Gears of War 4 (Xbox One Review)
Microsoft have a tendency to pass on their most lucrative IPs, at first it was Halo and now they have moved on to Gears of War. It’s always a sensitive subject when a dev leaves behind an IP, after all it’s their creation and when they move on so should the company. This is not the case with Gears of War. So, here we are gearing up for war with Lancers and Gnashers in hand. This time it’s a new generation and a newer developer, The Coalition, at the helm.
Many fans will remember that the Gears trilogy wrapped up rather nicely, the world was saved, locust were dropping like flies, and Baird had yet to be cast in a prequel. But for the series to continue there would need to be a new hook. Our heroes needed rest and that required a period of peace. Gears of War 4 gives our heroes both a rest and drags them kick and screaming back in to the fray simultaneously. With an opening that sees a retelling of events passed we see some familiar faces, albeit held at an arm’s length. Once the player has been brought to the present, we see James Dominic Fenix and his friends; Del, Oscar and Kait trying to find new resources in a COG settlement as it is being built by mechs. From here on out JD and his crew find themselves in an unexplainable situation that will see the rise of “The Swarm” while they contend with robot security known as the “DeeBees”. Gears of War 4 fails to hit both the highs and lows expected of the series, but manages to turn the players’ perspective of Marcus as a heroic badass as a, at times, helpless father and mentor figure for Del, Kait and JD as they face the Swarm.
Even though Gears of War 4’s story doesn’t quite capture some of the heart wrenching moments of previous titles, partly due to very little time being spent with the characters, it does manage to pull up its bootstraps and offer something the previous Gears games didn’t. A splash of colour. Visually, Gears of War 4 boasts a vast array of different types of scenery that feel alive and stand out from previous entries. Areas no longer had a grey hue, opting for the brand new cities and underground tunnels woven together by pulsing red veins. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air and even new locust like enemies, the swarm, seem to glow white as opposed to sulking in the shade of grey we had become accustomed to.
Unlike 343 Industries and Halo, The Coalition have kept the mechanics of Gears of War intact. There are no additional powers or new power ups. Instead The Coalition have tweaked the current mechanics, making the roadie run that bit smoother and allowing enemies to be hauled over cover to finish with a fatal knife to the gut. They have taken the chest high wall shooter and puffed out the manly pecs that lay beneath. It genuinely feels great, beyond the mantling mechanic. Even if I tried, I wouldn’t be able to identify a new mechanic that didn’t feel right or forced. Even the ability to active reload a clip without using any ammo online feels like a natural step in the right direction.
The Coalition didn’t just stop it improving mechanics either. They have went on to innovate and improve on Gears’ Horde mode in a great number of ways. The players are now given access to a fabricator, a big metal box that has the scope and power of Mary Poppins’ bag if Mary Poppins had a penchant for destruction and home security. Players will operate out of this magic box, depositing energy accumulated by killing enemies and combining this with other members of their team to beef up their chosen area of the map. On top of changing the objectives of Horde mode, to an extent, The Coalition have also implemented a class system. Now players are required to level up individual classes and fulfil common roles within the mode. Instead of a collection of basic fighters, players will now chose from the likes of engineers and scouts to compliment soldiers and the other available classes. Previously Gears of War had lacked a bit of depth when it came to horde mode, it was a simple as surviving. But now players can find a playstyle that fits them and play to their strengths with upgradeable skills and unique abilities.
Upgrading skills and abilities in Gears of War 4 is done through the new loot box system. Currently the balance is way off and feels like it might take years to unlock the new loot box system. However these crates can be purchased with money, a lot of it if you can’t spare the time to unlock what Gears of War 4 has to offer. As these loot boxes are the only way to unlock cosmetics items and a great deal of upgrades, it doesn’t sit well. After several hours on Horde I wasn’t even able to earn a single pack, relying on the gratitude of The Coalition and their free packs for being a supporter of Gears right from the start – or for buying the Ultimate Edition in some folks’ case. The loot in these packs aren’t even guaranteed. Even when purchasing the rather expensive packs it’s all based on luck, with some more pricey packs netting better rewards than others. Although it’s hard to really call them “better” as most of the extra skins are unsightly and make you stick out like a sore thumb online. And that’s if you can get online.
At the time of writing the review I have had extensive issues with Gears of War 4’s online mode, more often than not I would fail to connect to the server while in the “loading map” phase of playing online. A phase that takes far longer than it should at times. When I did get to play online, Gears of War 4 felt great. The online play flows and rekindles my love of the original Gears of War games while simultaneously reminding me just how much I hate the Gnasher. The Coalition have implemented new modes, such as Arms Race and Dodgeball, alongside the classics that we all expect from Gears. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to fully test these modes due to a lack of players, prolonged wait times, and general frustration of staring at a screen for almost an hour trying to get in to a match of Arms Race. So, the jury is still out on Gears of War 4’s online modes, but what I did play showed a lot of promise.
As a whole Gears of Wars 4 is worthy of the Gears name, even if it doesn’t quite reach the peak of the franchise. Between audio bugs, splitscreen frame rate issues, a wave of attrition masked as difficulty that can be extremely frustrating and a generally divisive final act it’s hard to fully endorse a whole new trilogy. Just like Gears of War 4, I have found myself in the future desperately clinging to the past, praying that some familiar faces will come along and save the day. But the new characters are here to stay and a post credits scene makes that abundantly clear. The journey of Marcus, Cole, and Baird is firmly in the past. The cameos and familiar faces of the prologue are just that, relics of the past. A collection of armour laden testosterone, too old to rest their bosom against the perfect height of wall and in their wake comes a new generation, a faster generation, of more brutal executions and a frame that allows them to mantle the obstacles of old.