Gears of War 4 is out right now for Xbox One and PC, and it’s safe to say that it’s getting a majorly positive buzz. Heck, Xbox Singapore even showcased it and gave gamers early access to it at this year’s GameStart Asia video game expo, giant signage and all.
So does it really deserve all of its acclaim, or is this a case of premature hype clouding one’s judgment? After extensive playthroughs on its campaign and Horde mode (with a bevy of versus multiplayer to boot), we’re confident to say that it’s the former. This new chapter in the Gears universe takes some old things, mixed in some new features, and blend it together to make sure both old and new fans pay attention.
Compared to Halo 5 where it tried to be new and failed despite a positive reception (payable Requisition Points & misleading campaign, anyone?), Gears 4 hit all the right notes from a gameplay and design standpoint. It also did not falsely advertise itself by being more than what it is: a gore-laden shootfest with some semblance of a story shoved in.
Naturally, the good and the bad of things apply to the latest game from Microsoft and developer The Coalition. So let’s start with the good.
Same Good Controls With Some Tweaks
Great news for Gears fans: the controls and feel are about the same as you expect it to be. You move, shoot, and take cover all velcro-like to avoid getting hurt, You roadie run to cover more ground too. Also, you get two main weapons, a side weapon, and grenades to fight with. Gears is always a team-based game, thus the controls and method of play require you to work together to cover each other’s backs.
There are a couple of new moves that are cover-based. You can yank enemies out of cover as long as they’re just opposite from where you’re crouching at. You can also dropkick enemies when leaping forward from cover. Both of these moves will stun your opponent, which makes them ripe for executing with the Y button. This makes traversing an essential option for attacking: if you have a couple of camping opponents you can’t flush out and you’re out of grenades, you can just use these moves.
For better or worse, your characters aren’t as agile as the 2016 version of Doom Guy and most of the cast from Overwatch. PC shooter fans used to blazing fast gameplay may need to get used to how Gears 4’s less nimble action.
Great Set Pieces In Campaign Mode
Gears 4 brings in a number of creative stages and scenarios in its campaign. First off, you have exploding pods, essentially gooey rectangular things that are laid out throughout most of the stage. They can serve as cover if you use it right: you see one or two in the ceiling, you can shoot them to make them drop for additional defense.
However, they explode after a few seconds and they might contain a small melee annoyance called a Juvie. In a combat arena filled with gunfire, explosive rockets and torque bow arrows, and an instant-kill melee courtesy of the game’s signature Lancer, an extra Juvie is salt on a growing wound. You need to move back and forth across the combat zone so that you don’t get caught between sharp claws and bullets.
The theme of temporary cover also takes place at one combat area involving retractable chains. These giant metal constructs will smash anything and anyone in its way when it drops from the top. However, they can be used as temporary cover for a few seconds. This section requires players to alternate between the left and right side of the area to kill off enemies here. You might be tempted to press forward and bait enemies to come at you. But if you’re standing within drop range of the chains and it drops, it’s game over.
You will also be fighting outside quite a bit too; that’s where the Wind Flares hazard come into play. Strong winds affect trajectories of certain weapons. While Lancers and Hammerburst rifle bullets are fine, weapons like Grenades will fly leftwards and keep rolling once thrown. If you’re creative, you can just throw one to your front and have the wind blow towards enemies flanking your sides to dish out an explosive surprise.
One piece of advice: please play the Campaign Mode on Hardcore Mode with a friend (the second highest difficulty in the game). Normal mode can be a breeze if both of you are experienced with shooters; it wouldn’t be a Gears game without the challenge.
Them Sweet Lovely Tools Of Death
Gears 4’s penchant for bringing in new toys and mechanics also impresses. The rocket launchers dropped by a flying Deebee Sentinel fire semi-tracking missiles. The Buzzkill shoots ricocheting heavy sawblades that gibs most targets point-blank and also allows you to pull off trick shots like shooting at the ceiling to hit foes.
One potential MVP in multiplayer is the Dropshot. This new gun shoots an aerial mine that floats over the battlefield as long as you hold the trigger. It will drill downwards once you let go, immediately blowing up anything within range. This bad boy is effective at flushing out campers but we haven’t mastered it yet since we’re comfortable with our shotguns and Lancers,. Make sure you’re in a team with someone who knows how to use this gun effectively if you’re aiming for high winning streaks.
While we’re on shotguns, the Overkill is a shotgun user’s wet dream: you can unload as many shots as possible at one go, but the kickback is insane. In other words, aim at the legs before you unleash the fury.
We haven’t even gotten to the new machines you get to pilot in the game’s campaign mode. Without saying too much, you’ll have destructive fun on a mecha scale.
New Creatures That Changes The Gears Battle Dynamic
Gears 4 introduces the Swarm, who is almost similar to the Locust army. With the exception of two units: the Pouncers and the Snatchers.
