As a long time fan of Gears of War, I know just how important this next Gears of War game is. This isn’t just some new game that is made to hang onto the original trilogy’s success coat tails. Gears of War 4 has very big shoes to fill. The original Gears of War trilogy is something fans hold near and dear to their hearts. For many of us, myself included, Gears of War was the reason we started gaming on the Xbox 360 in the first place. It was gritty, innovative, and incredibly influential. So much so, that this series became a culture built by a dedicated die hard community. So when Gears of War took the awkward turn with the spin-off Judgment, a lot of us were left wondering if Gears of War could become “great” again and if Gears of War 4 would prove to be the game we deserved all along.
Gears of War 4 is an enjoyable action ride that does a lot of things right when it comes to satisfying me as a long time fan. There are a more than a few “Oh wow!” moments to go along with plenty of epic environments that we are used to in a Gears of War game. We get a few surprises and twists, along with seeing a lot of our favorite characters we have grown to love over the years. There is also really great multiplayer which I know I’ll be putting plenty of time into. Overall, Gears of War 4 feels like it should have been the game to come out instead of Judgment. This is the game that can definitely start me on another Gears of War fixation where I fall in love again and become completely addicted; especially for its multiplayer. However, Gears of War 4’s campaign isn’t perfect and has a few missteps which holds it back from being amazing.
Character Development and Story
Although I enjoyed a lot of the banter between the characters, especially the older developed ones I already know and love, Gears of War 4 struggles to successfully develop the new supporting characters. Kait for example, has a huge motivation for what drives her to fight in this story but because I never got attached to that motivation, the climax of her situation wasn’t as impacting on my emotions like it should have been. Gears of War had done a much better job of this in the past, with flashbacks and hints into the lives of the characters so I really wish Gears of War 4 took a page from its history when it came to making me care more about this character, especially if she is to be a driving force in the story. Del, whom is another supporting character hardly made his presence known for me at all. It was almost as if he wasn’t even there at times. Del is the very definition of “supporting character,” as he is mostly there as “backup” along with filler dialogue with the other characters. Our protagonist however was great. I really loved JD and seeing him interact with Marcus as they talk about personal issues while showing resentment towards each other was fascinating. I felt the backstory on JD was already a given so to have anything extra just made it even more sweeter. I’m a huge Marcus fan so I of course really enjoyed his banter along with his interaction with JD.
A really cool thing I noticed and really liked about the characters was that they all seemed to have different AI skill when fighting by my side. Del for example held his own for the most part and I never really had to worry about him getting into trouble and getting downed by enemies. Marcus was exactly as I imagined; a total bad ass leader who didn’t need my help. Often, he would lead the pack when going into battle against the enemies and was quicker to revive me than the others. Kait, was more reliant on us to help her and was downed by enemies the most. There were many times she would call out that she needs help, and then I would find her in cover hiding. This AI variety in skill was very impressive to me. Never have I felt the AI skill between the characters had this much variety and I have to commend it. It definitely shows a lot of evolution in the Gears of War series.
As for the story, it feels like the story we once knew, only with a few new things sprinkled in. I know a few reviewers out there compare Gears of War 4’s story to that of Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens, with Marcus acting as the “Han Solo” of the story, escorting and guiding the new generation of heroes. I can definitely agree with that since Gears of War 4, although different in terms of characters motivations and back story’s, still manages to feel very familiar. Depending on who you are, you may like this or hate this. I personally liked it feeling familiar. I loved seeing the older characters act as mentors and join in the fight, becoming the glue to help us follow and get behind the new heroes as they take on the new enemies: the Swarm and Deebees. Although I was disappointed with the character development of the new characters, I anticipate and expect it to get better in the next Gears games to come. Overall, the story is an enjoyable ride and the graphics and audio to go along with it aren’t half bad either!
Graphics & Audio
It’s amazing how far this series has come visually. When the first Gears of War came out, my jaw dropped at how gorgeous the graphics were for that time. Even now in 2016, I’m drooling at how beautiful Gears of War 4 is. Some of the bosses and enemies in this game look amazing and the environments alone had me stop what I was doing just to marvel at what was around me. The Coalition did an amazing job with the graphics in this game. While depicting a new era where green trees and beautiful snowy mountains can be seen, they still managed to capture the other side of war where it is grungy, gritty, and dark. The variation of environments really impressed me in Gears of War 4 and it’s definitely one of the best looking games on the Xbox One.
As for the audio, the sound effects are what you would expect: on point! The guns and explosions all sound great, with the exception of the Hammer of Dawn sounding a bit underwhelming. Overall, I had many moments where the explosions and gun fire had me completely excited, adding much to my overall experience. The music is great too, with Ramin Djawadi (best known for Game of Thrones) scoring the soundtrack. I’m a big GoT fan so this of course made me extremely happy.
The gameplay in Gears of War 4 is buttery smooth, both in campaign and multiplayer. If you are even somewhat familiar with the past Gears games, you will clearly notice how smooth it feels, especially on multiplayer. The gameplay works much the same as past Gears of War games, where taking cover is very important. During the campaign, I found myself rushing enemies a lot like I would in the past. I was surprised to find out (the hard way) that these enemies aren’t push overs, even on normal difficulty. I even felt like the swarm were much smarter than the previous locust AI. There were times I would try to cut off an enemy or wrap around a source of cover to flank them, only to find out they saw me and left their position or did the same exact thing to me. Their aim also proves to be on point as well, so rushing around like a chicken with my head cut off wasn’t the best strategy. It forced me to slow things down and become a lot more patient. I know it’s been a while, but this definitely stood out as an evolution to the series for me. The enemy AI, much like my teammates, is very impressive.
My one major gripe with the gameplay and this ties into the story as well, is the Horde elements forced into the campaign. As much as I like Horde as a standalone mode, I didn’t like it in the campaign. It would break the tension and excitement of the story, forcing me to take a “time out” and build reinforcements, to await waves of enemies. This got tiresome after a while and by the 3rd time it was in the game, I dreaded it completely. It isn’t the worst thing in the world, since Horde belongs in the Gears universe. I’m just not so sure it belongs in the campaign. There were also a few frame rate drops, especially during parts where buildings were on fire. This definitely does not go unnoticed so I have to mention it in my review.
As per usual, there are an assortment of guns in Gears of War 4 with new additions such as the Drop Shot, Buzzkill, and combat knife which allows for new stylish executions. These weapons go along with favorites such as the Torque Bow, Longshot, and Boom Shot. Don’t forget the old faithful Shotgun and Lancer; they are back to keep us comfy. So far in my experience on multiplayer, the weapons are all pretty balanced and mix well together. The gameplay in multiplayer is some of the best I’ve experienced. With buttery movement, 60 frames per second, good maps, and variety of characters, skins, and game modes, there is plenty here to keep you coming back.
Overall, Gears of War 4 is a solid addition to the Gears of War series. Though it may not dethrone the original trilogy when it comes to story and character development, it still manages to capture what it means to be a Gears of War game. I had a few gripes with the campaign such as lackluster characters and Horde mode feeling forced into the story but the eventual wild rides and epic moments make up for it. Gears of War 4 does just enough to satisfy my inner Gears desires when it comes to epic “Wow!” moments, unique combat and weapons, and using the environment in the most ridiculous ways as any Gears game should! Gears of War 4 is a fresh start while staying familiar and I can’t wait to see where this series takes us to next.