Game Review: Gears of War 4 (Xbox One)


The last game in the Gears of War series (Judgement – a prequel) was also the last to be released on the Xbox 360. It ended an era of successful games that perfected the cover-shooter game-play mechanic.

With the war between humanity & the Locust at an end it seemed as though the story was told but as Halo has proved, there are always more stories to be told. So here we are…

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Gears of War 4 takes place 25 years after the events of the 3rd game where all Imulsion was destroyed taking the Locust & Lambent with it. The game opens with a speech being given by COG First Minister Jinn to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the end of the war. Here we see a very old Hoffman (now confined to a wheelchair) have flashbacks to three major parts of the Gears story…Aspho Fields, Emergence Day & Anvil Gate.

This is a great start to the game as you’re dropped into the bodies of grunt Gears seeing battles first hand that you’d only heard about. The last stand at Anvil Gate is particularly thrilling & it’s a great way to get you familiar with the controls & Gear cover-based game-play.

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It’s exciting & really gets you pumped for what is coming…and then nothing does, for a very long time.

The main stars of this game are JD (the son of Marcus Fenix & Anya Stroud), Del & Kait. Del & JD are ex-COG who are now living & helping a group of Outsiders led by Kait’s mother, Reyna. Outsiders is the term for people who have chosen to not live under COG rule, instead surviving & fending for themselves in the wilderness.

It’s not an easy life but it’s a free one.

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To get by, the Outsider village run by Reyna needs to raid local COG facilities for supplies which is where Del & JD come in. Together, along with Kait & her uncle Oscar, they are raiding a COG facility that is under construction to get a fabricator. This big box can be used to give power to the Outsider village as well as supply weapons & defences (you’ll be using these in Horde mode & more).

It’s in this infiltration that the game gives control back to the player in the shoes of JD. As characters go he lacks so much that made his father special, he looks & sounds like every white male protagonist ever. It’s so disappointing & by the end of the game you won’t remember a single thing he said of note. The rest of the crew don’t fair any better, Del is the wise-cracking sidekick who ends up being annoying & Kait’s emotional journey is laughable considering how little effort is put into making her relationships seem important.

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The voice acting is mostly good & the facial animations look really good, there just isn’t enough detail & information to make you give a damn about any of them.

In this COG facility you meet Gears of War 4’s first new enemy type, DeeBee robots. These polite machines quickly turn hostile & it becomes one long gun battle to get the fabricator before turning around & trying to get out. The opening couple of chapters that take place within this facility might be the most boring sections of a Gears game to date. Your hand is held to an embarrassingly high level & the DeeBee’s really aren’t that much of a threat at first. When the difficulty does ramp up, the blandness of the location ruins any interest & it just becomes a desperate attempt to get out & see something better.

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This facility raid is not a short section & it is incredibly boring. Once you do get back to the Outsider village things do momentarily perk up until more DeeBees turn up under order from Jinn. She seems to think this Outsider village is responsible for not just taking supplies but taking people too. Naturally JD & Del are confused but don’t get a chance to explain before an all out assault takes place.

Get used to this. The game’s writers seemed to think it would be hilarious to have Jinn’s robot (she uses it to communicate) get destroyed every time any crucial information needs to be passed on. Crucial information that would see the two side stopping their fight & realising that there is a bigger threat elsewhere. It’s not hilarious; it’s frustrating & a trope that is used so many times throughout.

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Add that to the ‘pronoun game’ where characters constantly refer to people they are going to be meeting later as ‘him’. I get it, the developer doesn’t want their old Gears character revealed too early but it’s pointless when it’s this obvious. Who else would they be going to get help from!? The same thing happens later when Marcus has to call for reinforcements from ‘him’. There weren’t that many survivors at the end of Gears of War 3!

No matter the conversation the characters will go to incredible lengths to avoid revealing who the intended character is. JD refers to his own father as ‘him’ & later when Marcus is leading the group to meet his friend no-one ever asks him just who it is they are meeting except JD who already knows & says helpful things like ‘oh, not him’.

It’s pathetic.

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After defending themselves from Jinn’s forces the village sets about rebuilding, however during the repairs the village is attacked by a huge force of unknown creatures. They don’t kill the villagers, instead capturing them including Reyna. Only JD, Kait & Del are left having been locked inside a building while the raid occurred.

The Swarm, as they are later dubbed, leave & the trio decide to go after them to try & rescue their friends & Kait’s mother but not before taking a detour to ask for help from ‘him’. Once they meet up with ‘him’ it becomes clear that the Swarm has links back to the Locust & they are taking humans to bolster their ranks.

