STAFF REVIEW of Gears of War 4 (Xbox One)

Thursday, October 6, 2016.
by Adam Dileva

Gears of War 4 Box art There’s only a handful of franchises that seemingly define a console or generation of gaming, and Gears of War is easily one of those franchises. Just shy of its 10 year anniversary, Gears of War has been pulling in fans ever since 2006 and it crafted one of the most iconic series that helped Xbox 360 reach the fan base that it did. Gears of War 3 was released way back in 2011 and fans have been waiting half a decade for a proper sequel ever since, and now that time has come with the impending release of Gears of War 4. Sure, there was Gears of War: Judgement in 2013, but it wasn’t the true sequel everyone was waiting for. Now, with a new studio behind the series, The Coalition, can the this true sequel live up to what Epic Games and Cliffy B. created a decade ago?

Even after all these years the gameplay and visuals of the older Gear of War titles still hold up, but the current generation hardware can do much more than the Xbox 360, and Gears of War 4 really proves this point, along with other agendas Microsoft is pushing like the very welcomed Xbox One/PC crossplay. The visual fidelity of Gears 4 is nothing short of amazing on the Xbox One, and if you have beefy enough PC rig to handle it, you can hit 4K resolution with this Play Anywhere title.

Crossplay allows gamers on their Xbox One to play with with those playing on PC in a variety of modes. You'll find that the majority of the multiplayer modes are available except for the competitive versus mode. It should be noted that Gears 4 is also a Play Anywhere title, meaning that when you buy it digitally you automatically own the Xbox One and PC version (for Windows 10). I’ve recently just upgraded my PC and this feature is a fantastic bonus to have, not even including the expanded player base that will help keep the game community alive longer.

I always strive to avoid any spoilers in my reviews, especially when it comes to a story campaign, so the only details I’ll divulge is from what’s been shown previously before launch. That being said, the story is much broader, grand in scope, and very involved. I just don’t want to spoil anything if at all possible. If you’ve avoided the most recent trailers, especially with a huge reveal, then you might want to skip ahead a paragraph or two to be safe.

Set 25 years after the events of Gears 3, a new Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) is formed, automated robots replace many solders in dangerous roles, and cities that were devastated in the locust war are starting to heal. The new COG are forcing people to live in specific areas in attempt to keep them safe, but it’s viewed as oppression by some, causing a new “Outsider” faction to form, and there is a very tense relationship between COG and this Outsider faction.

Many citizens are seemingly going missing, and COG naturally assume Outsiders are responsible. Given that the new protagonist, JD Fenix, son of the infamous Marcus from previous games, is the titular hero, we know that is most likely not the truth. JD is accompanied by Del and Kait, and when the autonomous robots, known as DeeBee’s, start attacking JD’s group, they must resort to finding his father for assistance. There’s much more to the story than this, but needless to say you’ll be facing a fearsome new enemy and unravel a whole new mystery when the locust were seemingly all destroyed decades ago. Campaign supports two player co-op, and even crossplay, so make sure to grab a friend and battle the enemies, regardless if they’re on console or PC.

If you haven't played a Gears of War title before, it’s a third person cover based shooter at its core. You’re expected to hide behind cover and shoot your enemies from seemingly safe protection, but Gears 4 implements new weaponry and tactics to counter enemies and players that think staying behind cover is safe. New weapons, like the Dropshot, fires a floating mine for as long as the trigger is held, drilling downwards and exploding when released. There are also cross-cover moves where you can pull an enemy from behind their cover, granting you a moment to execute them brutally. If you’re quick enough though, you can counter these moves, so there’s a few different strategies than can be utilized.

The core gameplay is largely unchanged aside from the new weapon additions and moves, and while it feels fresh, maybe because it’s been so long since a Gears game, it still feels familiar as well. There are a few levels where there’s a massive windstorm, forcing you to take cover while trying to progress. The wind is so strong and violent that certain weapons shots, like the Buzzkill, which launches massive buzz saw blades, will arc in the wind. These sections show how gorgeous Gears 4 can look and are very impressive set pieces which shows us something new the series.

Some vehicle sections return as well, which were the highlights of the whole campaign for me, making me want to replay them numerous times. If you’re a longtime Gears fan you’re going to be able to predict a lengthy gunfight a mile away, as there’s always seemingly a handful of waist high blocks conveniently placed between you and the approaching enemy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you don’t get many surprise battles as the level layout makes it painfully obvious as to what’s about to go down. There are even a few sections where you’ll have to play a few waves of Horde to keep back oncoming waves of enemies to survive during the campaign, a welcomed change of pace.

