The first Gears of War was a landmark moment for the seventh generation of consoles. It was the title that many people including myself saw as the beginning of the new generation. It ushered in the cover based shooter and introduced the world to the power of Unreal Engine 3.0. I have fond memories chainsawing Locusts and roadie running from cover to cover with my brother via split screen co-op. It was a momentous start for the franchise that would later spawn two additional sequels and a prequel on the Xbox 360.
I had a lot of questions going into Gears of War 4. It’s been five years since Gears of War 3 and the industry let alone the genre has evolved in significant ways. Epic Games relinquished the reigns of the franchise to Microsoft and aptly named team, The Coalition. Will I like the new cast? How will the old cast be reintroduced? Will we see the return of the Locusts and all the gameplay trappings they’re known for?
Gears of War 4 also marked the series day and date debut on both Xbox One and PC. I bought an Xbox 360 because the game came bundled at a retailer, so it’s only fitting that I acquired Gears of War 4 in similar fashion courtesy with my NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070. As an Xbox Play Anywhere title, my brother and I were able to complete the campaign on PC and Xbox One without any fuss. (Although, we did have to burn through a couple of Xbox Live! Gold trials to do so.)
The Xbox One version looks fine but I cannot judge it on its own merits. Seeing Gears of War 4 supersampled from 1440p down to 1080p at mostly Ultra settings running at a near flawless 60FPS was a positive experience to say the least. I had to make some tweaks to a few settings in order to maintain framerate throughout but the excellent graphical options available made tuning an easy process.
Gears of War 4 was a remarkable example of what the Unreal Engine 4.0 can do. I don’t know if it will go on to gain the market share that Unreal Engine 3.0 did but one thing for certain is that it doesn’t have a distinct look that defined early Unreal Engine 3.0 games.
The Gears of War games grew more varied with each passing installment. Greenery and a move from the dreariness of wet concrete gave the franchise more vividity. Gears of War 4 continued that trend to the point where I’m getting Uncharted vibes from some of the levels. Some of the early campaign spots reminded me of Uncharted 2’s Nepal and Tibet locales.
Women were a weak spot for the Gears of War franchise both character and rendering wise. Anya and Maria were the only two that I recall but they weren’t front and center like Kait. She’s a lovable member of the new cast of characters including James Fenix and his fellow ex-COG, Del. They’re part of the civilian population who chose not to live in walled cities. The citizens of Sera may have rid itself of the Locust threat but traded a living threat for environmental ones; they cannot do much against giant tornadoes of fire and electricity other than dwelling inside COG controlled cities.
I couldn’t tell if life under COG rule was terrible or not but apparently it was bad enough for groups of people to leave and form settlements outside its walls. It is no surprise then that the Locusts’ return in the form of the Swarm went unnoticed until it was too late. Kait’s village was decimated, her mother abducted along with the rest of the village and it was up to her and her buddies to get to the bottom of the returning threat.
I liked the new characters and got a kick out of seeing the returning ones. The were all likable and entertaining throughout. I would go as far as to say that there were numerous charming and funny moments involving the bunch. The reintroduction of Marcus Fenix as a grumpy old man who doesn’t give a shit will be a key takeaway from this game for years to come.
No one will mistaken Gears of War 4 as anything but a Gears of War game. They introduced a few gameplay tweaks to the cover system but the inability to switch shoulders while aiming and forced roadie run continues to look silly outside of combat situations. They flirted with the ability to nab enemies from behind cover and vault over cover quickly but fail to present that as a viable option (at least) in Hardcore difficulty.
New weapons, destructible cover and environmental influences such as wind and lightning shake up shootouts throughout the campaign but if I’m being honest: they didn’t do enough to break the mold. As I enter every new area, chest high walls continued to stick out like sore thumbs and I expected enemies to pour in for some good ole fashion cover based shootin’. It’s a known quantity but it’s still satisfying to hear the distinct pop after a Longshot round does its deed.
Including a tiny bit of horde mode into the campaign was novel at first but to see it return a few more times felt unnecessary. The same can be said with all those lightning segments. I was glad to see Gears of War 2 try something new with the crushing digestive teeth (lovingly referred to as Thwomp) section but they didn’t bring back the teeth again and again throughout the campaign.
I wished the gameplay aspect of Gears of War 4 ascended to greater heights and explored new frontiers but in the context of reintroducing Gears of War with a new team of developers and new roster of characters, it wasn’t too shabby — it felt too safe at worst. I was far more intrigued by the Locusts’ revival and how the people of Sera will cope with the threat again. The Coalition have built a solid foundation for the new trilogy and I look forward to what they come with next.
I like it