The Gears Of War (GOW) franchise is undoubtedly one of the more innovative properties in gaming.
Because of its macho veneer and lunk-headed plots, it’s easy to forget that when the first Gears Of War hit the Xbox 360 ten years ago, it was a revolution; its co-op was awesome, the pop-and-cover mechanics were super slick and its presentation was simply eye-popping.
Over the next decade, Gears Of War became Microsoft’s other flagship shooter and, like Halo, became a platform-selling IP. Fast-forward to the present, and development duties have been passed from Epic Games to The Coalition for the first brand new instalment on current gen platforms.
So how does The Coalition’s first turn with the Gears Of War series feel? In a word, ‘familiar’. In six more words, ‘a bit tired and somewhat old’.
Gears of War 4 Review: Campaign
The Coalition has done a fantastic job of making Gears Of War 4 look the part. If you were to be none the wiser, you would be easily convinced that this was a game developed by Epic.
Everything Gears veterans expect from their fix is present and correct. Thick-necked protagonists? Check! A soundtrack guaranteed to make the neighbours hate you? Check! More bullets, mayhem and testosterone than is contained in all of Michael Bay’s entire film oeuvre? Check! Check! Check!
But while this is all comfortingly familiar, a nagging concern persists in that The Coalition hasn’t put its own definitive stamp on the game. Gears Of War 4 borrows heavily from all the previous games, in terms of its visuals, environments, weapons and modes.
Speaking of modes, the Campaign is the weakest part of the new iteration. The first hour is dreary to put it mildly and if you were itching to get your hands on a Lancer, tough; you’re stuck for some time with its less-impressive cousin the Retro Lancer, which, veterans will remember, has no chainsaw attachment.
The Campaign, which can be played with up to four friends in co-op mode, follows the basic Gears template of the last ten years, which is also why the everything feels a bit dated. Stop me if this sounds familiar; players begin a level with a small conversation between the characters, while they navigate small passages into a larger area. Then all hell breaks loose. Once the area is cleared, there’s another small conversation. Rinse and repeat.
To spice things up a bit, there are now new enemies that you have to contend with, but after a while the formula becomes painfully clear. It is only once erm… certain events happen… that things really become interesting.
With that said, don’t even try to play the Campaign in solo mode; I got bored after a while, as the level design became very predictable very quickly. The plot, thankfully, didn’t suffer from this problem. The story, by the way, certainly has room for improvement, but it contains one of the best plot twists I’ve seen in a Gears game in ages (or ever -ed.)
Gears of War 4 Review: Multiplayer
While the Campaign may seem a little perfunctory, Gears of War 4 positively shines in its Multiplayer modes.
Here The Coalition saw it fit to add a ton of new features to keep the Cole Train rolling. In the Multiplayer mode players now have active Class Skill, Bounties and Customisation cards, which can be obtained through buying card packs (with either real cash or in-game currency).
Class Skill cards provide various weapons and ability buffs for the character class that players choose, like soldier, sniper or heavy. Active Bounty cards are objectives that need to be achieved to provide an XP boost and Customisation cards can be anything from a new multiplayer character, to weapon skins and emblems. The higher your multiplayer level, the more cards can be equipped at once.
These cards can be used in the hugely-popular (and very familiar) Horde mode, as well as the Versus mode.
Horde is fundamentally the same as it has been since it first appeared in Gears Of War 2: a team of players try to survive against wave after wave of enemies, which become increasingly nastier as each wave is beaten. While it can be tackled alone, players will start to struggle around Level 8 or 9, so best get a team together.
The mode has also been tweaked a bit, where killing an enemy will generate a small amount of energy, which needs to be taken back to the Fabricator. The energy is used in turn to build up fortifications.
Versus mode on the other hand, pits you (or your team) against other real-life players in a variety of sub-modes like Arms Race (every three rounds you get a new weapon), Dodgeball (every enemy kill brings a fallen team mate back), and War Zone (permadeath). Naturally the staple modes of King of the Hill and Team Death Match are included. Players intimidated by entering this online fragfest needn’t be; the mode requires them to play five placement matches that will determine their skill level. This will ensure that for future matches, they’re pitted against like-skilled players.
Gears of War 4 feels incredibly familiar if you have played previous entries in this series and it is easy enough for newcomers to get sucked in. But for veteran players things might seen a bit dated, with nothing really changing fundamentally in terms of visual style and execution.
It’s a Gears game with fresh faces, new enemies and a new plot. The hook here for The Coalition is the multiplayer element, be it in the traditional modes of Horde or the co-op campaign. Playing this game with friends is a much better experience overall – it even makes the Campaign mode bearable.
But don’t get me wrong: Gears of War 4 exactly what one would expect from a Gears game, but that is also the problem. There in nothing new that changes the scene, and while everything is in place as it should be, we would have like to see bolder moves from The Coalition. Maybe next time…
Gears of War 4 was review on Xbox One, with code supplied by Microsoft.