Gears of War 4 is set 25 years after the events of the original trilogy, and that is a lot of time for our favorite war hero. Can the new cast make you feel this is the same Gears you know and love?
Gears of War 4
Developer: The Coalition
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Series: Gears of War
Available on: Xbox One, Microsoft Windows (tested)
Price: Standard Edition $60, Ultimate Edition $100
I’m pleased to announce that Gears of War 4 delivers everything a fan of the series wants. That is a bold statement that I’m willing to justify. This new iteration on the franchise relates the story of a new and unknown enemy, while keeping the lore, our favorite hero and the familiar mechanics in first row. The new DeeBee and Swarm enemies will make you think about new offensive and defensive strategies, while always putting some pressure and keep you moving.
The Gears signature is still there: it is the cover-shooter game you expect with the occasional choose left or right game. It provides variety and replay value at the same pace as before: defend, kill everyone, move forward, defend, kill everyone, and keep moving. The interesting bit are the new enemies, weapons and physics that will improve the mechanics.
Huge robots with even bigger firepower will put you pressure, while quickly repositioning themselves by your side to explode when they are about to die. Tiny robots will rush to your place to quickly explode and stun you, reminding you to always be aware of your surroundings. Guardians with annoying front shields will make you reposition yourself to exploit their weaknesses, and the filthy creatures may be even worse. Pouncers can shoot deadly quills, while jumping from cover to cover pinning you to the ground if you stay in the same place for too long. Juvies while weak, are extremely fast and can quickly swarm you, while Screamers will pop every other Juvie available. Oh, and then you have Drones. Very similar to the backbone of the Swarm’s army in the way that they are huge, resistant, smart and with great firepower.
As you can expect, there is a lot going on. You can be sure no two battles will be the same, and there is even more. Gears of War 4 brings a new environmental element to the battle called Windflares. These frequent, giant electrical dust storms will change the course of battle by making use of physics. The storms can make grenades and projectiles to change course or even fly back at you. Objects can also be freed up and used as projectiles against enemies, killing and ripping them off. Or yourself, if unlucky. Windflares can be really fun and prove to be a challenge, rendering useless specific weapons or grenades and quickly changing the pace of the fight.
A core element is also being improved: the cover. While previous games have introduced some sort of Dynamic Cover with Meat Shields and Boom Shields, now you have Pods. You can shoot and destroy them to remove your enemies advantage, forcing them to reposition. Bu there is a price. If you are lucky, pods won’t have anything inside. But if you are not, and most of the time you won’t, you can spawn a Drone, a Juvie or a Screamer. A Juvie is not a big deal, and a Drone is manageable, but Screamers can pop all the pods in the vicinity, completely changing the outcome of the battle.
Another minor thing are executions, which is not really helpful in the campaign but it is a big deal in multiplayer. Close Cover Combat and the Combat Knife are new elements in the series. You can initiate the CCC system while running to or being close to a cover, but enemies can also counter it. And when you are behind a cover, if you are sneaky enough, you can reach to the other side and execute your enemies with your knife.
The final pillar in the combat system are weapons, and I’m also glad about them. The familiar Lancer and pretty much all the typical weapons are still there, but the new ones are there to fill specific niches. The Buzzkill fires a lethal, high-velocity sawblade able to kill enemies in one shot when they hit. The Overkill is a giant double short range shotgun-esque weapon that will make your enemies cry in pain. There are a few additional weapons that I won’t spoil you, but rest assured there is a place for each of them. They are carefully presented along the campaign with a small pop up teaching you how to use it and when it is good for.
Gears of War 4 features the Xbox Play Anywhere system, where a single buy will allow you to play on both Windows 10 PCs and Xbox One. You can play, stop and resume the game from anywhere. PC users will appreciate being able to play the game in any resolution and with unlocked frames, with really, really good visuals. Impressive moments are tied to the weather, but executing enemies is a pleasure in Ultra details at 4K, and while a GTX 1080 is recommended, lower GPUs may be able to handle it making use of the dynamic resolution.
Two-player split-screen or online co-op is also an option, and you can even play cross-platform with Xbox One and Windows 10. I can only hope for it to improve the longevity of the game, especially because while the campaign is good, the online is where Gears shines. Both Versus and Horde have evolved, you can expect the same fun as before but with some new touches. With 10 maps and plenty of fast, gruesome and fun modes, there is something for everyone. You have Arms Race, in which each team races to get three kills each with every weapon in a specific order. Escalation is a Domination type of game with the best of 13 rounds, while Execution gives you just one life and you are tasked with killing the opposing team with, well, executions. Then you have pretty much everything you want, the classics Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Guardian, Warzone and even Dodgeball, where an enemy kill brings back a dead teammate. But the best of the best is still Horde mode. Killed enemies drop resource chits that must be collected and brought back to your Fabricator, a mobile emplacement builder, and deposited into a team-shared pool used to erect fences, sentries, turrets, and more as you fight through 50 waves of DeeBee and Swarm foes. Every tenth wave brings out random bosses to contend with. A new class system is in place to emphasize teamwork by encouraging specialized roles that grant specific action bonuses. You will invest many, many hours in here.
Gears of War 4 improves pretty much everything the series has ever offered. A really good campaign with even a better multiplayer. The windflares, the dynamic cover and the new weapons are a very welcome addition, and the online modes are there to pour hours and hours.