While some will come to Gears 4 for its campaign and story, a vast majority will mostly likely return for its celebrated multiplayer, and it does not disappoint on its current-gen debut. Rankings and Re-Ups are present, ranging from bronze to diamond, as do dedicated servers and 60FPS, making for incredibly smooth gameplay. Now to be fair, I’ve only played a handful of matches given the small player pool before its release, but I didn't have a single issue.

Obviously there’s Matchmaking, but you can also setup private games as well if you simply want to play with some friends. LAN also makes a return, which I know some people will be ecstatic about, as does splitscreen play. And of course, crossplay is a huge bonus as well for playing with PC gamers. It should be noted that the crossplay doesn’t support versus matchmaking, for obvious keyboard and mouse versus controller issues, though at least you are able to crossplay in private matches should you desire to finally determine who actually is better among your friends on console or PC.

The new raking system is supposed to pair similar skilled players together in a better and fair manner, so a new player shouldn’t be matched up against someone who is much more experienced than you. Again, the player pool is so small as of the time of this writing that I’ve not been able to confirm how well this has been implemented, but that’s the theory behind the new rankings.

There are plenty of modes to play aside from the standard Team Deathmatch, some of which are a lot of fun and have their own twist. At launch there will be 10 maps, with the popular Gridlock being one of them, and while this may seem like a small number, The Coalition has promised new maps every month, both new and remastered ones. Now, before you sigh, thinking you’re going to have to purchase them, there’s great news: all DLC maps will be free for public play. They will rotate in and out of playlists, but they are purchasable if you’d like to own them for private and dedicated matches. Also, only the host will need to own the map, so it’s seems like a great trade off.

The reward system has changed quite drastically in Gears 4, as you now earn credits for all of your online games in Versus or Horde. These credits can then be used on Gear Packs in the store which unlock different items, XP boosts, bounties, horde skills, and even coveted weapon and character skins. Everything can be earned through gameplay itself, but you can disassemble duplicate cards and use them to craft new cards. It’s more involved than I was expecting, especially once you realize that cards are extremely important if you plan on delving into Horde mode, and will take a little time to war your head around.

Co-op Versus allows you to play with other players against bots, which is a great starting point to get the hang of the 60FPS multiplayer gameplay. Social Playlist is where you’ll head next when you’re confident in your skills to take on other players. There’s a handful of modes, of which I’ll just delve into the newer ones, as Team Deathmatch needs no real explanation. There is a Dodgeball, which may seem like an odd name, but its mechanic can make for some frantic gameplay. When you kill an enemy a teammate will respawn, so even though you might be the last one alive on your team, you always have a chance to turn it around by getting a teammate back into the game at any moment.

So far Arms Race is my favorite mode, as this is the Gears variant of “Gun Game”. Your team begins with a Boomshot and every 3 kills your weapon swaps, for the whole team, until you rotate through every single weapon in the game, each needing 3 kills. This mode is great for people wanting to learn the new weapons, as they do take some practice. My only complaint here is that your weapon automatically changes even if you’re charging up your Torque Bow or are in mid clip when shooting someone, which can ultimately lead to an unexpected death.

Escalation is Gears 4's attempt of getting rooted into eSports with this involved competitive mode. Escalation is a round based objective mode where there’s always 3 rings on the map at all times, one near each team's ‘home’ base and the third ring right in the middle of the map, equal distance from both teams. There are spawn flips aside from when rounds end, and you earn points for every second you hold the rings. Your team can try for a quick Domination victory by capturing all 3 rings at once if your gutsy enough. This is easier said than done though, as it takes time for the rings to neutralize and capture.

Everyone starts out with a default Lancer and Gnasher and there are no weapon pickups to begin the match, allowing for an equal start. If your team loses a round you’re granted a weapon that you can place on the battlefield in specific locations, but it can be obtained by either team during gameplay. So, while it may seem like placing a power weapon is a good idea, it could spell disaster if the other team gets it first or kills you and takes it. There’s actually a good amount of strategy that goes into placing the weapons, as you can use it to support your team, or simply block your opponents attempts.

Deaths in round 1 only last 10 seconds, but each subsequent round adds another 2 seconds, making an excruciating 20+ second respawn in the final rounds. Because of the chance of a domination victory, you better hope that your whole team doesn’t get killed simultaneously, or you could lose quite quickly in the later rounds. I can see this mode gaining a lot of traction and I’m excited to see some of the strategies that eSports pros will utilize in the future.

