Seriously 4.0: A Gears of War 4 Preview
It’s been years since e-day, in fact it almost feels like decades now. Gears of War, much like its protagonists are a thing of the past, a distant memory, or at least they were. It had been at least 5 years since the last numbered instalment of Microsoft’s hit franchise and it seemed about time that Gears of War should roadie run right back in to our lives with a beta for Gears of War 4’s online multiplayer. Although this run was brought with the swagger of a brand new pair of kicks and a slightly shinier chainsaw courtesy of The Coalition.
In terms of games developers The Coalition is as new as they come, having no previous accolades to tout (beyond the GoW remaster) as they take on a flagship franchise on Microsoft’s behalf. That’s not to say that Microsoft don’t have faith in the plucky developers, after all they have been around for several years under many guises – the last of which being Black Tusk Studios – and have now enlisted the help of Gears series veteran Rod Fergusson. But if the beta is even a modicum of what the final product will offer it is clear that not only do The Coalition know what’s expected of them in Gears of War 4, they know how to progress the series in new and exciting ways while maintaining a loyal fan base.
The first noticeable change in Gears of War 4 is the colour. Once ridiculed for its grimdark aesthetic and more shades of brown and grey than E L James could imagine, Gears of War 4 now boasts an array of striking colours that fit right in to the visual stylings of the world. Even though there is a noticeable change in the colour scheme from the get go, the artistic direction of the series is still maintained. The CoG outfits pop a little more, and the locust have a wee tint of red going on – admittedly they kind of look like crustaceans on steroids now, but they still look pretty gnarly. Aside from a few frame skips, possibly due to a little bit of lag, Gears of War 4 felt incredibly smooth as you ran through the dilapidated wastes of Dam, Harbor, and Foundation. Each of these maps, although drawing on very similar connotations, have a nice feel to them with enough differences in the layout and lighting to really showcase what Gears of War 4 has to offer, and they look fantastic. Visually I can’t stress just how great the world looks with the addition of a little bit of colour, something the series has been begging for, and I can’t wait to see more.
Gears of War 4 may have tweaked the visuals but the gameplay remains largely the same, instead of changing a tried and true formula The Coalition have set out to capture the very essence of what made Gears of War popular in the first place, worst and all. Roadie running, quick wall switches, excessive rolling, and an abundance of Gnashers are not only alive and well but thriving in the new environments. Although there have been a few tweaks, now a player is no longer required to expend ammo for an active reload. Instead a player can juice up his gun with Zen and the art of reloading without wasting valuable ammo and receiving a full clip of powered up bullets for a period with little to no cooldown – although if a player isn’t using ammo or refilling a clip, is it really a reload? This doesn’t quite sit well as now players are never going to risk using ammo at the beginning of a round as they can essentially juice up for free whenever they want, removing the risk reward nature of the previous active reload mechanics. On top of the change to active reloads there has also been a tweak to a cover, instead of two opposing players sitting at one side of the wall they now have the ability to “yank and shank” the other player over the wall and get an instakill for those trying to blindfire their way to victory from behind cover.
As the beta for Gears of War 4 is purely online players will need to hone their new skills and weapons in the battlefield as they fight in either Team Deathmatch, your standard 5vs5 affair, or the new Dodgeball mode. There isn’t much to say when it comes to Team Deathmatch, we know, we love it, and we have been playing it since the dawn of shooters. Dodgeball however presents an almost tug of war like approach to the series in which a team starts with 5 players and can revive those who fall by killing members of the opposite team. Dodgeball rounds can last anywhere between a quick 45 second burst and a 20 minute war of attrition as players whittle away at the enemy teams which can provide some of the most clutch moments in Gears of War 4. Personally I found the approach to be a double edged sword as more often or not these first to 3 games seemed to last for a long time, more so than standard TDMs that ran as first to 2 sets. Other additions to the online playfield are the bounties, these bounties are exp boosts a player chooses at the end of a match as a goal for their next game upon filling certain criteria. These type of boosts aren’t uncommon in modern shooters, and to be quite frank the beta doesn’t represent them in any way interesting enough to catch your eye, but they are there nonetheless and they are a nice way of rising quickly through the levels in the Gears of War 4 beta.
The Coalition have already stated that Gears of War 4’s beta isn’t a representation of a finished product, but just an indication of things to come. And if this is only the indication you can colour me impressed. The Coalition not only appear to be right on track with Gears of War 4 but they really do seem to have the p[layers best interest in mind when creating it. Sure the player models could use a little more work, but that’s definitely to be expected almost 6 months away from release. What I took away from the beta is that Gears of War 4 remains largely unchanged from its predecessors, I fell swiftly in to the swing of the MP side and it wasn’t long before I was scoring streaks with my trusty Gnasher, and The Coalition also understand that while keeping the formula largely unchanged there are a few areas that need some work. So I patiently look forward to the finished product with my lancer in hand and a trail of bodies wishing the mashed B harder in my wake.