Version Tested: Xbox One
Available On: Xbox One, Windows 10
Developer: The Coalition
Genre: Action/Adventure, Shooter
Official Site: GearsofWar.com
Release Date: September 11, 2016
Where to buy: Xbox Live, Major Retailers
10 years ago, Gears of War hit the Xbox 360 to high critical acclaim. It seemed that playing buffed up soldiers taking on a deadly enemy with a gun that has a chainsaw attached to it was just what people wanted. Since it’s release, three other games have been released in the franchise, taking it a step further. The only exception is prequel Gears of War Judgement, which took the smaller scale approach to its benefit. With a new console generation, studio The Coalition takes over for Epic Games and stays true to the Gears franchise. In fact, Gears of War 4 feels more like the 2006 original than anything, which is not a bad thing.
Gears of War 4’s Story
The story of Gears of War 4 picks up 25 years after the events of Gears 3. This time, you take control of JD, the son of Marcus Fenix. After abandoning the COG, JD, and his friends learn that there is a new threat in Sera kidnapping Outsiders (those who live outside COG control). The new threat is called the Swarm and they are more threatening than the Locust. The more JD and his friends Kait and Del fight the Swarm, the more they learn they aren’t exactly what they seem.
The game’s story is compelling, but the only downside is how short it was compared to other Gears games. While Gears 2 and 3 were roughly 10-12 hour campaigns, Gears of War 4 decided to take the shorter approach. My play through on Hardcore took less than 7 hours to complete. That does depend on player skill, but I think it speaks of the care the Coalition took on the overall game (more on that in a bit). If you are comparing the length of the campaigns, it is more in line with the first Gears of War.
Even with the game being shorter than previous games, there is much to love about the story. The characters are relatable to some degree, the enemies are a bit scary, and the locations felt natural to the game’s setting. Expect some minor plot twists which one is sure to be talked about till the inevitable sequel. Gears of War 4 was dark and had a little ray of light in it. It made me interested in the Gears franchise again after all this time.
For Gears of War 4, the way it plays is the bread and butter. The lancer is back and is still a mainstay in the series. You don’t ever get bored chainsawing every enemy you find. Besides the lancer, you have a wide amount of options in terms of guns to play with. Classic weapons such as the torque bow and gnasher shotgun are back, but we are also introduced to the dropshot like the digger and the buzzkill which shoots razor blades cutting enemies to pieces. These new weapons are fun to play and experiment with which adds variety to the gameplay, so it never feels repetitive.
As for the enemies, the Swarm does have some resemblance to the locust. The only difference, besides their overall look, is how tough they are. Even on easier difficulties, the Swarm deserves their name. They swarm you, overtake you. Just like weapon variety, there are enemy varieties as well, but just not so noticeable in design. With the variety of enemies, one needs to change up their play style. For instance, there is a creature called a Snatcher. The Snatcher can grab other players if they are downed and carry them off to die. In a case, if another player is snatched, ignore the other enemies and focus on the Snatcher to save your partner.
Roadie running also returns. It is almost the same but more responsive when going over twists and turns. Active reloading makes a welcome return too, which is very responsive and is available in every game mode. As for the cover based system, it is pretty much the same, with a new addition. In some areas, you can stealth (very rare) and in those moments you can hit a button to stealth kill an enemy by pulling them over the cover. It doesn’t add much to the gameplay and is rarely used but it is a fun mechanic every now and then.
Since launch, there was a fix for a few minor bugs such as being prevented from going into cover if an AI character is already there. They didn’t detract from the experience and were far and between. Since they were fixed quickly, no points are taken off of the review.
Gears of War 4 is also a powerhouse in terms of graphics. It is some of the best graphics I’ve seen in a Xbox One title to date. The sound is also beautifully rendered. If you can, wear headphones or play in surround sound to get the full benefit of such an amazing looking and sounding title.
Co-op also returns. You have the option of a good ol fashioned LAN party, online matchmaking, or just invite a friend over Xbox Live. Playing with friends is always fun. Even better is that they can choose a different difficulty than you when playing. In my case, I chose to play on Hardcore, my friend chose on Normal. It didn’t make the game easy by any means having someone play on an easier difficulty. There are some balancing in those cases that work to the benefit of everyone.
Multiplayer is still as fun as ever in Gears of War 4. Some minor changes in matchmaking were made. To help with matchmaking, you have to play five matches in a particular mode to get placed with players of the same caliber. This is a great thing for those who aren’t great at multiplayer and/or just play casually. Unfortunately, there is one big problem.
Every time you finish a match, you must go back to the multiplayer menu screen to start a new match. Maybe I just haven’t figured it out, but in that case, if I haven’t figured out the matchmaking system, then chances are others might not have as well. It is more about the time it takes you to start a match of Deathmatch than anything. Should it really take 3-5 minutes to get into a game? The only other downside that might please some (depending on the person), is that the gnasher shotgun is still OP in multiplayer. I get it, the gnasher is a signature weapon but don’t ignore weapons such as the lancer or dropshot. It makes games very monotonous and repetitive.
Fortunately, there are a few different game modes to choose from, so there is something for everyone. King of the Hill, Team Deathmatch, Escalation, Dodgeball, Arms Race, Guardian, Warzone, and Execution are available modes with 10 maps available as well. There are the competitive and core versions of playlists which is tailored to how you play.
In addition to the modes, there is something called Bounties that are new to Gears of War 4. You choose a bounty to help you level up quicker by completing certain tasks. You also can choose class power-ups as well, such as faster active reloading or better health. Bounties and power-ups are also available in Horde, speaking of which…
Horde is also back and better than ever. With plenty of maps to play on, players take on enemies such as DB bots and Swarm. The main mechanics stay the same as with the single player campaign and multiplayer. Unlike previous Gears of War games, Horde has a thing called the Fabricator. This is how you build fortifications, but it is also a team effort. You collect power from each downed enemy, with tougher ones giving more power. The power is then put into the fabricator. This can make for either a hostile group or one that works great together.
Like the issues in multiplayer, matchmaking is seriously an issue. In the case of Horde, people constantly drop out after 2-3 rounds of starting. That might be all well and good, but no one can join a game (unless invited) after it has started. If you plan on completing a full 50 waves through matchmaking, you might be in for a rude awakening. Even more so is that the people who drop out are not penalized at all. That happens as well in multiplayer, in cases if people are on a losing team they drop out with no consideration of others and no penalty to them. Hopefully this can be fixed, otherwise hopefully players become more considerate when joining a match. It takes out the fun of the game.
Overall, Gears of War 4, is a great Xbox Exclusive. Compared to other games that exclusively came out on Xbox that disappointed somewhat (here is looking at you Halo Guardians), The Coalition did the franchise justice.
- Gameplay: Solid controls, no glitches; Multiplayer and Co-op modes are fun, but unfortunately people drop out constantly which penalizes the other players in uneven matches. Doesn’t feel repetitive.
- Graphics: No frame-rate issues apparent in my playthrough. Some of the best graphics on the Xbox One.
- Sound: Some of the best sound I’ve heard in a game. The soundtrack is beautiful as well as engaging. Gun shots, enemies, and voice acting is amazingly done.
- Presentation: Simple menus, great gameplay, and graphics. One of Xbox One’s must get games.
- Cliche' but compelling story
- Great voice acting
- Sound design
- Graphics powerhouse
- Multiplayer and Horde
- Predictable story
- People dropping out of co-op, Horde, and multiplayer matches with no penalty