The Pouncers are dog-like monstrosities that leap from cover to cover shooting quills at its enemies. When close to one, it will jump and pin down an unwary soldier. While this special attack is telegraphed blatantly when fighting it solo, it can be easy to miss when you have three of them coming in alongside Swarm drones and Juvies (this game’s version of the Locust’s Wretches).
You also have to contend yourself with COG robot units called Deebees. These automatons trade in their agility for a tougher body. It’ll take more bullets than usual to down one COG Peacekeeper. The bigger ones with the Overkill Shotguns will bumrush you and explode if they’re at 1/3 health.
The Deebees might be a handful, but for the most parts, you will remember the Pouncers and Snatchers. They will mess you up bad, especially in the hardest settings in a Horde Mode match.
That’s not factoring in the flying Sentinels and Guardians that are equipped with frontal shields and miniguns/rocket launchers and orb-like Seekers that will explode upon contact and cover its blast radius with an electric field.
Horde Mode 3.0 Is Really Fun
This new version of a Gears staple is fun. Instead of past entries, you now have a 3D printer-type object called the Fabricator. You place it at any spot on a given map before you start a Horde match, then you go about creating your defenses.
Killing enemies will net you points which you can cash in with the Fabricator to spawn additional defenses and arms. There is also a class system, but it’s done up with less restrictions on what you carry and adds bigger bonuses depending on your playstyle. It’s a rollicking good time just going through waves after waves of Swarms and Deebee enemies. This is especially so when the game decides to just throw kitchen sinks at you at every 10th wave.
Don’t get us wrong: the rest of the online versus modes are good and all; you can just have a few minutes’ worth of killing with the Social Quickplay option or go deep with the rest like Dodgeball. Not to mention, you can also arrange private matches and have LAN play too. But if there’s one defining online component of a Gears game, it’s always its take on Horde mode. And by golly it keeps getting better every time.
Local Split Screen
Hey devs, The Coalition has this long-forgotten option for people who just want to play a shooter together in the same room without an additional machine. And guess what? The game runs fine. Please bring this back in your future games: stop it with the lame “but it’s technologically unsound and taxing” excuses.
That Main Menu Theme…
It’s called “A Nightmare Reborn”; you are welcome. While the soundtrack done by Ramin “Game of Thrones” Djawadi is serviceable, we keep humming that particular tune. It’s got a foreboding and dread-inducing melody to it.
With the good comes the bad; here’s what Gears 4 did wrong.
There Is No Standout Villain
Beyond a great boss battle with a sorely-missed enemy type, there is no iconic ugly evil face to label this Gears of War with. Gears 1 had the terrifying and imposing General RAAM, and Gears 3 had Queen Myrrah and her pet bee Locust thingy.
Here, we have some big Swarm Scion guy with a missing hand who can ride a Swarmak (which is a palette swap of a Gears’ classic kaiju) and speak English. Sure, the last kaiju boss fight was kinda fun, but we don’t get the tension and climactic showdown with a highlighted adversary like in the first and third game.
Pretty Bad Dialogue
We’re not expecting the Gears franchise to go beyond its bromances and male testosterone-filled escapades and writing. But when you start hyping your game to have a deeper emotional weight with its new storyline, I expect more conversations to be more than just different iterations of “let’s do this, brah”. Gears 4 has its tender moments, but most of the time you just want the banter to end quick and get on with the shooting.
Still, good job casting JD Fenix. He’s cocksure without being overbearing and coming off as a poor man’s Nathan Fillion.
The Overall Campaign Can Drag….
All those cool things we mentioned above with the Snatchers and the pod fights/Wind Flare bits? They’re all stretched out with a few by-the-numbers fights with the Deebees and the Swarm. They’re still challenging, but they can feel like padding before the good stuff kicks in.
…And It Abruptly Ends
There is a resolution at the end of Gears 4’s campaign, and you do get to see some old friends from the series. But the transition’s handled poorly; like it shows this one big twist and then the credits pop up. Yes, we are going to see more Gears sequel, but can the developers at least make it less obvious?
Should You Gear Up?
So is The Coalition’s first-ever game worth buying an Xbox One for? We’d have to say yes, yes it is. It’s great for shooter fans who dig multiplayer, its campaign has more high points than low, and it looks gorgeous.
We also respect the fact that The Coalition is balancing the old and new here: it’s keeping the original formula intact to prove that it can handle future Gears games while also adding in cool things like the Wind Flare stages and new enemy types.
Best of all, there’s local split-screen which hearkens back to the days when people with Xbox 360s were playing this game with another friend or significant other on one machine. Ahh, the good old days…
So is there anything you want in a future Gears of War game? Do you think this fifth game in the series does the series justice? Let us know on the comments section below.