Gears of War 4 Review

By Rebecca Smith, 2 months ago
Alongside Halo, Gears of War is one of Microsoft's flagship franchises for the Xbox consoles. While the Xbox One may have been available for nearly three years, we're yet to see a brand new Gears title to grace the console. On October 11th, this all changes in the form of Gears of War 4. With The Coalition at the helm, a studio headed by former Epic employee Rod Fergusson, many fans are apprehensive as to how the latest title will fare. Will it meet the standards set by Epic's trilogy of titles, or will it be seen as a flop like People Can Fly's Gears of War: Judgment? Well, it's definitely a step in the right direction.

Gears of War 4 Screens 8

To break players in gently to the campaign, a 20 minute prologue takes us through notable battles and moments that lead up to the end of Gears of War 3. This means that we see a number of familiar faces, some of whom players would have thought that they would never see again. Fans of the franchise already know what to expect from this cover-based third-person shooter and for those who are new to the franchise, even some of the basics (like active reloads) aren't explained until the main campaign starts. While it seems like this was meant to serve as a tutorial, it falls short and smacks more of fan service, a reminder that The Coalition hasn't forgotten about the franchise's long-term fans, especially as the campaign quickly moves on to "current" events with seemingly no continuity between the prologue and the events that are about to unfold.

The main story of the game is set 25 years after the events of Gears of War 3 and a lot has happened during that time. The deployment of the Imulsion Countermeasure weapon may have defeated the Locust, but the planet faces a new threat in the form of Windflares - a fierce combination of wind and lightning that destroys everything in its path. To protect its citizens, the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) has built walled cities to house the remaining human population, but not everybody wants to live under COG rule; those survivors have called themselves the Outsiders and they've formed their own settlements. It is at this point that we join J.D. Fenix, son of Marcus Fenix and Anya Stroud, and his friend Del Walker. The pair left the COG under mysterious circumstances and have been taken in by a nearby Outsider settlement, where they meet their new companion Kait Diaz.

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Unfortunately, a new threat to humanity has emerged and the COG are not the Outsiders' only enemy. With this premise and the Locust long dead, you would expect to face a whole new set of enemies. However, as the game progresses there's more than a passing sense of familiarity on both sides of the conflict, from enemy design to supporting characters and even the relatively few new weapons that signify 25 years of "progress". The story does make more of an effort to be memorable and emotional, but you wonder how much of this is aided by past experiences. For a game that was supposed to represent a new start in many ways, you can't help but feel like The Coalition has instead played it safe in an attempt to win back those that were discouraged by the franchise's last "new" offering.

As mentioned earlier, the basic gameplay will seem mostly familiar although there are a few minor differences. Gears 4 returns to the control scheme that was offered in the original titles with the weapon selection back on the d-pad and the face buttons returning to revives and executions. The cover mechanic has added a couple of new moves: the ability to vault over cover while running and the ability to pull enemies over cover for a melee execution. Finally, a lot more of the cover is destructible, especially during windflares where players are actively encouraged to bring the environment crashing down around them. These new features add fluidity to a cover mechanic that had sometimes felt clunky and it opens up new combat options that move away from clinging to cover for dear life.

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Whereas Judgment preferred shorter campaign chapters, Gears 4 returns to the longer chapters of yore and offers a 10-12 hour campaign for up to two players (this campaign does not offer four-player co-op). Not all of the chapters follow the standard linear progression through your environment. There are some chapters that take the form of mini-Horde battles, while there are other on-rails chapters where players do not dictate their movement and spend most of their time dodging and shooting oncoming obstacles. While the latter is a little unexpected, both gameplay types fit in well with the story and do a fair job of mixing up the gameplay and keeping things fresh.

Speaking of Horde, this is likely to be the mode that keeps players returning to the game time and time again. While the campaign struggles to innovate, Horde has borrowed the best bits from previous titles and has built upon the worst bits to create an improved experience. Like Horde 1.0, players can now choose their own defence points without being restricted to a handful of command post sites. If that defence point isn't working, you can pick up your base and move elsewhere. This is all enabled by the new Fabricator. Through this single box, players build all of their fortifications and can even bring dead players back into the fray before the end of the round. Fortifications can now be placed anywhere and moved around, too. You honestly feel like all of your hard fought successful battles were of your own design and were not dictated by what the developer wanted you to do.

