Bullets, grunts, heads popping with a squelch, explosions, and bombastic orchestral music. Gears of War 4 is exactly as it should be.
A really good-looking game, Gears 4 is a treat for the eyes. And it's quite varied too, so one minute you'll be roadie running down a sunny alleyway, the next you'll be strolling through a dark Swarm-infested cave. Lovely.
Played a Gears game before? Then you'll know what you're getting with Gears of War 4. It's tight, responsive, and immediate, and even the AI of your allies is pretty good, for the most part. New additions like the cover grab and vault kick are cool too.
There's a wealth of content crammed into Gears 4, and most of it is really good. However, Horde 3.0's steep difficulty curve can be off-putting unless you've a full team of five, and there isn't really all that much that's new with Versus. The campaign, meanwhile, is a good 8-10 hours, but the lack of 4-player co-op is a letdown.
A list comprising 75 (count 'em) achievements, Gears 4's is a grind and Seriously 4.0 is seriously demanding. Nonetheless, there's a decent spread and plenty to chase down here. You'll be popping achievements for hours on end.
October 06, 2016
There's nothing quite like the visceral thrill of sawing a toothsome monster into quivering pieces. It's one of the reasons the Gears of War series remains one of the most enjoyable third-person cover shooters around. It's also why Gears of War 4 takes some time to really hit its stride. Picking things up 25 years on from the events of Gears 3 with Marcus Fenix's son JD and his friends, Del and Kait, you'll quickly find that they're at the heart of a whole new threat that's brewing on Sera. But first, there are robots to contend with.
Built by the COG to rebuild Sera in the wake of the Locust's demise, the mechanical DB Army are the first enemies you'll face in Gears 4, and you can saw through their steel chassis with your revved up Lancer in a flurry of sparks, oil and twisted metal. They're smart, formidable enemies and bring a new dimension to the series' well-established cover, move and flank gameplay with various classes of robot that will track you down and explode, rush towards you aggressively or hover above you, forcing you to move. However, destroying a robot is no substitute for sawing through the flesh and bone of something organic, or shooting off its head like a ripe melon filled with raspberry jam, accompanied by a satisfying squelch.
Shooting robots. Not as fun as shooting fleshy things.
So when you finally encounter the Swarm for the first time - the game's new race who happen to be remarkably similar to the Locust - you're more than ready to carve them up like Christmas turkeys. The pace is upped once the Swarm appear too, their 'juvies' appearing from gelatinous pods in their droves, as drones rise from pulsating nests that can be closed in the same way as Locust e-holes: with a well-placed frag grenade. By now, you'll have realised that fighting the Swarm is effectively business as usual for JD Fenix and his buddies. If you've played any Gears game, you'll feel right back at home battling Gears 4's monstrous, slimy, sort-of-new enemies.
Consequently, this also means that Gears 4 doesn't feel all that fresh or innovative, but it does feel comfortably familiar; a sequel that doesn't rock the boat or attempt to reinvent the wheel. Horde 3.0 has a go at shaking things up a bit, starting you off with a movable 'fabrication kit' with which you can create fortifications and weapons to stave off the unrelenting advances of the approaching horde. This time around, Horde really takes no prisoners, the difficulty ramping up at a much steeper rate as each wave rolls on. Suffice it to say, you'll struggle with only two of you.
To get the most out of Horde 3.0, you ideally want three to five players together, properly communicating as a cohesive team, collecting and banking energy dropped by enemies to build more resources like turrets, barricades and such using the fabrication kit. As before, every 10 waves is punctuated by a challenging boss wave, with the ensuing 10 waves adding a modifier to proceedings, doubling enemy health, for instance. Once you get to the fiftieth boss wave, it goes without saying that it gets incredibly tough, especially if you're sadistic enough to play on Insane difficulty. Of course, managing your energy to keep your defences up is vital, as is using the repair tool to keep them all in working order.
There are junctures in the story too where Horde-style fortifications come into play, tasking you with battling waves of both DeeBees and Swarm. It's a nice break from the norm during the campaign, but only crops up a handful of times. Most of the time, you'll be engaging in classic Gears warfare, using cover to fight the Locust-esque Swarm for the most part, as you aid Kait in attempting to rescue her mother.
Robots and gun-toting monsters aren't your only impediment though, as you'll also have Windflares and Lightning Flurries to contend with, sending lumps of debris flying and throwing your projectiles off-course amid its swirling hurricane winds. These environmental challenges inject a little extra something to Gears' campaign. It's just a damn shame that there's no support for 4-player co-op; only 2-player. Gears of War 4's campaign would have made for a truly great 4-player game.
The story overall is pretty well-paced too, with some action-packed set-pieces to enjoy and plenty of wise-cracking. It doesn't deal with tonal shifts too well, however, (characters get back to banter without missing a beat after a horrible event) and the writing isn't really up to snuff; but then who the hell plays Gears of War for Shakespearean wordplay? Nobody. Gears of War 4's story delivers where it matters, giving you plenty of excuses to shoot stuff until it dies or explodes.
Versus multiplayer needs no such excuses, as it pits you against a rival team online at a super smooth 60-frames per second. Again, Gears 4's multiplayer is every bit as familiar as you'd hope, albeit with the new ability to grab opponents across cover and vault kick across obstacles; abilities also present in the campaign. Multiplayer is pretty comprehensive too, with its Core Modes playlist taking in the essentials like Team Deathmatch, Dodgeball, King of the Hill, Arms Race (3 kills changes your team's weapon), Guardian, and Warzone. Meanwhile, Competitive modes include Gears staples Escalation and Execution, so you're well served when it comes to game types. And the multiplayer action is fast-paced, frenetic fun with the added benefit of 60fps and stable servers making for a slick experience online overall. You couldn't really ask for much more, as far as we're concerned. There's a stack of different maps too, while the addition of cards might make some baulk at the prospect of microtransactions.
Ugly here has just got his first gun. He's well pleased.
However, Gears 4's cards are merely weapon skins, boosters, bounties, emblems and other non-essential items that are entirely optional. Chances are you'll earn enough credits to buy a few packs in-game anyway and you can scrap cards to craft new ones too if you like. You can take 'em or leave 'em, essentially. In truth, they're actually a neat addition and with every multiplayer title doing the same thing, it only makes sense that booster cards have made their way into Gears 4.
Crafting a card will earn you an achievement too, of which there are loads. 75 of them to be precise, and the majority reward you with a paltry 5G. Very few are attached to the campaign and its collectibles too; the lion's share unfortunately devoted to reaching level 100 several times over to re-up repeatedly. Oh, and Seriously 4.0? That's a proper grind, even if it is a little more achievable than Seriously achievements have been in the past. There's 200G at stake for that one. A decent list overall with a good spread, this one will take you tens of, if not hundreds, of hours to complete.
A barnstorming debut for Gears or War on Xbox One (bar the Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, obviously), Gears 4 has its flaws, but excels as a third-person action game with some dazzling visuals and superlative set-pieces. Horde 3.0 is hard-as-nails and multiplayer is fast and frantic, while the campaign is great fun, with some neat twists and turns along the way that will make any Gears fan grin like a loon. Gears of War 4 is a fantastic action game, and just the beginning for a whole new saga. It's good to have Gears back, at long last.