Gears of War. One of my favorite franchises since I first took chainsaw to Locust way back when (2006). Now the first original game not made by Epic, or its affiliates, continues the Gears story 25 years after the world-changing events of Gears of War 3.
The Locust are a bitter memory. Survivors of Locust and Pendulum Wars have lived for the last 25 years in relative peace, a peace that they have never known before.
Gears of War 4 starts off with a prologue that gives a glimpse of Sera before Emergence Day (E-Day) during a battle at Aspho Point in the Pendulum Wars. The COG are fighting against the UIR (Union of Independent Republics) for data that the UIR has that the COG, and most likely Adam Fenix, need to make their satellite based weapon system (Hammer of Dawn) work. The entire prologue is well done and this portion specifically stands out as it’s the first time that humans fight humans (not counting Formers).
The opening act introduces us to series newcomers JD, Kait, Del, and Oscar on a raid of unfinished COG settlement 5 in order to supply power to their own outsider settlement.
It’s here where you encounter the new enemy type, the DeeBees. Automated construction and security machines that provide the COG with unquestioning authority they need to impose on the populace rules and regulations, partially for the benefit of all, but also to maintain rigid order (the COG has never been about allowing too many civil liberties). The DeeBees also come with new weapons like the Enforcer, a rapid-firing smg with a forgiving active reload area perfect for frantic firefights. The Overkill, a shotgun based weapon with extremely high rate of fire, devastating from short to mid range. And my personal favorite the Embar, a charging pulse rifle that fires a high precision bolt at long-range, but without the scope because, you know, it’s made for a machine, that probably has little scopes for eyes anyway.
“it’s made for a machine, that probably has little scopes for eyes anyway.”
Little things discussed between the characters help to flesh out the differences between the outsiders and COG in the post Locust War age. Kait arguing with the rest about going through a maternity ward because while she doesn’t hate kids, she hates that the COG would demand that she have kids.
When the team find what they are looking for, a fabricator, there is a short introduction to the new HORDE mode as the device is used to fortify your position with caltrops, turrets, and sentries. It’s a great way to bring all the game modes together in just the single player story.
Collectibles are dispersed well throughout the entire game, with the number of collectables lightening up slightly when either story or action take more precedent, but still enough to keep collectors going through multiple playthroughs.
Now to get to the REAL enemy, the Swarm. Without spoiling anything, the Swarm in terms of gameplay generally play similar to the Locust before them. The Swarms drones are, well almost identical to the Locust drones. There are some newcomers that offer a nice challenge to the traditional Gears formula of cover, shoot, move up, repeat. Juvies are the basic melee combatants for the swarm and function much like the Wretches, but that is where the similarity ends. Juvies are faster, terrifying, humanoid shaped creatures that cover ground quickly. It only takes a few shots to bring them down, but they are hard to hit. Another difference between the Juvies and the Wretches is that Juvies can dive into a “swarm nest” and come out Drones. They evolve. THEY EVOLVE!!! Pouncers traverse the map rapidly, jumping from cover to cover and flushing out anyone who happens to be behind it. The constant repositioning makes for frantic firefights that can be difficult, if not somewhat frustrating, for those with not a lot of skill in cover based shooters, like me… Snatchers remind me a little of the Reavers from the first three games at least in their design. They play very differently in that you are literally snatched up inside the thing if it downs you, and you have to hope that your teammates can shoot it enough times to get it to spit you out before it just leaves the battlefield. Each of the enemy types really has significant depth to them in how they all interact is much more apparent than it was with the Locust.
“They evolve. THEY EVOLVE!!!”
I won’t go into much more detail about the enemy types that you will encounter from the Swarm as it gets into spoiler territory, but there are plenty to make encounters vary.
Windflares. Sera’s new weather pattern seems to have caused major hardships for survivors of the almost extinction level war. COG settlements have developed windwalls and as for everyone else, not really sure how they survive since almost every building you run into to escape the storm during the campaign is almost immediately destroyed. Combat-wise, they change the landscape drastically and allow for new tactics for players, as well as enemies, to use to their advantage. Not only do the high winds affect trajectories of slower projectiles, like the boomshot, and grenades, but debris can be dislodged to either flush enemies out of cover, or to smash them into gory, chunky bits. Movement against the wind is hampered during a windflare, and if you’re not careful, some piece of piping is going to smash you into bits. As if that wasn’t enough, lightning bolts that must be crafted by Zeus for how long they remain, travel across the map usually in between you and shelter. I believe it was Del who said “Is it just me or does it seem like the entire planet is against us?”
Gears multiplayer is back and has a wide variety of game modes for everyone from the professional gamer, to the laid back guy sitting in a recliner while a 14 month old keeps hitting the D-pad and switching weapons on me. Dodgeball, a game mode introduced in the beta earlier this year is back and still is one of my favorite competitive multiplayer modes. Horde is back, and it really is more improved from Gears of War 3’s. Defenses can now be placed virtually anywhere you want them rather than the fixed positions in Gears 3, which allows for more thought in how you set up your defenses and tailor it to your playstyle. Points are now pooled into the Fabricator encouraging teamwork to decide what the points are used on. There are also bonuses depending on what class you picked, which isn’t so much a limitation as much as what bonuses you gain and what your starting weapons are. If I had one gripe about Horde 3.0, it would be that there doesn’t seem to be a way to upgrade things you have already placed after the Fabricator has increased in level. The only solution I see is to allow the old defences to be destroyed, collect the points left over, and build a new defence. I may be very wrong and it is certainly possible that I’m missing something, but as far as gripes go, I think this is pretty mild.
Another multiplayer mode that I don’t think has received much attention but is great for casual gamers is the co op versus mode. This pits 5 players against AI using all the standard multiplayer game types, Dodgeball, Warzone, Guardian, etc. AI difficulty is selected the same as it is in the Campaign or Horde mode and their is still a challenge to it, but one the players can dial in more rather than getting demolished by the Gears fan that has perfected multiplayer.
All in all, I think Gears of War 4 is a solid entry into the series. It brings back a lot of the familiar but also changes the formula up just enough to keep things from getting stagnant. The story is one of the better in the series and enough is left unanswered to keep you wanting more, but enough is revealed that the ending is also satisfying. So with that I am going to get back to my second playthrough and say, if you have an Xbox One, get this game.
Edit: After getting through all 50 waves of Horde mode, I did find that if you pick up the fortification you wish to upgrade, then hit X (provided you have the funds) it will upgrade existing items.