Written by Derrick Smith
Microsoft Studios and developer The Coalition have finally brought the famed Gears of War series to the Xbox One, in the form of Gears of War 4. This time around, while the games main playable character has changed, The Coalition makes you feel right home, offering an action-packed 3rd person shooter experience forcing player to pull up their boot straps and enjoy the ride.
While the game can seem somewhat linear at times, the well-balanced cast of characters, enemy types, entertaining dialogue and aggressively brutal combat in both single-player and multiplayer, among the highly detailed environments, elevates Gears of War 4 as a solid shooter for your Xbox One and Windows 10.
Gears of War 4 takes place 25 years after the Imulsion Countermeasure weapon destroyed all Imulsion on the planet of Sera, taking the Locust and the Lambent with it. Unfortunately, the aftermath has forced mankind to adapt to new ways of survival. The countermeasure against the series formidable enemy also brought about the advent of powerful ‘Windflares’. Known for their destructive winds and death dealing electrical currents, these windflares form devastating windstorms that are randomly formed across the planet.
To prevent the population from declining, the reformed Coalition of Ordered Governments walled-off cities to protect the citizens from the dangers outside. To prevent any travel outside the city walls, The COG declared martial law. Some former COG operatives however, rejected this new form of order forming a group called the ‘Outsiders’ that live outside of the COG jurisdiction, conducting raids on COG territory to gather resources, and here is where our young new protagonist and his band of outsiders begin their adventure.
However, prior to beginning this epic new direction of the series, players are thrown into a series of gameplay sequences, which chronicles past events. Leading up to the present day, this brief gameplay overview prologue is a nice slice of Gears of War pie, giving newcomers a short but sweet taste of past exploits.
No longer is Marcus Fenix the star of the show as James JD Fenix attempts to fills his fathers shoes as the leader of the pack. Supporting JD are loyal friends Delmont ‘Del’ Walker and Kait Daiz. Based on the narrative, while Del has known JD seemingly since childhood or COG academy, the relationship with Kait appears to have been established when both JD and Del went AWOL from the COG establishment. Soon after finding shelter from Kait and her people.
From the outset, the combat is vintage Gears of War with improved and lighter controls with quick an intuitive maneuvering throughout. Seamlessly aligned with cinematic cut-scenes making for a beautiful showcase, the gameplay is disported through five acts, reinforcing an assortment of twenty-four chapters. You may not be as blown away by the games visuals as much as you were when we first saw the original Gears of War, however, Gears of War 4 is certainly hard not to look at as the overall presentation is pure eye-candy.
Character models and environments are visually stimulating, yet there are times when some details reveal muddy textured mapping when close-up angles are in full view. At the same time, the various enemy types still offer that overwhelming level of polish. Like never before, the world of Gears of War truly comes to life in this iteration as vegetation sways in the wind, physics effects are completely over-the-top and the enhanced modification of the ragdoll effects are a sight to see when taking out enemies during the atmospheric windflare encounters.
Now players are able to trade weapons with in-game squad mates by swapping out their weapons on the fly, which is a helpful and immersive new addition, coming in handy when you need to trade up for a better tool of destruction during those chaotic stand-offs. Simply aim your weapon at an ally and press the necessary option, and the trade is made.
Though 25 years have passed, many of our favorite Gears weapons like the classic Retro Lancer, Hammerburst and Custom Lancer (you know the one with the flesh ripping chainsaw) are still around and just as reliable as ever. Yet, new additions like the rapid firing Enforcer or Charge shot EMBAR among other new added tools keeps the trigger pull experience fresh.
As homage to the series popular horde mode, within the campaign J.D. and friends will be forced to wave the storm of incoming enemy forces. These horde-like encounters are instigated by the acquisition of fabricator boxes. Fabricators offer weapons, emplacement turrets and barriers, which are purchase items used to slow down incoming enemies forces. During these scenarios, enemy waves are on a counter which players can start at anytime. Of course making sure you have properly chosen where to place turrets and barriers leads to a higher percentage of success.
Thank God for Marcus Fenix
What is Gears of War without the storied Marcus Fenix. The Marcus Fenix nostalgia factor is quite immense, despite the inability to utilize the legendary soldier as the main playable character. Even as an older soldier, Marcus adds an impressive layer of combat authority with his bold way of expression. Marcus and his son J.D. or James as his father likes to call him, have an interesting relationship. One where the son, though he greatly respects his father, has a need of approval from dad. Marcus on the other hand reflects a strong will towards his son who he wants the best for despite his aggressive undertones.
What you have in this dynamic are two bull-headed men who are exactly the same, the main difference being a father who want his son to take heed to fatherly advice and be great in doing so, while the son wants his father to respect him as a valiant soldier and a man. Their relationship brings an entertaining mix to the action-packed experience.
With Marcus having a son the natural question would be who exactly is James mother? You will be glad to know that the game does give interesting clues to her background and occupation. We will leave that one for you to figure out.
Your main AI allies (Kait, Del and Marcus) are quite intelligent in how they engage the enemies, as well as come to your aid. Smart and active, your team pulls off impressive kill maneuvers while also never being too shy in expressing themselves about their exploits. Fully engaged in the experience as individuals, your allies will never aimlessly follow too close behind you into any room. Sometimes as a hint of where you should be heading your allies will tend to position themselves inline with the games objectives. Left-bumper also brings up your teammates and objective tracker locations, just in case you get turned around.
In Gears of War fashion all too often you can just about predict when most standoffs will occur, as level designs are littered with cover placements as indicators that enemies are near, and “what do you know, here they come” is sometimes the feeling. Sure, the yesteryear surprises of being overrun by hordes of enemies has lost some of its luster due to the games lack of new tricks, yet there is still so much fun to be had in the bullet exchange that runs alongside the appealing melee attacks and close-quarter combat. Speaking of melees, now players can leap over cover emplacements and grab enemies from out of cover and perform stylish melee takedowns that never get old. From ripping through the myriad of enemy type with the Custom Lancer, to running straight at enemies just before impaling them with the Retro Lancer, The Coalition holds no punches with this new group of COG’s who impressively hold their own against the games surprising mixture of threats.
As mentioned before many gameplay elements from the previous games are back, from how you utilize the directional pad to access your weapon options to taking cover to avoid damage and performing active reloads, fans of the series are in for a treat with a enough unique changes in the right spots. Gears of War 4 features four categories of weather, from heavy breeze (trees, leaves, dust kicking up) and grow into violent category 3 windstorms that can affect combat and weapon usage. From experience we would not consider it wise to toss frag grenades during windstom encounters.
While there is much within the Gears of War 4 affair to discuss, much of it should only be played and witnessed from direct involvement with the game. Too much intel could spoil some things.
As for the games open-ended conclusion, let just say I was a bit disappointed by the abrupt ending. While I was excited to continue playing, watching the credit roll felt premature and inconclusive. Maybe The Coalition is leaving room for a sequel would be a suitable hypothesis to consider.
Ultimately, Gears of War 4 is a fun action ride, mixing up the combat with new enemy types, as well as with old enemies of all shapes and sizes. Though Marcus is not the main protagonist this time around he definitely steals the show. His character voice acting is brilliant as always and his older presence as a former soldier turned handyman around the house persona, resonates well in combat. Assuming Marcus will get really pissed when the enemy starts destroying his tomatoes and his pick up truck is a safe bet, so be careful with his garden among other things.
In conclusion, Gears of War 4 is a solid addition to the series and one fans should appreciate. For maximum Gears of War 4 pleasure playing the game cooperatively is where the game shines, online or in couch co-op mode.