Gears of War 4 Review
With a new studio taking the captain’s chair for one of the most acclaimed video game trilogies of all time, Gears of War 4 is the first of undoubtably many Gears of War titles to be released within the coming years. But while it markets itself as a supposed, new era for the Gears of War franchise, it doesn’t do enough of what it needed to do to earn that title. Though, it does manage to stay true to its roots while giving us neat additions to familiar modes and play styles. So what we are left with is a familiar yet satisfying entry in this long running series.
The campaign is as bombastic and adrenaline fueled as we’ve all come to expect from a Gears game. Taking place twenty-five years after the events of Gears of War 3, the game puts you in the shoes of JD Fenix, Marcus Fenix’s estranged son, and best friend Kait Diaz in co-op. The story does a good job of rekindling the nostalgic feeling of the original, with references to past events and some fun cameos from fan favorite characters. But the story’s overly familiar narrative structure is where it falters. The story revolves around the appearance of a new, mysterious enemy, a story that takes place over one long day, a ragtag group of soldiers that are the only hope for humanity, with one of the main characters searching for a missing loved one, much like the original. Character motivations are never explained, seeming lost in the endless stream of bullets and revved up chainsaws, making the eight hour campaign shockingly predictable. And while the ending is undeniably epic, it prematurely cuts out to an unearned cliff hanger ending.
The gameplay is everything that we’ve come to know and love from this series. The cover based shooting system has mostly remained unchanged, but with a few additions. For example, if an enemy is on the other side of your cover, you can vault over the cover and stun your enemy, allowing for an easier kill. The new weapons also provide new and interesting ways to dispatch your enemies. The Embar is a no scope sniper that has to be fired at the right moment for maximum damage, otherwise it will jam. The Buzzkill is a heavy duty buzzsaw launcher that can ricochet off walls, and insta kill anyone it comes into contact with. the Overkill provides a short ranged, double barrel shotgun-esque alternative to the traditional Gnasher. Each of these new weapons of mass destruction adds much more variety to the gameplay and allow players to dismember their enemies in new and interesting ways.
One of the main aspects of the Gears of War series has been its graphical fidelity, especially when the original was released a full decade ago. Gears of War 4 is no exception. The environments are varied and breathtaking, ranging from a large, mostly abandoned estate, to a cramped ghost town. Facial animations and lip syncing are spot on, making every emotion feel more realistic than ever before. It also helps that the game maintains a steady sixty FPS the whole way through.
While the new antagonists feel a little too similar to the Locust in many ways, they do manage to find ways to differentiate themselves from their Locust predecessors, requiring new strategies to take them down. On the Deebee’s side, the Heavy can jump jet over cover and self destruct when they have taken enough damage. Guardians are flying enemies with a front shield who’s best flanked from multiple angles instead of attacked head on. On the Swarm’s side, the Pouncer fires deadly thorns from its tail, and will constantly charge your position, making it so you can’t stay in one place for too long. The Snatcher enemy type can down you in one hit if you get too close and if you are down, it will grab you and shove you into its stomach, requiring your teammates to focus their fire on its gut to free you. Plus, the enemy A.I. is relentless and never let up in firefights. They’ll constantly throw grenades at you, will charge your position if they are close enough, and are dangerous in close quarters combat. While at times it can get overbearing, for the most part, the enemies provide the right amount of challenge without it becoming frustratingly difficult.
Packaged alongside the campaign is a meaty multiplayer mode that adds new modes, maps, and ways to annihilate random strangers online in the goriest way possible. Standout modes, like Dodgeball, where if you get a kill, one of your teammates comes back to life, or Arms Race, where you have to three kills with every weapon in order to emerge victorious, add to the overall sense of fun that the multiplayer has always been about. But one of the main problems I have with multiplayer are the incredibly over powered weapons, specifically the Gnasher shotgun. Every match seemed to devolve into running up to a someone’s cover and blowing them away in one hit with the Gnasher. It isn’t too much of a problem, mainly because it’s still fun and does require you to think on your feet and always be ready for anything, but I felt that it need to be addressed. So, for the most part, the multiplayer is still as enjoyably chaotic as it has ever been.
The classic five player Horde mode makes its glorious return after being somewhat absent in Gears of War:Judgement, and it’s back with a vengeance. The tower defense aspect that was introduced in Gears 3 has been drastically improved, adding new traps, such as the decoy trap, and the ability to repair and upgrade your defences. The added point based system is also one of the modes more significant additions. Whenever you kill an enemy, they leave behind points that can be deposited into the fabricator, a sort of mini armory where you can get new traps and defenses to prepare for the next wave. Though, the new class system is Horde modes best addition by far, as it provides an added emphasis on cooperation and differentiates you from the rest of your group. For example, the Heavy is given the hardest hitting weapons in the game and focuses on doing the most damage on the battlefield, while the engineer class is given the weakest weapons but can repair damaged defenses without having to pay a fee. Horde mode is undoubtedly Gears of War 4’s best mode and hours of replayability are just waiting to be had from it.
It feels good to have Gears back, especially after the underwhelming Gears of War:Judgement made me lose some faith in the franchise. However, Gears of War 4 does everything that it needed to do, but not much else. While the campaign could have been better, but the Multiplayer and Horde modes added content and hours of replayability potential make up for it, even if they feel more like improvements than full blown evolutions. But it does suffer based on the fact that it is too similar to the games that preceded it, never taking enough risks to earn the title of “the next generation”. While it does feel like business as usual for the franchise, it does do enough to justify its existence and I can’t wait to see what happens next.