Gears of War 4 – Review
Yes it’s a bit late but things have been mental these past few weeks hence the lack of activity but hopefully I can back into writing more regular stuff!
So a new Gears ey? let’s get right to it
Gears of War is every bit as important to Microsoft as the Halo and Forza franchises and few could argue how crucial a well-received 4th instalment is to the continuing resurgence of the Xbox platform. Not only does Gears have to perform well as a standalone entry in the series but it carries the added burden of being part of Microsofts much maligned Universal Windows Platform. Not content just to build another AAA Gears of War title The Coalition which is headed by Gears veteran Rod Fergusson deliver a technical masterclass for both console & PC.
On Xbox One Gears of War 4 is a truly incredible visual spectacle continuing the series tradition to utilise the Unreal Engine to its full potential but on PC it is something else. Few multiplatform games are this well optimised for PC with many being straightforward ports of the Console version thankfully as was the case with Forza the PC version takes full advantage of the PC to deliver an even more impressive experience.
Gears of War 4 on PC is not only packing some of the best visuals on the PC today but It’s also a fully featured and rock solid experience. The Coalition have clearly invested heavily in getting the best out of the platform offering a massive suite of visual treats even going so far as to offer a built in Benchmarking tool to help get the most out of your PC. 4k is on offer if you’re lucky enough to own a GTX 1080 or Titan X equipped monster rig but I’ve had no issues running a full 1080p at 60fps on my i7, 970m based laptop with only a few small changes to base Ultra preset. Visually it really is something else and it’s deliciously smooth with the exception of the cut scenes that feature some horrendous tearing due to the 30fps delivery.
As I mentioned before the PC version is Rock Solid with not a single crash or technical issue across any of the modes I’ve played. The much maligned UWP has worked very well apart from a small hiccup when I first downloaded the game from the store. I had to reboot a couple of times to get the download started but once it was going it was completed without further issue. It was nice to see it downloaded to my Xbox as well without me even needing to turn it on it downloaded in the background and unlocked on the release date.
Microsoft have quite rightly been championing the UWP and crossplay service and in the case of both Forza Horizons and Gears I must agree with them. It’s worked flawlessly but for horde and campaign cooperative play I’ve always gone back to my Xbox mainly for simple use of my Astros. To go from the PC to Xbox might have been a jarring downgrade if it wasn’t for amazing job The Coalition have done with the Console version. It never feels like the poor cousin of the PC release it’s every bit as polished and in some ways, it is the superior experience. For a social player like me I always go back to the Xbox when I want to play with friends it’s so simple to plug my headset into my controller and I’m away.
Seeing Gears on the Xbox for the first time was a real surprise when you consider it’s running on an apparently underpowered console. From the incredibly detailed Character models to the stunning environments and eye watering weather effects few games on any platform even come close. The frame rate is also a rock solid 30fps during the campaign which is smoother than you would expect and Gears is many things but a twitch shooter isn’t one of them so the compromise makes sense. The art direction is typical Gears of War but this time around there are less grand set pieces with the focus on more small-scale battles. Gears 4 feels more like a survival horror game than a bombastic, generic shooter that the previous few games became and this is a very good thing. Underneath all the gloss and polish is a more intimate game that is about survival and that adds something that was missing from all but the first Gears game. That sense of dread and horror that helped Gears first stand out is back this time around it fits perfectly and doesn’t feel at all forced or out of place.
The game takes place over a 24-hour period where things go from bad to worse and then to late night SyFy channel bad. The first couple of hours are a slow-paced affair against largely forgettable robot enemies but the game comes alive after nightfall. After the dull robots, the return of the Locust in their new form couldn’t have come sooner. I won’t drop a bazillion spoilers here but I was impressed with how they were slowly eased back into the game in a way reminiscent of the Downpour level in Gears of War 1.
The swarm as the locust are now called are essentially the Locust from the previous games with a few more tricks up their sleeves. Scion types that replace the Maulers and Boomers can now buff nearby enemies forcing you to focus your fire and my personal favourite the Pouncers. The Pouncers are heavily armoured jerks who as their names suggest like pouncing on players pinning them down and chowing down hard on some juicy, soft faces. They are deadly up close and can be a major problem if you don’t get some serious fire down on their unarmoured bellies.
The highlight of the first few hours is the tense camp defence section which sees the lines between campaign and Horde mode blurred. The COG are coming and you must protect the villagers using the fabricator to build defences and keep the waves of Robots from overrunning the village. It’s tense on the higher difficulties and easy to get overwhelmed and murderised but clever use of defences and turrets are key to surviving the first big test.
As shit goes ever more sideways and the game brings back some old favourites the pace really ramps up with the Swarm growing more deadly. You descend into what feels like the very bowels of hell in a similar way to Gears 1 but this is no rip off. The various set pieces you have to survive along with another Horde moment fly by in a blur of shotgun shells and imploding heads it really is a proper old school blast. It’s relentless action but it’s never overwhelming and to it’s credit the AI is not as bad you dread in AI driven games. They generally get stuck in, pick you up when you walk into a Gnasher and behave better than some human players I know (LUKE). There is a palpable sense of impending Doom always being just around the corner it’s tension done almost perfectly and like the best movies the payoff is worth the effort. Rarely has Gears felt more like a proper, fair challenge than here in fact it’s more akin to acing a track on Forza or even clearing Pillar of Autum on Legendary the first time. Deaths never felt cheap or like you had been stitched up they were a result of leaving cover, getting over eager or just being a massive prat (LUKE). It’s the perfect difficulty arc and by the end you’re a bad as fuck, armour platedkilling machine
There is great variety in the environments from industrial areas to the Fenix estate the sense that world has gone to crap is vividly laid out. The stunning weather system plays a big part in proceedings with several challenging moments having to escape the deadly lightning storms that kill anyone unfortunate enough to get struck.