Lastly, Gears multiplayer wouldn’t be complete without the one mode that really put them on the map: Horde Mode. Dubbed Horde 3.0, it will initially feel familiar, but there’s a slew of new additions that easily make it the best version of Horde to date. Up to 5 players can play cooperatively against 50 waves of enemies, with each 10th wave being a boss battle of sorts. I don’t want to spoil some of the boss fights, but you better learn the intricacies of the mode before attempting Horde on the more challenging difficulties.

Not only are there new enemies to combat, but Horde now utilizes a class based system to encourage teamwork and revolves around a mobile fabricator ‘home base’ where you’ll spend earned money to build fortifications or weapons to help you survive. The fortifications that you build can be placed anywhere on the map and can also be moved whenever you desire, so you’re not stuck with a useless fence or turret if enemies are coming from another direction.

The fabricator acts as a pseudo home base, as defeated enemies will drop energy, and if brought back to the fabricator, it can be spent to build your fortifications. It’s indestructible, so there’s no need to guard it, but if it’s in a bad area, depositing your earned energy and spending it can be quite difficult. The fabricator can be used to build gates, turrets, decoys, weapon lockers, and more. Can’t find a specific power weapon to help you out? Spend the energy to build one! You can even revive downed teammates by returning their COG tags to the fabricator provided you have enough energy to do so. The only issue I foresee is when playing with random people that who want to cause havoc, as anyone can spend the earned credits or move the fabricator whenever they wish to anywhere on the map.

There are 5 classes for you to choose from in Horde mode and they can be individually leveled up, each of which is extremely useful in its own right. Finding a perfect balance of class makeup for your party will play a huge factor in how many waves you survive. The classes range from Scout, Soldier, Sniper, Heavy, and Engineer. Each of which has their own starting loadout and special abilities.

Soldiers are your basic damage dealers, and spawn with frag grenades. Scouts are your front-liners while Heavy’s deal massive damage and start with an explosive weapon. Snipers are self-explanatory and are meant to stay back and pick off enemies from afar. Engineers are meant to be responsible for fortifications as they’re the only one that can use the repair tool to prevent fortifications from being destroyed.

Even on the casual setting Horde was quite a challenge, and it will require a lot of teamwork and communication. Without it you’re going to have people wasting hard earned energy or not creating a cohesive group of varied classes. The card system comes into play and dictates what bonuses or skills you have going in, so learning how the card system works will only help you going forward, and will be essential when attempting Insane difficulty.

Gears wouldn’t be Gears without the ‘Seriously’ achievement. These achievements are for the most dedicated and hardcore Gears fan and usually entail putting an obscene amount of time into the game to earn. Seriously 4.0 is no different and will require you to learn almost all aspects of Gears 4. Here’s the rundown of what you’re going to master to earn this badge of honor which is no easy feat:

- Complete the Campaign on Insane Difficulty
- Get to Re-Up 10
- Earn all Ribbons at least once
- Earn a Rank Placement in each mode
- Get all 5 classes to Level 10
- Level any 5 Horde Skills to Level 5
- Complete all 10 ‘on-disc’ maps from Wave 1-50 (any difficulty)

I was enthralled with the Gears 4's campaign and enjoyed it from beginning to end. It’s full of mystery, character development, humor, and classic Gears gameplay. The memorable set pieces and vehicular sections are grand in scale and really stand out among the best moments of JD Fenix’s journey. Gears 4's color palette isn’t as drab and brown heavy as its predecessors, as it supports the new HDR lighting technology, which looks breathtaking (sadly I don’t have a TV that supports HDR) from what’s been shown.

While JD isn’t as rough as his dad, at least not yet, he is his father’s son, sharing some similar qualities, which makes him easy to accept as the series’ new protagonist. The new squad may not be as memorable or revered as Marcus, Dom, Baird, and Cole just yet, but they had a trilogy to build their characters, and Gears 4 is just the beginning of a new saga. I’m already anxiously waiting to see what’s in store for us fans in Gears 5. If you were nervous how the new studio was going to handle the Gears series, put those fears to rest, as The Coalition has delivered an experience that feels new yet familiar at the same time and worthy of the Gears of War title. Whether you’re coming for the campaign, competitive multiplayer, or Horde mode, Gears of War 4 has tremendous value and replayability and ushers in the new generation some change for the series.

Overall: 9.3 / 10
Gameplay: 9.3 / 10
Visuals: 9.8 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10



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