Gears of War is a franchise that I spent countless hours with on the Xbox 360, playing through the campaigns multiple times with friends, and spending even more time in the multiplayer modes. There was just something special about what Gears of War was doing differently than the rest of the pack. It should be no surprise then that when we found out The Coalition (then known as Black Tusk Studios when the announcement was made) would be continuing the franchise in place of Epic Games, I was slightly concerned. After spending a lot of time with the new entry, I can safely say that my fears have been qualmed, and I’m ready to embrace the future of the franchise once again. So how does it stack up? Read on for our full Gears of War 4 review.
Title: Gears of War 4
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: The Coalition
Available On: Xbox One, PC
Reviewed On: PC
Release Date: October 11, 2016
Copy Provided by Publisher
After the initial trilogy, it wasn’t exactly clear which direction the franchise was going to move in. We are jumping in time, twenty-five years to be exact, after the end of Gears of War 3. It’s here that we find a brand new Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG for short) that has civilians congregated into larger cities where they can keep them safe, and also keep watch over them. Their main goal is the repopulation of Sera, while having a lot of things around the cities automated. Nature is slowly reclaiming a lot of Sera after the end of the Locust Wars, and you’ll soon learn how and why the planet has been rebelling against everything that has been happening throughout each entry in the franchise.
The tone of the story takes on more of a survival feel to it than previous entries in the series had. The COG has cities set up behind walls at the moment, so they can close them off when the Windflares start. These cities are patrolled by DeeBees, which are robot like creatures that act as guards, and also to keep the citizens at bay. A certain number of people though, known as “Outsiders”, are living beyond the wall, having broken free from the rule of the COG. It’s a group of these Outsiders that you’ll be playing as throughout Gears of War 4. The Outsiders need old batteries and fabricators in order to maintain their settlements, which sometimes requires sneaking and breaking in to old COG facilities, and even current COG towns.
Upon doing this, the settlement where you currently reside gets attacked, but you soon learn that the COG is not your true enemy here. The Swarm is introduced fairly early on as they attack your village and take prisoners, and from that moment, it’s all about learning their origin and just surviving this new threat as you search for the ones you love. The campaign definitely has a bit of a darker feel to it, but there are still elements of humor sprinkled in that had me chuckling and laughing out loud at times.
So just who are these characters you’ll be spending time with and learning all about? JD Fenix is an extremely likeable character. The son of Marcus Fenix, he was built to be an exciting and awesome character to base the future of the franchise around. Kait is also a character that I deeply adored. Her personal story and conflict is what drives the entire campaign. She’s also quite the badass, and is perhaps the most interesting of the new characters introduced. Oscar, Kait’s Uncle, provides a lot of comedy relief and is the one that taught Kait how to fight and handle herself. Del, one of JD’s best friends, has always been there keeping an eye on him and making sure that nothing bad happens to him. Reyna, Kait’s mom, is the leader of the village that gets attacked and destroyed by the Swarm, and the story told between mother and daughter is a gripping one. And then of course there’s Marcus Fenix. It just wouldn’t be a Gears game without him!
Gears of War 4, while still maintaining the core gameplay that made the original trilogy fun and exciting, feels so different at the same time. It relies heavily on story driven set pieces, similar to the Uncharted series, to keep moving the action and story forward. Some of the environments and surroundings you’ll interact with and be a part of are breathtaking. Seeing how things get ripped apart and destroyed, while still allowing for the player to control what is happening during it, is a nice addition to the franchise. It’s also a mechanic that has been heavily shown off at presentations and gaming conventions since it’s unveiling, so you should be somewhat familiar with this.
Along the same lines, Windflares completely change the dynamic of a setting. You can be going through an area, and then the characters will comment on the fact that a Windflare is picking up. Don’t get used to that cover, because it may just get blown away, forcing you to think quickly or end up dead on the ground. Enemies and player characters alike can take damage from the electricity and Windflares. You’ll want to scan your surroundings during them and look for things that can be shot, which are usually marked with an orange color or tint. This can unleash a number of different objects that can instantly take out a group of enemies, or your own teammates if you aren’t careful. Tires, cars, pipes… all stuff you may see flying around in the wind, so make sure to watch for flying objects!
