The average teens that enjoyed the first ‘Gears of War’ installment on the Xbox 360 are now in their late twenties or early thirties, and much like the players that made the franchise famous, ‘Gears of War’ has done a little maturing as well. The new installment, called ‘Gears of War 4,’ offers many of the same benchmarks that players have grown accustomed to over the years, but with more polish and a better balanced of gore.
The franchise has solidified itself as one of the most popular third-person shooters on the planet. The levels are often fast-paced, and the player acts as a meat-grinder; tearing through aliens and obstacles and leaving nothing but rubble and monster-bits in their wake.
The game’s release was set just a few months after E3 so that Microsoft could introduce the new ‘Xbox Play Anywhere’ campaign. While Xbox One sales have been playing catch-up to Sony’s PS4, Microsoft is dipping into it’s monopolized PC-gamer customer base to entice buyers.
This puts ‘Gears of War 4’ in a very perilous position, but one that it should prevail in. The game serves as once of the first major titles that will be compatible with the Xbox One and Windows 10 cross-platform feature, and it’s the first game in the franchise to launch on Xbox One. This launch comes at a time where Microsoft needs it the most, and Microsoft has offered several Xbox One Gears of Bundles for players that are ready to pick up a console, including the new Xbox One S Gears of War version. The cross-over also means that this will bring ‘Gears of War’ to the PC for the very first time, and everything has to be just right if Microsoft wants the idea of “Play Anywhere on Xbox” to catch on.
Overall, the launch of ‘Gears of War 4’ should prove as a promising start for the marketing campaign. The game is wonderfully entertaining, and even though it showcases the same amount of blood and gore as previous installments, the game balances out the bloodshed with a rewarding story and decent plot devices better than its predecessors. This could be because modern blockbusters have started to shy away from using all out violence and mayhem as their central design technique, or it could very will be because the fan-base has put on a few years.
Players will return to the franchise 25 years after they left ‘Gears of War 3,’ but they will playing as a new character. Marcus Fenix is still around, but first you meet with JD Fenix, Kait and Del. The world of Sera is still recovering from the Alien attacks, and the government has a stranglehold on the major cities. There are now pocket rebellions that are pushing against the harsh regime, mostly in satellite cities across the wastelands. This is where the story picks up, and you start out with a neutral connection between these opposing factions
Playing as JD offers some great advantages in storytelling, and it’s a brilliant move to balance out the player-base. The iconic characters of ‘Gears of War Past’ serve as the nostalgic ‘old-timers’ that fans of the franchise can’t wait to see, but since you play as a young upstart its perfect for anyone that is new to the series. While Microsoft did throw this slight protagonist curveball, the game mechanics are the same tried-and-tested tools used in the past.
Players will grind their way through enemy lines and chokepoints, with all the same ferocity that has made the games such a huge hit over the last decade. Nothing is left out, you have your defensive positions, your vehicle levels, your bouncing back between characters and/or groups, it’s a Gears of War game through and through.
Luckily it’s not just a simple cut-and-paste job from previous games, the AI in the game has gotten a lot more diverse, and there are plenty of new baddies to fight off as you make your way through the levels. The enemies that attack you, both alien and earth-bound, change often throughout the story and it never gets too tiring or worn-out to tear through the next wave of approaching doom.
The game isn’t too much of a watershed moment in the franchise, it relies heavily on what made the previous games so fun to play. That being said, I wouldn’t expect a new studio to try and change too much in such a successful franchise, and it’s overall entertainment is sure to be a hit with players. The games have an enormous fanbase, and it always seems to pay off more to slightly improve what has been established, then to reinvent the wheel. In this aspect Gears of War 4 is a terrific installment, with slick graphics, intuitive controls, and expertly crafted gameplay moments scattered throughout the campaign.
Speaking of graphics, this is easily the best looking Gears of War game in the history of the franchise. There’s no real point in belaboring the point that the PC version looks better, since it almost always does in any game, but if you have a 980 or better I would really push you in the PC direction. You can try out both platforms of course, thanks again to the Play Anywhere campaign, but its nice to see that the game looks terrific on both platforms. I tested the PC version with an MSI 980ti and 60FPS were easy to achieve with a few customizations. I do think it’s possible to reach 6Ofps on a slightly less powerful card as well – without sacrificing too many graphic-options that is.
While the campaign is on the short side (I ran through it in about 10 hours while also taking notes and running about in the wrong directions at times) the game certainly has enough moments to warrant a second run-through or more. Of course the real party is over on the multiplayer side once you finished the story.
Multiplayer is part of what made Gears of War famous, but I am curious to see just how far players take the multiplayer aspect of the game into 2017 and beyond. Unlike the early PS3 or Xbox 360 days, the multiplayer scene of today is filled with stand-alone multiplayer titles like ‘Overwatch,’ ‘DOTA’ and ‘League of Legends’. It will be interesting to see how a third-person shooter add-on will fit into the mix. That’s not to say the multiplayer won’t be popular, I’m sure gamers will love tearing through each other at 60FPS and laying waste within all of the Hoard Mode glory. I only mean to point out that the multiplayer platform has a lot of competition now, and games like ‘Tomb Raider,’ ‘Uncharted,’ ‘Assassin’s Creed’ and even ‘The Last of Us’ on consoles have had mixed results in their multiplayer offerings as the years have gone by.
That being said, If you loved the multiplayer aspects of previous games, I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t love this the new version. The levels are meticulously planned, fill of hidden features and brilliant lighting details. Across the map you will find all out chaos on the battlefield, within each pile of players you will find an almost endless amount of violent rage as opposing teams try and destroy each other. Players will also have a lot to choose from, proving that the developers really put a lot of muscle behind the multiplayer portion of the game. There are the staples, the Team Deathmatch and the control maps, but there are also the just plain bizarre modes like Dodgeball.
Dodgeball mode gets its name from the game-mechanics you learned in P.E. class, allowing one of your teammates to come back from the dead if you kill another player and stay alive for an extra 5 seconds. There are eight modes in total, spread across 10 maps to keep things interesting. Players can also compete in competitive modes if they like, adding some fun competition to the game and keeping you interested down the road.
Of course all of this pales in comparison to what is arguably the most popular feature in Gears of War multiplayer, the Horde mode.
This gameplay scenario is still my favorite to play and this new installment adds a twists to keep things exciting for returning players. You and your team will still fight off waves of enemies, and you will have to kill enemies in order to reinforce your defensive position. You have a lot more freedom in building your defenses, and the mechanics in building your team are more thought out. You and your friends will choose from classes like Sniper, Engineer, Scout, Heavy Solder and Soldier, all which have different skills and perks to keep you alive. It’s still a terrific mode to play, made only better with the silky smooth framerate and updated graphics.
Overall the game is a more polished installment, and Gears of War 4 only improves what everyone already loves about the game. While the developers may have chosen the safest route for the game, it pays off with a solid foundation and well designed mechanics. It’s a solid release (assuming the servers can withstand the oncoming storm when the game hits consoles) and I think players new and old will find nothing but chaotic entertainment within its many maps, modes and levels.
Gears of War 4 will launch on Xbox One and PC on October 11, 2016 and is available for pre-order on sites like Amazon.com with bonus DLC and extras.