Gears of War has been a big part of the Xbox family ever since it released back in 2006. Gears of War has always been known for its gorgeous graphics, overly bulky characters, and some of the goriest kills that may even rival Mortal Kombat. Saying that newcomer Gears of War developer The Coalition had big shoes to fill is an understatement. The Coalition not only had to deliver a new Gears of War, but also had to deliver a fresh experience with new characters, while still capturing the heart and soul of what made Gears of War such a beloved franchise. I went into Gears of War 4 with reserved excitement. I was extremely worried that it would feel too familiar, or worse, feel completely different to the point it that it was only Gears of War in name. It is safe to say that not only did The Coalition pull off a miracle, but this is one of the best Gears of War games to date.
Gears of War 4 begins with a prologue getting the player up to date on what has happened in the Gears of War franchise, and to my surprise, does so in a way that doesn’t spoil any big moment from the previous games. This is very helpful for newcomers who might want to go back and play the old Gears of War games after completing Gears of War 4. After spending about an hour or so with the prologue, we are introduced to our new cast of characters. JD Fenix (Liam McIntyre), son of previous protagonist Marcus Fenix (John DiMaggio), Kait Diaz (Laura Bailey), and Del Walker (Eugene Byrd) are set to retrieve a Fabricator, one of the new items in the game, from a village where Kait’s mom, Reyna, is in charge. All hell breaks loose, and our protagonists find themselves out in the world on a rescue mission, a rescue mission that only good ol’ Marcus Fenix can help with. The narrative is very well done, and in combination with some great voice acting, was able to have me emotionally invested in the new protagonists and their mission. Even if I saw the plot twists coming from a mile away, the writing is top-notch, paired with heartfelt moments and comedy that the series is know for.
One of the things I always loved about the first Gears of War was the atmosphere. The first Gears of War had a creepy feeling to it, one that I was sad to see missing in future iterations. It was nice to have that atmosphere back, especially during Act Three when you still are trying to figure out what the new creatures are. This gave me a sense of wonder and fear as Gears of War 4 introduced new enemies that I hadn’t ever fought before. It almost felt like I was playing Gears of War for the first time again, which is extremely difficult to do on the fifth installment of any game franchise. The art design is much more varied this time around as well, with more vibrantly colored areas thrown into the mix alongside those inspired by the darker tone of the first Gears of War. I did, however, have an issue with Horde Mode style levels which felt out of place in the campaign. These missions force you to defend an area for 4+ waves, which increase in both the number of enemies as well as difficulty. The first mission that implemented this actually made sense in the campaign, but after that it felt tacked on as a way to avoid repetition. It also functioned as a way to show off the new Horde mechanic and the Fabricator. Luckily it’s only three missions out of the twenty-five, so it is easily forgiven, especially when they add some great set-pieces and amazing action scenes that added some much needed variety to the Gears of War gameplay that we’re so used to.
While the campaign can be finished in approximately 6 hours, Gears of War 4 still offers many things to do after you finish. This includes Horde and Versus Mode, with Horde Mode being the most inviting out of the two. Horde Mode is what I can see myself losing hours on end with, especially seeing as one single 50-wave completion on Normal difficulty took me almost three hours. The big change introduced in Horde Mode are classes and the Fabricator. Horde starts with you picking your class, of which there are now 5 to choose from (Solider, Scout, Engineer, Sniper, and Heavy), and then grabbing the Fabricator and placing it where your team deems the best place to defend it. The Fabricator is basically a machine that creates weapons and defensive items for money or, in Gears of War 4’s case, energy. You get energy by killing enemies and collecting the energy that drops from them. Stronger enemies drop more energy, but there’s a catch. Energy left on the ground disappears between each wave, so you have to bring the energy back to the Fabricator to deposit it. This is also when the classes tend to come into play, and showcases how each class has a role to play. The Scout, for instance, gets a bonus for deposits in the Fabricator, while the Engineer starts of with a repair gun that repairs defensive items. It’s fun to experiment with the different classes to figure out which one fits your play style. If you plan on playing on Insane difficulty, I’d suggest that you pick the class that you’re the most skilled with, and level them up. You’re going to need it!
Once you get bored of Horde, or maybe you just want to spice things up, you can head over to Versus. Versus doesn’t change much to how Gears of War multiplayer has been before, which depending on who you talk to, can be either a good or bad thing. Versus puts players into 5v5 matches in a variety of modes. Most of the modes are familiar, like Warzone, which is basically Team Deathmatch with no revives. You could try out some of the new modes in Gears of War 4 like Dodgeball that plays very similar to an actual game of dodgeball but with guns. If Dodgeball isn’t your thing, there is Escalation, which is a spin on Domination and has you capturing one of three rings to earn points, but capping all three grants you an instant win. These new modes are a great addition to Gears of War multiplayer.
Gears of War 4 could have easily been a huge let down. Not only did Gears of War 4 have a new developer, but they also had to introduce a new cast that players needed to care about in order to be successful. By giving players a compelling story, an intense Horde Mode, and Competitive Versus that will keep players coming back for more, The Coalition pulled off what many thought was impossible. After finishing Gears of War 4, I can’t wait to see where The Coalition takes the Gears of War franchise next.