The Gears of War series is 10 years old now, but it’s been half a decade since the humans triumphed over the alien threat in the original trilogy. Gears of War 4 represents several firsts for the series. Not only is it the first time a Gears game has appeared on Xbox One, but it’s also the first time any developer other than Epic Games has had a crack at it. Now that Epic has moved on, a team called The Coalition built this installment from the ground up, but the obvious question is whether the new team is up to the task. So far, this is what we’ve gathered from the new installment and why we think its well worth the money.
Maybe you don’t play shooters for their stories. That’s understandable, because many triple-A shooters don’t have stories worth following. Thankfully, Gears of War 4 does. It’s not some massive Tom-Clancy-on-steroids plot like you’ll find in games like Call of Duty, but its simple narrative is easy to follow over its roughly nine hour campaign. (It says something about the state of shooters that a followable storyline is considered praiseworthy, but that’s where we’re at these days.)
The game takes place 25 years after the events of the Gears of War 3. Humanity is finally at peace. Most people live in cities, which are protected by advanced combat robots the government built to help preserve the human race against any other threats that might be lurking in space. The game centers around a group of friends led by J.D. Fenix — the son of Marcus Fenix, who will be familiar to anyone who played the previous games — as they flee the city, meet up with Marcus, and take on a whole new threat.
Despite the brutal violence Gears is known for — which is still very much present here — the story delves into the relationships between the characters, making it feel much more personal than most other shooters.
Let’s not beat around the bush: Gears of War 4 is the best-looking game on Xbox One to date. From the stunning caves and forests you fight your way through, to the various enemies you encounter, everything looks incredible. Unlike its often drab predecessors, this installment even has bright environments, filled with the whole spectrum of colors and shades. And the storms that roll through some of the environments? They send debris flying through the air and shake every tree in sight. Visually speaking, this game is a stunner.
Great enemy variety
In Gears of War 4, you’ll be going up against two types of enemies: the robot enforcers mentioned above, and the Swarm, a new type of alien for the series. Some Swarm villains act similar to the Locusts you fought in the previous games, while others do strange, awful things like emit toxic gas clouds, or even gobble you up, taking you out of the fray until a teammate guns them down.
The robotic enemies are called DBs, and they come in all shapes and sizes. They can absorb a lot of bullets before they die, and they’re awfuly reckless in combat. Some DBs fly, some duck behind cover, and some rush at you in a suicidal attack when you chip their health down low enough. Suffice it to say you’ll need to come up with new tactics to take on the enemies this go-round.
Top notch gameplay
One of the strong points of Gears of War has always been how satisfying the game feels to play. Basic things like your heavy footfalls and the way the camera wobbles when you sprint give the games a style all its own. Add to that the satisfying sprint-to-cover mechanic and the adrenaline burst when you nail an active reload, and you’ve got a game that just feels good to play. Satisfying gameplay is a tough thing to nail down, but Gears of War 4 gets it just right.
Lots of multiplayer modes
The campaign is fun for as long as it lasts, but what really gives a shooter longevity is its online offerings. Thankfully, Gears of War 4 delivers. The centerpiece of the multiplayer modes is, of course, Horde mode. But if you thumb past that, you’ll discover a lot of other creative modes you won’t find anywhere else.
In Dodgeball mode, for instance, players who die are eliminated from the game until someone else on your team gets a kill, at which point you can come back in. In Escalation mode, each team is vying for control of three points on the map; capture all three, and you win the round. Arms Race mode gives everyone on a team the same weapon until they rack up a certain number of kills. Then, everyone’s weapon switches to something new, making you have to change your strategy on a dime. Each new mode offers a unique twist, and there are enough of them that you’re bound to find at least one you like.
Horde mode still reins supreme
Horde mode continues to reign supreme for players. Like in previous installments, you and your team members are tasked with taking on wave after wave of enemies. Between waves, you spend “energy” to set up automatic weapons and defenses that will help you in the next wave.
The big new idea this time around is the class system. Before the fight, each player chooses a class, granting them a unique perk in the session. For instance, scouts collect more energy from downed enemies between rounds. Engineers get a discount when building defenses, and Heavies deal extra damage when they use heavy weapons.
As you’d probably expect, Horde mode remains as exciting and challenging as ever. It’s particularly enjoyable when you play with a group of friends.
Verdict: Play it
The bottom line is that Gears of War 4 is a game worth playing. It might not veer too far from what came before, but it’s a more-than-promising start of a new chapter in the franchise.
The Coalition has delivered a gorgeous game that adds smart new ideas that fit right into the established Gears of War universe. Maybe this game will give them the confidence to change things up a little more next time around. But even if they continue to make minor changes while mostly sticking with what works, it’s safe to say the series is in good hands.