It seemed like Marcus Fenix and his surviving friends had finally earned themselves a peaceful retirement after the ending of Gears of War 3. However, Microsoft and developer The Coalition has other ideas for the characters as they prepare to start a whole new adventure with the release of Gears of War 4.
It’s only fitting that a franchise that first started ten years ago has added a whole new cast with the release of the fourth main title. With the threat of the Locust behind, it would seem like humanity in the world of Sera deserved to live happily ever after or at least until they went back to starting more wars between nations. Alas, twenty five years after the ending of Gears of War 3 there is now conflict between the government tasked with protecting people inside cities and outsiders that don’t agree with the use of martial law to bring order within these cities. Although this conflict plays a significant role in setting up the main story, it is the introduction of a new threat that will make players care about what is going on.
The new cast, consisting of Marcus Fenix’s offspring JD Fenix and two of his friends, does a decent job of introducing new players to the franchise. The fact that they weren’t around to suffer through the years of war between humans and the war against the Locust threat means they see the world in a different light and also learn about it at the same time as players. Whilst their first proper adventure doesn’t exactly have the same end of the world urgency as fighting against a horde of monsters hell bent on wiping out humanity, it is still interesting to play through the story. Even if the new Swarm monsters don’t have as much of an impact in this title as when the Locust threat was first introduced to players ten years ago. This does start to change throughout the course of the story as the group of youngsters continue to find out more about their sinister plans for humanity.
Some familiar (and older) faces also make a welcome return to assist the new team with their mission. One of the biggest challenges that this title faces is establishing a whole new story. It does so with a moderate degree of success given that the mystery surrounding the appearance of the Swarm is interesting – even if the focus on it does result in some slight character underdevelopment. The on-going conflict between the government’s First Minister Jinn’s robots and the group, not only is reminiscent of the rivalry between characters in Halo 5: Guardians, but also feels like it’s dragged on for slightly longer than it should have.
Perhaps one of the most enticing aspects of this new chapter in the history of Gears of War is the addition of powerful windstorms that the group has to deal with on a regular basis. These destructive natural disasters change the way that fights play out and add the additional potential threat of being electrocuted. This being a Gears of War title also means that the group gets to play with some fancy new toys.
Oddly enough, there are only a couple of boss fights with most becoming regular enemies later in the story. Although only a minor issue, some of these bosses have a tendency to focus on the player character, which does make life somewhat difficult given that some of their moves can one hit kill the characters. AI characters were also not particularly helpful during fights when a certain enemy forcibly ingested the player character and proceeded to walk off the map with him.
The control scheme feels very similar to the one used in previous Gears of War title. It’s a good sign given that the shoot and cover mechanic still works flawlessly and feels relevant despite the often harsh passage of time. What seems to have changed is the increased amount of gore with blood and limbs flying everywhere whenever enemies or even allies are defeated. It’s a welcome upgrade given the destructive arsenal that players can experiment with when fighting enemies, like a weapon that throws circular saw blades. The level of attention given to in-game character models is also impressive to the point that individual hairs can be counted in Marcus Fenix’s grey beard. Our group of beefcake fighters has definitely benefited from the jump to the current generation.
It’s safe to say that the real meat in Gears of War 4 comes in the form of the multiplayer mode. One of the more prominent modes being the popular new iteration of the Horde mode. Although the mode is added to the Campaign mode a couple of times, it is more beneficial to experience it on its own. The user of a fabricator tool makes it possible to build fortifications and weapons to defend from waves of enemies. Each wave gets gradually tougher with all sorts of enemies popping up and being able to pick a difficulty setting at the start means it’s accessible to all sorts of players. To make it more interesting, there are classes players can pick and there are class skill cards that can be upgraded. The only slight downside is not being able to quit and then continue from the latest wave played. Somewhat of an issue given the number of waves that Horde has.
Those looking for gory matches with other players can find them in various modes found within the Core and Competitive sections of the Versus section. Each mode has a different objective, from killing other enemies to resurrect team members to completing goals, but what is clear is just how fast paced they are. Even the traditional Team Deathmatch mode limits the amount of respawns each team has, with the losers being the ones who use up all of their virtual lives. This makes for a much needed different approach to how multiplayer matches are played in a shooting title. Rather than focusing on just killing, players are encouraged to work effectively as a team, in order to complete the objective set out by the selected mode. It does tend to take a brief amount of time to get into matches, but this is negated by the fact that every match played seems to be free of any network issues such as lag.
Anyone who just wants to play for fun can do so by taking part in casual playlists, where the enemy team is made up of AI opponents. Or there is the option to jump into a social match to go up against human players, without the strict rules that come with ranked matches. Given how diverse the modes are, it feels like a lot of thought went into creating a multiplayer experience that is truly worthy of being played for many months to come. The addition of Bounty cards that give rewards when their goals are completed in online matches is another incentive to keep playing.
Although the title makes use of a store, it also accepts credits earned in-game and store items are not an essential part of getting better at playing online matches. Even after taking a crafting system into account, that is used to destroy cards to gain resources or use duplicates to level up Horde skill cards. What does matter are the small details spotted whilst playing online, like Ribbon titles unlocked by performing certain actions in matches.
It’s highly commendable to see that not only does the title have local split-screen co-op support for modes like Campaign, but it also supports LAN matches. The addition of LAN support will certainly makes it easier for the title to make appearances at upcoming eSports events.
Whilst the story isn’t as strong as the first title, it’s understandable given that it’s set in a time when all out war is but a memory of those who survived it. Hopefully the next chapter in this new adventure will see the Swarm becoming a bigger threat, like the Locust, that the characters will have to deal with. For now, Gears of War 4 is a welcome return for the franchise and one that will hopefully mark the start of another epic saga.