Sunday, October 9, 2016

Gears of War 4 Review (XONE)

With the release of Gears of War 4 it is fascinating to see that the Gears franchise is taking pretty much the same path that Halo did.  Both franchises were given over to new developers when the original creators wanted to move on.  Both times the new developers got their feet wet by remastering a past game.  And both times the new developers had the unenviable task of coming up with a compelling reason to continue the story after players had already finished the fight in the last game. 

Microsoft seems to have learned a few lessons from Halo 4, however, as The Coalition’s Gears of War 4 is a much safer and by-the-numbers sequel than 343I’s first original Halo game.  The core gameplay is the same as ever and the new enemies and story mostly make sense and don’t change too much.  The campaign starts out pretty awful, but picks up steam right through the finish and ends up being pretty darn awesome overall.  Pair that with great multiplayer and horde modes – both with A.I. bots and splitscreen – and you have a pretty solid package in Gears of War 4.  See all of the details here in our full review.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Microsoft        
  • Developer: The Coalition
  • ESRB Rating: “M” for Mature
  • Genre: Third-Person-Shooter
  • Pros: Satisfying gameplay; solid campaign; bots in multiplayer!; splitscreen!; great presentation
  • Cons: First chapter in campaign straight up sucks; 
  • MSRP: $60
Gears of War 4 takes place 25-years after the events of Gears of War 3.  In the years of peace after the defeat of the Locust, some citizens wanted to move away from COG controlled settlements and form their own independent villages, much to the dismay of the COG, of course.  J.D. Fenix, Marcus Fenix’s son, goes AWOL from the COG to join a group of these Outsiders.  What starts out as simply infiltrating a still-in-construction COG city to steal a fabricator device ends up uncovering a brand new enemy that once again puts the citizens of the planet Sera in grave danger.

I’ll be honest, the first chapter of the campaign in Gears of War 4 straight up sucks.  The COG has created an army of robot soldiers to keep the peace (or something) so you fight these bland, boring, uninteresting robots for the first chunk of the game and it doesn’t really feel much like a Gears game.  Even though you’re still fighting the robots, you meet up with Marcus Fenix in chapter 2 and things start to pick up with some crazy set-pieces and awesome battles.  Then the real new enemy of the game, monsters eerily similar to the Locust, appears and the rest of the game is totally nuts. 

I really, really hate stories where, in the absence of an enemy to fight, the good guys fight each other because of “reasons”.  That is where Gears of War 4 starts, and why the first chapter sucks.  When the new enemy, the Swarm, is introduced, however, Gears of War 4 gets awesome.  It is no longer political infighting and boring nonsense.  It turns into classic chaotic man-versus-monster battles that the series is known for and it is incredible.  It escalates and escalates and keeps getting crazier and crazier, too, until the final section of the game that can only be described as “badass”. 

It has to be noted that the gameplay in Gears of War 4 is pretty much the same as ever, which is a good thing.  It is still a cover-based third-person-shooter where careful advancement, cover fire, and flanking the enemy are the keys to success.  Despite being “new”, the Swarm are pretty much exactly like the Locust save for a couple of mini-boss variants, so the gameplay is very familiar.  One new thing I love is the “Juvies” variant of Swarm that are basically mindless fast moving zombies that let you put the chainsaw on your Lancer to good use (seriously, I killed more stuff with the chainsaw in GoW4 than the previous 4 games put together …).  Gear of War 4 plays fantastically well and is extremely satisfying all around.

In addition to the campaign, which only took me 6-hours to complete, there are also co-op modes, multiplayer, and horde modes to play through.  I won’t speak on the specifics of multiplayer, because honestly that isn’t where my interest lies for this or 99% of other games, but I will say a few things.  You can play local splitscreen in all of these modes, and I am forever grateful for that.  You can also play all of the modes with A.I. bots, which is the best feature ever.  Not everyone wants to play online with a bunch of hardcore dudebros and get yelled at, so being able to experience multiplayer modes offline in splitscreen and with bots is awesome.  Awesome, awesome, awesome.

One of the nicest things about Gears of War 4 is that it paints a fairly different picture of the planet Sera than the previous games in the series did from a visual standpoint.  Since it is 25-years after the defeat of the Locust, you get to see sterling and clean cities and there is actual green grass and colorful flowers all over.  Sure, the game turns into the familiar gray and brown color palate when you get into the meat of the story and start fighting the Swarm, but seeing a more colorful side of Sera was nice. 

The visuals overall are pretty great thanks to the use of the Unreal 4 engine.  Everything is nicely detailed, character models look good, and blood and guts and chainsaw gibs look fantastic.  Special effects for lightning, dust, smoke, fire, and everything else are also very well done.  Gears has always been a graphical showcase, and Gears 4 is no different.  The game also runs at a silky smooth framerate with no noticeable hitches even when things get intense.

The sound is great all around with solid voice acting and excellent sound effects for all of the weaponry.  The soundtrack is … not particularly memorable.  As in, I can’t actually remember any music. 

In the end, Gears of War 4 is exactly what fans of the franchise have been waiting for.  It brings some new things to the series while keeping the core intact which, while a safe play and somewhat disappointing since it is largely more of the same as past entries, was definitely a smart move in the long run considering the finished product is so polished and near-perfect.  It looks great.  It plays great.  It has a ton of features and modes including splitscreen and bots for all modes.  Gears of War 4 is just a fantastic new entry in the series that fans will love and we can’t wait to see where the story goes next.  Buy it.
Disclosure:  A review copy was provided by the publisher.