The Windflares also have a mechanic built in to them that requires you to dodge lightning as it moves across the ground. It can and will move through cover, so you’ll need to be extremely careful when they are out. Getting hit by them will be an instant death, so it’s crucial to dodge and just stay alive. It’s fairly easy to manage though, and once I got the movement down after seeing it once, it became relatively easy to avoid and just get through without having to constantly restart after dying. The Windflares and electricity are some of the coolest looking parts of the game, especially when you can fully see the storm off in the distance as it slowly makes its way toward you. A swirling tornado-like monstrosity of fire and electricity. It’s a good thing those are confined to Sera and currently not happening here!
The campaign is on the shorter side if you just run straight through it. There are a total of twenty-four chapters spread out across five acts. Playing on the Hardcore difficulty, it took me roughly nine hours to complete. I did not, however, search for and locate every single collectible in each mission. There are a great number of collectibles to find throughout the entirety of the campaign, some of which were pretty cool to see being a fan of the series as a whole. If you were to play through on the Normal difficulty, your playtime would be much, much shorter, coming in closer to six hours. However you decide to tackle the story, just make sure you do, because it is one that is worth experiencing.
A minor complaint, and one that holds the campaign slightly back for me, is how abruptly it just ends. I definitely did not feel like I was at the end of the game when the scene cut to black and the credits started rolling. The Coalition has obviously set this up for a sequel, and we’re probably looking at another trilogy if I’m being honest. But there still felt like there could have been another hour or two worth of content left in the current story being told. Especially the way it ended. It caught me completely off guard and took me by surprise, to the point of verbally yelling “No way!” as the credits appeared. I’d be lying if I said that it made me enjoy the actual story less though. It should speak to how much I physically loved it, that I was craving more when it suddenly ended. Oh, and you’ll also want to stick around through the credits to see the bonus scene that takes place after.
The multiplayer modes are all here, and it’s still very addicting after sinking some time into it. All of the basics are here, including Team Deathmatch, Dodgeball, King of the Hill, Arms Race, Guardian, and Warzone. Out of those, Dodgeball, Team Deathmatch, and Warzone were probably my favorite ones to get out of the bunch. Dodgeball works just like it sounds. Killing someone on the opposite teams allows someone on your team to respawn, and vice versa. This continues until one team is completely eliminated. Team Deathmatch is the most basic of modes, where it’s just one team against another. And Warzone takes that concept and jacks it up a notch, giving you only one life per game. It’s intense. The campaign can also be completed co-op, either locally or online. This allows friends or random strangers to control Kait and/or Del throughout the story with you, making things even easier, so it’d probably be best to do this on a higher difficulty setting.
Horde 3.0 is your typical “survive the enemy waves” mode, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Up to five players can participate in the action, and the goal is to survive as many waves as you possibly can, going all the way up to fifty. There’s a boss section every ten waves, which can and will test your ability to work as a team. At the start of Horde 3.0, you have the ability to move the Fabricator, which allows for creation of defense items and weapons, to any place you see fit on the map. After that, it’s all about protecting the Fabricator and surviving wave after wave of enemies that get increasingly harder. Multiple classes and skills leaves a lot of room open for experimentation and finding the best possible strategy for each map.
Playing through the game on PC, it looks absolutely gorgeous. I had quite a few settings at ultra and the rest at high on my GTX 970, and it ran perfectly. There’s a built in benchmark tool that users can run after tweaking the settings in order to see how the game performs with the changes. Running settings like I had, I was getting 60 FPS consistently. My graphics card is slightly overclocked to boost the performance, but even a standard GTX 970 shouldn’t have much trouble handling the game with those settings at 1080p. Gears of War 4 gives almost any game a run for its money on being the most beautiful game currently on the market. The atmosphere created and the surroundings to each mission are a sight to behold, and one you may get distracted with because it looks so good. The character and enemy models were also really well done.
Overall, the experience of this starting point in a brand new saga is wonderful. I honestly wasn’t expecting to enjoy this entry as much as I did the previous trilogy since it changed developers, but how silly I was to even think it’d be anything less than amazing. Gears of War 4 is hands down one of the best games released so far in 2016. The Coalition nailed the feel and atmosphere of the series perfectly, and the future for fans is looking brighter than it ever has.