Horde is where the real meat of the Gears package resides and for Gears 4 there has been some quite dramatic changes. First and most obviously is the Fabricator that is now used to craft items such as turrets and defences. The match starts and the first task is to carry the Fabricator to the location of your team’s choice and get set up ready for the first wave. Choosing where to place the Fabricator is very important and no longer being a fixed location the maps contain multiple possibilities. In addition to choosing a key location how you go about defending it depends very much on play style. I found focusing on Turret defence is a great way to pick off the bigger enemies at a distance which prevents you from being overrun quite so quickly.
Player classes play a much bigger role in Horde 3.0 and getting a rounded squad is key as the waves pile up. The available classes are all standard with Engineer, Heavy, Scout, sniper and Soldier on offer each with different strengths, weaknesses and loadouts. As you would expect the Sniper starts with ranged weapons and is best getting headshot or dealing damage from a distance whereas the Heavy carries a Boomshot and is great a medium range. Scouts are great for charging around collecting the dropped materials and mopping up stragglers but it’s the engineers that are the real key to victory.
In Horde 3.0 Engineers are the only class that carry the repair tool that allows for the repair & reloading of defences and turrets. You can buy a repair tool from the fabricator but they cost a small fortune and you lose it when you die. The key to being successful as an engineer is to avoid leaving your defensive area and concentrate on repairs and upgrades. Putting up a manned turret is a good way to add to your team’s offensive capabilities but the fighting is best left to your team mates. When the killing absolutely must start, the Engineer is far from toothless armed with the Gnasher and a punchy SMG that shreds up close you’re more than capable of kicking some ass. The other Mandatory class in Horde 3.0 is the Scout and much like the Engineer class they are absolutely key to success in the later rounds. Scouts have a passive perk that massively increases the amount of power earned per round once it’s added to the fabricator.
New for Horde 3.0 is the Card based skill unlock system which much like the card decks in Titanfall or Halo’s Req system but this time around they are permanent unlocks that can be equipped at the beginning of a battle. As you progress and earn more experience the cards become more powerful and further compliment your current character class.
Play as an engineer then you want to equip efficiency cards that decrease the cost and time needed to repair, build and upgrade turrets and fortifications. Playing as a scout then increase your movement speed to help your movement around the map or to earn more power. Once you start experimenting with the new card system any sense of it being a simple add-on soon disappear. It’s a deep system that adds a whole new layer of complexity to Horde 3.0 and fits it perfectly. In fact, it’s a wonder why it wasn’t there from day 1 it works that well.
Elsewhere in the Multiplayer suite, you get the typical Gears experience that on a personal level I feel never tops Gears of War 1. Gears multiplayer was at its best played 4v4 with no respawns as it forced team work and a slower, more tactical playing. Control the map and push for the power weapons to take your enemy out as fast as possible. The addition of respawns breaks the tension and it quickly became just another multiplayer game. Players no longer need to exercise any real caution or teamwork as they respawn a few seconds later and re-join the action.
There is a rather brilliant new mode this time around in the form of Dodgeball which takes the old formula and adds a new twist. Rounds start 5v5 as normal but when you die you must wait for one of your team mates to kill the opposition before you can respawn. This brings some brilliantly frantic moments but also those hard to beat heroic gun battles where you’re outnumbered but somehow manage to get your team back into the fight. On several occasions, I found myself 1v3 or 1v4 and through blind luck managed to take 2 or 3 enemies out bringing my mates back into the game. This adds the much-missed sense of tactics and genuine tension when you start seeing the odds stacking up against you and it’s something missing from the series. It just works so well.
Whenever a new studio takes the reigns of something as established as Gears of War there will always be concerns over its ability to do it justice. I can’t think of any single part of Gears 4 that isn’t an improvement on what has come before it. On a technical level, it is impressive whether you’re on PC or Console it’s a beautiful, optimised and accomplished game that I’ve had absolutely no issues with since I started playing. Sure, that should be par for the course but we all know how these AAA launches tend to go but thankfully they have got this perfect.
On a technical level, it works very well with quick matchmaking, smooth matches and no real glitches or issues yet. The Gnasher is still the gun of heroes with most players switching instantly to it when the round starts. This turns Gears into a blur of players running head long into battle Gnasher’s drawn. It’s all very boring and predictable. The Lancer feels weak in comparison offering less stopping power than in the older gears games. On several occasions players, have simply run through my bullets and one shotted me point blank without taking any real damage. It’s very frustrating and the main reason I play very little of the competitive multiplayer. That and the fact I suck ass.
It’s not a huge rewrite by any means but it is a great mix of the traditional Gears elements mixed with a new-found sense of intimacy that cleverly hints at a smaller scale future for the series. Gears 2 and 3 fell into the trap of simply adding more scale and more theatre to proceeding which took the series away from its survival horror routes into a more traditional shooter mould. We lost something as the series progressed and whilst Gears 4 doesn’t completely undo the damage it goes a long way to making you care about the story and the new Characters.
Had Gears of War 4 been poorly received then you fear for The Coalition but they have done a fantastic job crafting a brilliant package and have given themselves a platform to build a new Gears of War Trilogy.