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The war never ended…it’s just been on hold for 25 years & one side is way better prepared than the other. Get ready for the fight of your…and roll credits. Yeah, Gears 4 ends in a hugely unsatisfying & abrupt way. Sure, we all know this is the start of a new series of games but did they have to make it seem so obvious? So little is explained, hints are dropped but the game might as well have ended with a massive title saying ‘stay tuned for Gears of War 5’.

At only about 8-12 hours long, the campaign is hardly satisfying especially when you factor in the terrible first hour or so & missions that amount to the exact same thing…rescue.

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The moments that vary things up are seriously fun but they are so brief. A thrilling motorbike chase & a fantastic speedy trip up a mine shaft are highlights of the game but they are bogged down by game-play that is beginning to feel a bit stale.

To try & freshen things up we now have destructible cover that can really make a difference in a tough gun fight. Both players & the AI can lean over & pull the other out of cover offering a brief chance for an execution. New weapons include the Buzzkill (it fires sawblades that bounce off cover & walls) & the excellent Dropshot. The latter of the two is a difficult to master weapon but a game changer in the right hands.

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There’s a whole bunch of new enemy types for you to test your weapons out on too (as well as some re-imagined early enemies too). Snatchers are huge insect like creatures that suck you up into their egg sac. Once inside you’re reliant on your team mates putting enough bullets into it so it spits you back out (note – the AI are terrible at saving you in these situations) while Juvies are small, melee creatures that come at you in numbers & can be tough to put bullets into because of their speed & athleticism.

All of these new enemies require different tactics but most die once you’ve put enough bullets into them naturally. Gears never gets anymore complicated than that.

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Perhaps the most obvious game-play change are the wind flares, massive storms that are now causing havoc on Sera. These storms occur many times during big gunfights & change the way the battle is going on almost instantly. They wreck cover (something you can often assist with too), make throwing an accurate grenade shot near impossible & when the storm wall hits, create deadly lightening strikes.

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These are very cool moments & the storm itself looks amazing. In fact other than the early bland factory sections Gears 4 looks pretty stunning throughout. The single player runs at 30 fps (frames per second) while the multiplayer runs at 60 fps both at 1080p. It’s a very pretty looking game.

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It’s such a pity that the story is so unsatisfying, main characters are so boring, early game-play is so repetitive & the ending is so abrupt. It’s a pity because the multi-player is as good as expected.

Old school Gears fans will feel at home instantly as all your favourite modes make a return. Team Deathmatch, Guardian, King of the Hill, Warzone etc. it’s like visiting an old friend who’s gotten a little bit older but still has plenty of life in them as well as a few new tricks.

Horde mode makes a welcome return with waves mixing up DeeBees & Swarm for a very different style of attack & defence. A good team can make quick work of the waves on early difficulties but on Hardcore or Insane it requires a ‘dig in & wait’ mentality, something that most online seem to lack.

Frustratingly the Gnasher shotgun returns as the weapon that everyone is using. Its range & power is able to put down most with two quick shots from distance but you’ll quickly get used to being an exploding pile of blood & guts as you’re one-shot killed by a Gnasher shotgun from close range.

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Those that do try & buck the trend by using other weapons don’t last long, it’s so disappointing to not see this gun powered down slightly but it does make for some fun & frantic game-play. It’s hard not gloat as you sneak up on an unsuspecting player & reduce him to nothing but chunks.

The tweaking & inclusion of unlockable cards, bounties to complete & more doesn’t amount to much in the way of massive change. This is a multi-player experience that was perfected in the second game.

Gears of War 4’s multi-player comes with 10 maps at the start with a lot more due in the future as DLC. The range of maps are good with some old familiar favourites making a return too.

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As good as the multi-player is it doesn’t make up for such a lacklustre single player campaign. Gears of War 4 doesn’t get a free pass because it’s the first of a new generation. The original Gears of War was a far more satisfying story with a decent conclusion that at least felt like you’d earned it.

It has shocked me to see just what kind of scores the major entities within the gaming media have been giving this game. Gears of War 4 is a good game, but it is not a 9/10 (Polygon), a 9.2/10 (IGN), a 9.25/10 (Game Informer) or a 9/10 (EGM).

Either some are too scared of upsetting Microsoft or they’ve been blinded by the nostalgic feeling that is the return of the Gears of War franchise. Only one gave it a realistic score (GameSpot – 7/10) & that is exactly what Gears of War 4 is.

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A good game, flawed & un-inspiring but a fine effort from The Coalition (the studio) taking over where Epic Games left off. A bit more work on the story & characters in the next game & they might really have something to rival the original trilogy here.

 

Gears of War 4
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    The Final Score - 7/10
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