October 08, 2016

Gears of War 4 - Review

When Gears of War 3 completed it story, taking down the locust horde, I did wonder if there was a chance of a 4 and I am not counting Judgement in that, but now that 4 is here, does it live up to the legacy left by the games before it.

Gears of War 4 starts off with a sombre recap of the Immulsion War, a glimpse into Emergence Day and finally the day the war ended, which is a nice way to recap the complete story for those that never played the other games, but after it is done there, it jumps 25 years into the future and you land in the boots of James Fenix, son of Marcus. James along with his best friend Del and other friend, maybe girlfriend Kait are about to raid a COG settlement, along with Oscar, to get some vital equipment to help protect their village and while things don’t go according to plan, the arrival of Jin, the leader of the COGs does get the story going in earnest.

Jin accuses James and crew of taking her people, which the group soon experience firsthand, when their village is attacked by the Swarm, a whole new class of bad guys and everyone but the core three are taken. Kait’s mother is taken and James agrees to help her get her back, but first they need to get Marcus to help them. The story is pretty loose from then on, there are a few quiet moments where the characters can speak to one another, but for the most part all of the information is given out in snarky comments and chatter as they move about. The problem with the story is a simple one, it poses a lot of questions, but with so little information, even by the very end, it is hard to care, even the reveal of what the Swarm is, can be spotted a mile away, leaving the biggest surprise until moments before the final battle.

The issue with such a boring story, where nothing is revealed is that it also flows across into the gameplay, with nothing really added to the series and while yes, the giant mech suits are cool, they still play the same as when you are out of them. Don’t get me wrong, the active reload and cover systems are still a treat in action, nailing that perfect reload in the middle of a firefight is just delightful, but given that the series is now 10 years old, I would have expected something fresh. Even the favourite Lancer makes a return and is used far more outside of the battles than in them, with chained up doors and snot doors, that will make sense, I swear, blocking your way, the chainsaw cuts them out.

In the original game and the others to a lesser extent, there were times when the action would stop and you would just have to walk from point a to b, or sprint from cover to cover along that route. Here the game never feels like you have that time to relax, sure that are times when you are forced to walk slowly, to give the team time to chat, but there is never a slower moment, letting you just absorb the world around you. Perhaps though, the biggest change to the gameplay come via the Windflares, giant storms that will come across the land, giving you challenges against both nature and beast. These storms are both a delight and a pain, because while the wind is random and the placement of the lightning is the same, they always play out in the same way. As the wind picks up, you will have to fight through the enemy to reach safety, but as you get closer to your goal, the enemies get more numerous and then the lightning hits, to make you duck and weave. The experience of them is great, plus they look and sound spectacular, but by the time of the final wind flare, I was bored of them, purely because they did nothing new.

What is new though, are the larger action moments, the escape on the bikes, or the mineshaft exfil, these sequences were incredible, in the speed and danger they portrayed. Plus, at the same time, they also provided a sense of scale to the world that has not been seen before in a Gears game and of course that is saying something, given the size of some of the enemies. The campaign, can be played with friends, just like the past games and while it is lengthy, I felt let down by it, simply because it was more of the same, but less of the impact.

When you go online of course, things can change up, the games multiplayer modes are set in two types, standard competitive multiplayer and Horde mode, the latter of the two is more for myself. Given that I played the game before its release, what is said he needs to be taken with a grain of salt, until the games servers are given time to deal with more players. The standard multiplayer is just that, standard, while it looks ok and does feel great in action, there was not a single mode that made me think that this was the game I needed to play, of course, I am not great at the games online, which could bias me a little. Horde mode however was a treat in past games and it is here as well, even if you never played Horde mode before, you will get a taste in the campaign.

Horde mode will see you take on wave after wave of enemies, as they increase in size and complexity, with the big issue being how you set up your defences. The fun comes from trying to anticipate where the enemies will come from first, so you can set the best traps, but by the second wave, things generally go crazy and you are left in a free for all and when playing with friends, it is the best kind of crazy.

Gears of War 4 does have one massive upside compared to past games, the visuals are even better, while not to mark down the other games, they were fantastic for their time, the games sadly had the issue of trying to put too much on screen at once, which lead to the bleed in effect of the detail, something that never happens here. While there are some issues with lighting being a tad slow, which can cause rooms to change the feel as it loads up, they very rarely happen, so its not a huge issue. When it comes to the style of the game, it does shine best when we see spaces we know, the trees and grass are nice to see, especially as I can’t recall every seeing so much green in any past gears game, but it’s when we get a chance to see the remains of the past war, that the old games were set in, that things really look nice.

From a sound point of view, the voice work is on point, with return cast members like John Dimaggio getting a chance again to shine as Marcus Fenix, but the new cast shine as well. Liam McIntyre shines as James Fenix, sharing a similar style of voice with the father, but also enough of a difference that you won’t think it’s the same person. Laura Bailey and Eugene Byrd also bring depth to Kait and Del respectively, letting the character emotions take point when needed and with enough humour as to not stifle the mood. Enemy wise, there is a strange mix of new and old and while I understand the direction chosen, it would have been much nicer to just get a new mix. The score is pretty set to be a background piece, except in those big action sequences, or during a boss fight and it never tries to be the part of the game you pay attention to the most.

Gears of War 4 is a great game, it kicks the series off again with fresh characters and solid gameplay, however stale that gameplay is. While the story is predictable and does nothing to tease a sequel, it is still worth experiencing, though if you were not a fan of the series before, this won’t convince you otherwise.

Thanks to Microsoft for supplying the game for review

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