgraded by collecting multiples of the same card, with an example being two 20% health bonuses together will give you a 40% bonus card.
Horde returns once again to no surprise bringing fifty challenging waves of death and combat as a squad of five plays tower defense against the various campaign enemies. That's right, not only are you battling against swarms of robots there are swarms of the Swarm mixed in as well. You can choose any of the maps present in the game to play Horde on as is tradition and honestly it plays about the same as in Gears of War 3. To start you grab the Fabricator and drag that to where ever to set it as your home base to begin entrenching the area. Team work is also essential now based on the selection of starting classes and the pooling system for resources.
Luckily there are options for point depositing as it would have been silly to have a shared resource pool though the choice is nice. There are five classes available with Soldier; Sniper, Engineer, Heavy and Scout that each bring a unique skill into play. For example the engineer has a torch to fix your defenses though these abilities are just mostly start heavy. You can buy some extra items to gain certain class abilities over time in the Horde match and these classes mostly just give you the start options along with provide a bonus card from that class. While I was initially worried about class selection for Horde the new class options and general tweaks do fit well into the mode. A final mention will be that boss waves do return with crazy creatures to battle and so do certain bonus round challenges for special box gifts if completed.
The fourth Gears pulls of an unimaginable feat by bridging together the buttery smooth frame rate of the past Ultimate Edition remaster (multiplayer 60fps) while bringing forward the enhancements from Gears of War 3. It feels right capturing the essence of the franchise where veterans will feel right at home while also making the game accessible for new players. While it feels similar at its core it does aim to increase the number of weapons in creative ways that only Gears can. These new weapons might feel foreign at first, but they fit well into the world having a strong placement in the roster. The game also not only plays well, it's absolutely beautiful with so many moments of absolute wonder. The world is filled with elements of destruction mixed with area of elegance as it shined with a brighter side for Gears. As with past Gears titles anything can be played in local two player whether that's on Xbox One or Windows 10. You can also do cross-play with both platforms for campaign or private multiplayer though sadly competitive gameplay is separate between the two.