So Far, the Only Thing New in ’Gears of War 4’ is the Title

Having spent several hours shooting and chainsawing through opponents in the Gears of War 4 open beta, I’m convinced that this new installment fits in with the rest of the Gears of War games. On the other hand, I’m not at all convinced that it brings enough new ideas to the franchise to justify its existence. The beta is practically indistinguishable from the four Xbox 360 games that came before it.

Disclaimer

Judging a game by its beta is somewhat unfair. Betas are unfinished by definition, and they consist of small sections of a game chopped off from the rest. But the developer did choose this chunk of the game to show off to the public, so it’s fair to assume that it represents the rest of the game.

What’s in the beta

The Gears 4 beta contains two multiplayer modes you can play on three different maps. The modes are Team Deathmatch and Dodgeball.

Team Deathmatch is exactly what you would expect: Two teams — human soldiers and hulking aliens called the Swarm — face off to see who can get the most kills in a set amount of time. Best of five rounds wins the match.

Dodgeball mode may sound like a revolutionary new idea involving some futuristic version of the sport, but it turns out to be very similar to Team Deathmatch. The difference is, when you die, you have to wait for your team to score a kill before you can respawn. Depending on the teams, this can make matches take longer or shorter. The only sure thing is that you’ll have to wait longer to get back into the fight when you die, which isn’t very fun.

There’s also a mode for you to play against bots, but it’s not very exciting either.

The maps available are called Harbor, Dam, and Foundation. They’re all just as functional and uninspired as their names suggest.

Cover to cover

If you’ve played a Gears of War game in the past 10 years, you’ll know it’s all about taking cover. That remains the case here, with just about every player on the map sprinting from cover to cover to move around. As luck would have it, the maps are flush with waist-high walls to crouch behind.

They’ve added a couple of new close-quarters moves this time around. One is a vault-kick that lets you leap over a barricade to kick an opponent out from behind cover. The other lets you pull opponents over a wall, giving you an opening to jam a knife into their face.

Other than that, the game feels just like you’d expect. Characters have the weighty feel of previous games, complete with the shaky-cam effect when you run. With one exception, the weapons are all the same as in previous games, and the shotgun is noticeably more powerful than the other standard guns.

Attack of the clones

Gears 4 looks good, but that’s to be expected since it’s running on the Xbox One’s hardware. It doesn’t look noticeably better than any other Xbox One game.

As for the character models, the humans look fine. They’re unremarkable, but at least they’re visually distinct. On the other hand, the Swarm characters are practically indistinguishable from one another. While you can see small differences in them when they’re standing in a line before the match begins, they’re indistinguishable once the battle starts. Maybe that will change that in the final version, but for now the Swarm character models are disappointingly similar.

Is this it?

That’s really all there is to it. Aside from the graphical upgrades, Gears 4 might as well be any of the previous games in the series. It doesn’t feel like a new take on what came before it. It feels exactly like what came before it.

The Coalition, the game’s developer, may have smart innovations planned for the campaign or the other multiplayer modes, but if so they’re not evident in the beta. That’s disappointing, but the team still has time before the game’s October release to whip up a reason for everyone but the die-hard fans to buy it.

Follow Chris on Twitter @_chrislreed
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