Despite its name, Gears of War 4 is technically the fifth installment in the series. While Judgment may have easily been the most experimental in nature, the real question is if the latest installment decides to play it safe or tries to usher in a new era.
One thing has remained a staple of the series: gameplay controls. Not only does this include the (now modern-shooter-awkward) right shoulder button being reload, but also the vaulting cover-based mechanics. If you’ve never played a Gears of War game before, you’re in for quite a learning curve on the mechanics. It does boil down to the simplicity of running from cover to cover and keeping your head down, popping up to take out enemies when the opportunity arises, but it stays true to its roots, and simply feels like a slightly tweaked version of itself since day-one. That’s both good and bad. The good news is that they added more executions along the way, and if you find the opportunity to use them: they’re brutally knife-tastic. This all carries into multiplayer where I found myself spending more time than I had expected I would. More on why that is later. While there are new weapons and new vehicles in the fray in the campaign, the truth is that the controls haven’t changed much. While the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, the bad news is that it feels a little clunky compared to other modern games that have taken their own route with cover-based mechanics. Mind you since I’ve played the entire Gears of War series, I re-adapted very quickly. Rest assured: if you like this series, you’ll feel right at home. If you’re new, it works once you get a grasp on it!
This is where I found myself initially concerned but almost entirely at ease once I got into the multiplayer suite. Seeing the end credits roll on the campaign takes a pretty standard 7 hours, and naturally it can be played with a friend in co-op, bringing you at least two playthroughs or more with buddies. Then I dove into multiplayer hard and fast. It’s clear they wanted to ensure that half of this game’s value is in the multiplayer, as it not only has more than enough modes for you to enjoy, but the modes themselves have actually been thought out and not thrown in as novelties. While I tend towards Team Deathmatch (ranked preferably), I HIGHLY recommend you give Arms Race a chance. It was the most “fun” mode, one that combines intensity with skill, and is totally worth every minute. If you’re not into multiplayer, then content might be an issue, but if you can appreciate a breath of fresh air among multiplayer shooters: put the time into the multiplayer suite. It’s more refined than ever before, and with tons and tons and tons of customization options, you get to look as cool (or fruity) as you want while you gib.
Starting with the graphics, I’m on the Xbox One S, and this game looks mind-blowingly good. At first, it might be hard to see or notice, but when you get in close, you realize how much detail this game is actually presenting to you. Whether it’s in the lighting engine, wind physics, or texture detail, Unreal Engine 4 combines with DX12 really well, and gives you a level of graphical detail that is hard to appreciate at first glance. In addition, even though most of the game takes place at night, this might be one of the best-looking moonlit games I’ve ever seen. Multiplayer, on the other hand, sees a loss of global illumination in favor of 60fps, but manages to still look good thanks to massive improvements since the beta and what I sometimes noticed as dynamic resolution. Moving onto the story presentation is somewhat of a balancing act. The story doesn’t hit the highs and lows of Gears of War 2 (what I still feel is the best in the series), but is still a well-presented story that ushers in new faces. Unfortunately, it does not explore its own revelation on the existence of both the Locust and their queen even though it manages to imply the answer. That’s quite a missed story development opportunity, even without me spoiling it. All-in-all, the game looks simply amazing, but the story is merely serviceable.
I like the Gears of War series. It started out as such a beefcake, man-splosion extravaganza, but turned itself into a series with a heart. That heart IS still here in the latest beefcake adventure, but with a balancing act that leaves some loss of fidelity in the campaign presentation department to add some gain in fidelity in the multiplayer department. If it wasn’t for how much more alluring multiplayer is now, I’d have been worried about how The Coalition is handling the Gears of War series. Fortunately, there is no need to be worried. This doesn’t top the pinnacle reached by Gears of War 2 nor break any new ground, but it’s a refined and polished entry for the current generation, and one not to be missed by anyone who is a fan of the series… or that wants to see what Unreal Engine 4 and DX12 can do in bed together.
I give Gears of War 4…