by Dale Harvey
Gears of War 4 is out, and for my money it’s one of the best game experiences that I’ve had this year.
Having said that, let’s get a few things out of the way, I am a HUGE Gear head, I’ve been a super fan since the first one and have bought every Gears game since – hell even my first cosplay was as a gear… So yeah I’m a fan.
That being said, I’ll do my best to provide a fair review, as I’m not afraid to let you guys know what I feel sucks about the game…and yes, there is one thing that really sucks.
In Gears of War 4 we are introduced to the new generation of gears, as it has been 25 years since Gears of War 3, the Coalition of Ordered Governments has known a bit of peace, and they have started on the process of rebuilding their cities. The Locust threat is gone, and most of the populous lives in the cities. There are the Outsiders, and that is where we meet JD, Del, and Kait. JD and Del have been friends since childhood, and are currently deserters from the COG army. Kait is the daughter of Reyna – the leader of the Outsider group who gave refuge to JD and Del – and she is a force in combat as she was trained by a former Gear, Oscar, who is the brother in law of Reyna.
As a gears fan, I feel that what The Coalition did at the start of the game was brilliant. They took an act in the first chapter and dedicated it to the Pendulum Wars. This was something that Gears fans have been begging for. We got a little taste of it, along with some sweet Dom and Major Hoffman action.
As the game continues, one thing that I found of note is that Gears of War 4 has good pacing. To explain that a bit, with a Gears of War game, you kind of expect to feel like you’re in a persistent battle for your life and the life of your team. Even when you resting or getting a piece of important story, you know in the back of your mind that more challenges are around the corner. I feel that this is due in part to the consistently excellent use of the cover system, and the way that Gears uses weapon, camera, and game mechanics to pull you in and up close to every battle in which you engage.
On the Xbox 1, Gears of War 4 uses the Unreal 4 engine, and it shows. The game is visually stunning! It tends to showcase brilliant set pieces of destroyed cites, lush landscapes, and decaying ruins, all set within colors that give the areas in which you’re spilling blood some great color and interest. At times you’ll actually say to yourself “Oh I’m about to split this MF’ers head in two with this gnasher blast, but that windstorm in the distance is lovely!”
When we talk about gameplay, this is where Gears of War has always shined. It’s fast, brutal, and visceral, regardless of whether you’re playing single player or campaign. You learn or remember really quickly that the cover mechanic is your friend, but camp out too long behind cover and you’ll find that your enemies have the ability to not only yank you out of your cover, but also vault over it and execute your happy ass right on the spot. When you move in game you can feel the weight of your characters. Every step, roll, or roadie run feels like it is with purpose and intent, and coupled with the intense in-game sounds and music, there is a sense of immersion that I find is lacking in quite a few others games that I’ve played this year.
As expected, weapons are always a part of the Gears DNA. In gaming circles, if you say the words Lancer, Gnasher or Torque Bow, chances are you’ll see a gear head perk his ears up if they are anywhere around you (trust me, we are everywhere!). The Lancer with its punishing power and trusty chainsaw, and the Gnasher with its close range hip fire devastation are the tools that we fight and live by, but Gears of War 4 reaches into its bag of tricks and pulls out a few new weapons that are very impressive and deadly to all comers. There’s the Dropshot, a weapon that flings out a mining charge at an angle and distance you can control and then drops said charge behind cover or on top of foes to devastating effects. Drop one of these bad boys on the head of a enemy during the course of battle and you will be treated to one of the best kill animations that I have ever seen. We also have the Buzzkill, a weapon that fires rapid rounds of sawblades that are capable of one shot kills. The neat thing about the buzzkill blades, is that they can bounce off of surfaces in the game, and in skilled hands this can make it so that just about nowhere on the map is a safe place to hide or catch your breath.
Let turn to multiplayer for a moment. Gears of War has always been known for great multiplayer, due to the fact that the core combat area in the game is in very close quarters and in your face. Gears of War 4 is no different in this regard. Multiplayer is still a key part of the game and is still as punch-you-in-the-face as ever. If you enjoy cutting a MF’er in half with a chainsaw attached to a rifle, blasting your best friends spine out with a shotgun or curb stomping the living daylights out of every bastard that isn’t part of your team… then Gears of War 4 multiplayer will give you more than enough changes to do so!
There is a heavy esport module that The Coalition and Microsoft are trying to push with the game this year, but sadly I don’t know enough about it yet to report on it. If it becomes a thing, however, I look forward to seeing how it’s going to shake out.
Now on to the disappointing and downright bad things I found with the game…
In every Gears of War game up to this point, we have been able to fight in multiplayer mode using the skins of our favorite heroes and enemies that we found throughout the game. You might not have been able to play with every skin right off the bat, but you had the ability to unlock them through gameplay or promotional events. As of right now, you can still do something like this in Gears of War 4, but outside of the starter skins, all the favorite old characters are locked behind a system where you need to “create” a character card in order to obtain that skin. How do you do this, you ask? Well, if you have enough “scrap”, you can create a card. Small amounts of scrap can be obtained by destroying cards, which can only be obtained via Card Packs. Unfortunately, you’ll need in-game credits (or via micro transactions with real life money) to purchase them, and get a chance at the rare card you’re looking for. You can also take all of the crappy cards you’ve got, and turn them into scrap – at a rate of about 5 scrap per card, or about 25 scrap per pack, if you get nothing worth keeping. A single card pack of 5 cards can cost about $1.99. Most skin unlocks require about 600 scrap, so if you get lucky & have to scrap every card, then the skin you want could cost about $48.00 – on top of the $60 – $100 which you’ve already payed to purchase the game itself. At the moment, these skins & boosts have no effect on gameplay at all – which is great – but I really hope the developers are looking at how skins are awarded, because right now a lot of people are really upset with this choice.
Let us not also forget that once you beat the game on any difficulty you get NOTHING! No unlock, no weapon skin, nothing. Go 50 rounds in horde mode? Nothing. Get 10k headshots? NOTHING! At least with previous Gears games, you had the ability to work toward a goal, and accomplishing it meant that you would get what you wanted, vs. just having a random chance of getting it.
In closing, if you’ve ever played any Gears of War game, they you understand just how important relationships and story are to the games. Epic did an amazing job telling the stories of Delta squad, and I’m happy to say that Rod Furgusson and the team at The Coalition have done a great job continuing with that mission on the single player side of the house. As when I first started I felt I would have a very tough time caring about anything dealing with Gears if it wasn’t dealing with Delta squad, but by the end I actually gave a damn about JD, Del, and Kait, the start of their new story, and how The Coalition didn’t screw over the past to try and shove a new story down our throats. Instead, they did the best thing possible, which was to show respect to what Gears of War was & currently is, all the while showing us what it’s going to be as we go forward.