Warning - video contains graphic content and is intended only for mature viewers.
Gears of War is back in all of its bullet-spraying, chainsaw-gun-wielding, curb stomping glory.
In the first title by “The Coalition” (the new studio in charge of the Gears franchise), players take on the role of JD Fenix - son of the series’ recurring protagonist Marcus Fenix. This installment takes place 25 years after the Locust were wiped out in Gears of War 3 and sees JD and his two friends, Del and Kait, acting as “outsiders;” people who have rejected the ways of their planet’s government. During their struggle against the forces of the military, they discover a new foe who will once again threaten humanity with extinction. Against insurmountable odds, the trio must now fight not only for their freedom - but the survival of mankind itself.
This new adventure is filled with everything we have come to expect out of a Gears title. The action is non-stop and the enemies are ruthless, requiring players to take full advantage of the game’s signature third-person cover system if they want to survive. New actions have been added to this system, such as the ability to vault while running, or to pull an enemy from the other side of cover for an execution. These new moves add a variety of tricks and a dynamic flow to combat.
In addition to the weapons that fans of the series have come to know and love, several new ones have been added - such as a heavy weapon which fires ricocheting saw blades, a double-firing shotgun, and more. The guns all feel different and have their own tactical advantages. This variety means that players will always be able to find new and exciting ways to cut their way through the enemy hordes.
There is also a new element to combat that appears intermittently throughout the campaign in the form of storms called “wind flares,” which consist of two parts. During the first, strong winds rip through the battlefield to create new trajectories when using projectile-based weapons and creating opportunities to take advantage of nearby environmental hazards. Once the enemies are cleared, a lightning storm will pick up and players will have to move quickly and carefully through the deadly bolts to find cover. While these are definitely a nice change of pace and add a new element to combat, the novelty does wear off pretty quickly. Towards the end of the game, the appearance of a new storm feels more like a minor annoyance than anything else. Luckily there are other changes to the usual gameplay, such as a thrilling motorbike chase, a battle through deadly chains, and a very unique battle in the final level.
There are also several wave defense moments throughout the game but, like the windstorms, they start to feel a bit stale towards the later half. More than anything they seem to just be a way to introduce players to the gameplay of the returning Horde Mode. That mode has been one of the best things about the game since its inception in Gears 2, and version 3.0 does not disappoint. As in the previous titles, Horde Mode consists of a player, or team of players, trying to survive through several waves of increasingly difficult AI. One thing that has been added in 3.0 is the machine known as the “Fabricator” (introduced to players during the first level of the campaign). The Fabricator is a moveable box that can be used to create weapons and fortifications using the consumable called “energy,” which is dropped by defeated enemies. This gives players a fun way to build up their defenses while also encouraging them to venture out into the battlefield to collect more energy for more equipment. As always, Horde Mode is intense; it requires both skill and teamwork to survive through all 50 waves and will keep players engaged for a long time to come.
The player vs player (PVP) multiplayer modes for Gears 4 are a bit disappointing. While they can produce some tough battles between opposing teams, the cover mechanic creates a lot of either camping across large gaps, or just dashing in with the "Gnasher" shotgun to try to get quick kills; neither of which feels particularly rewarding. With well-coordinated teams, it can be an exercise in tactics, but with pick up groups it’s just a bit of a mess.
As a whole, Gears 4 isn't exactly groundbreaking, though The Coalition did a good job of remaining true to the franchise. For the most part, the campaign is as exciting and entertaining as ever, though there are a few parts which can feel a little repetitive and overall it's a bit short. The PVP modes fall a bit flat but can be decent with a team that coordinates well. The real draw here is Horde Mode, which is only getting better and provides an incredibly fun way to spend an afternoon with friends as you try to do better and better each time.
Gears of War 4 gets a recommendation for fans of fun stories, beautifully stylized action, and highly replayable co-op with friends. However, if you're looking for a campaign that takes more than an afternoon to beat and plan on being a solo player, you might want to wait for it to go on sale.
Gears of War 4 is rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Strong Language by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)
For more information, visit the official Gears of War 4 website.