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Character classes return from Judgment but they offer a lot more flexibility. While each class has set starting loadouts and tasks that they can perform better than others, this doesn't prevent a different class from doing the same tasks. The Fabricator allows players to purchase different weapons as well as fortifications. For instance, an Engineer specialises in building and repairing defences, but there is nothing to stop a Heavy from purchasing a repair gun to assist in that endeavour. Each of the character classes has their own levelling system and specialist skills, like faster reloads or reductions to the cost of fortifications. As the class is levelled up, more options open up including the ability to equip more skills.

Skills are dictated by a new collectible card system. Cards are bought through booster packs in the in-game store; these can be purchased using either real money or with credits that are accumulated through normal play. These skills can also be upgraded, something that is done by combining duplicate cards. Cards that aren't wanted can be scrapped and this scrap currency can be used to create new cards. It allows players to shape different classes to fit their own playstyle. A successful team will likely need a range of classes within their squad, but the option for players to micro-manage them will likely mean that no class becomes the one that everybody avoids.

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Of course, if competitive multiplayer is more your thing then the game has plenty for you, too. Beginning with ten different maps and eight game modes, there is a fair amount of choice. Fan favourite modes like Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Guardian, Warzone and Execution return to the fray, while Judgment's Domination returns in the guise of Escalation mode. This leaves two new multiplayer modes. The first is Arms Race, a mode similar to Gun Game in Call of Duty. Each team is tasked with scoring three kills with every weapon in the game.

The second mode is Dodgeball, a mode that players may have already experienced in the game's beta. Players must completely eliminate the opposing team but respawns are not automatic. Instead, a respawn is earned by a fellow team member scoring a kill, which triggers a five second countdown during which all remaining team members must survive. These matches can spin on a dime and create unpredictable moments where anything can happen -- a landslide victory is never guaranteed and can be ruined by a single skilled player.

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While there may be class-specific levelling in Horde mode, there is also the more general player levelling system. No matter whether you're playing horde or the multiplayer mode of your choice, you gain experience to level up your character. Ribbons return to reward players for performing spectacularly well, or spectacularly badly in some cases, and these award XP bonuses after the match just like they did before. Finally, a new feature comes to both Horde and competitive multiplayer: bounties. Bounties allow players to add an extra challenge to their game. They range from the simple, like winning a single Team Deathmatch, to the more difficult like getting a high number of kills in a single game. Bounties are also unlocked and applied using the card system, but the difference is that a bounty can only be used once. While bounties are nothing new in other multiplayer franchises, the chance to earn credit or XP bonuses adds a new element of risk for Gears players.

Finally, we move on to the achievements and there is quite the mix here. There are unmissable story based campaign achievements, plus achievements for performing specific actions during the campaign, usually to do with the new weapons, enemies or gameplay features. There are also a number of collectibles that must be found. The versus mode achievements require players to try out all of the game modes. Horde mode is where players will spend most of their time, though. You need to complete all 50 waves of horde on all 10 launch maps, as well as five 50-wave matches on Insane difficulty with each of the five classes. Five skills and all classes need to be fully upgraded while you need to spend an obscene amount of power in the Fabricator. Finally, you need to earn all of the ribbons, level up many, many times and earn enough credits to buy enough booster packs to fill a bank vault. As usual, Seriously 4.0 will be the target and you're looking at a fair time sink if you want to complete this title.

Summary

Gears of War 4 promised a new beginning -- a new cast of characters, a new threat to humanity and the chance for a new developer to make its mark. While the gameplay and storyline certainly aren't lacking and will likely keep Gears fans amused, The Coalition seems reluctant to let the past go and to move on. Away from the campaign, there are tweaks to competitive multiplayer that include a couple of new game modes, but the real focus of the title is the improved Horde mode. It is here that players will spend the majority of their time and where the real enjoyment lies. It isn't a bad title by any means and it leaves the errors of Judgment behind, but there is too much familiarity for this to be anything more than a title that plays it safe.
4 / 5
Positives
  • Return to traditional Gears of War gameplay
  • Improved Horde Mode
  • New multiplayer modes
Negatives
  • Campaign plays it safe
  • Overly familiar enemies
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent nearly 16 hours wielding a chainsaw in many different situations. It didn't always work -- apparently Windflares are immune to their effect. She earned 34 of the game's 75 achievements. A Play Anywhere version of the game was provided by the publisher, but the game was played solely on the Xbox One for the purpose of this review.
Rebecca Smith
Written by Rebecca Smith
Rebecca is the Newshound Manager at TrueGaming Network. She has been contributing articles since 2010, especially those that involve intimidatingly long lists. When not writing news, she works in an independent game shop so that she can spend all day talking about games too. She'll occasionally go outside.