|System: Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: The Coalition|
|Pub: Microsoft Studios|
|Release: October 11, 2016|
|Players: 1-10 Players and Online Multiplayer|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language|
by Sean Engemann
Gears of War didn't invent the cover-based shooter, but it easily became the standard-bearer when the series launched back in 2006, becoming one of Microsoft's most important and iconic franchises. Now, a decade later, Gears of War 4 opts not to mess with a good thing, keeping the core gameplay relatively untouched, which still holds a blazing candle against the competition. The original trilogy is complete, the war against the Locust menace victorious, and the reigns of the series handed to developer The Coalition, who flexed their programming muscles with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, showcasing their competence before delivering a new chapter in a new saga.
But I am hesitant to call Gears of War 4 a "chapter," as I am torn as to whether "extended prologue" (to the new series) is a more accurate description. The Coalition and Microsoft are clearly looking to extend the series through the Xbox One's life cycle and beyond, and by the time the credits roll you'll still feel like you're just being introduced to the new cast, and maybe feeling a little cheated by the tasty yet unfulfilling amuse-bouche. There are a few revelations in the five act campaign - a roughly seven hour journey if you simply Roadie Run past all the crumbling and decades-long unattended architecture, but by the end there are certainly more questions than answers.
The cast itself a more likeable, and as such a more uninteresting crew than from the original Gears games. JD has the beefcake build of his dad, Marcus Fenix, but his softer tone is undoubtedly a trait handed down from his mother. He has witty retorts, and his unselfish heart makes you root for his success, but the absent badass persona seems like it could drift the series into monotony. Del and Kait come off as the quintessential team players as well, both prone to a few emotional outbursts, but always falling back to a composed state. By comparison, Marcus's always blunt and perpetually pissed-off jabs, Cole's Thrashball showmanship, and Baird's elitist and snide attitude blended like a B-52 cocktail, i.e. they did not blend at all. But it was seeing those conflicting, selfish personalities placed on the back burner during a Locust onslaught that solidified the importance of their struggle, something just a little less potent in Gears of War 4 's story.
Setting the script aside, the combat is classic Gears of War third-person cover, barely tinkered with, which is absolutely fantastic. Progression pretty much follows the expected formula: walk down a quiet corridor, have a little exposition banter, enter a more open section with conveniently placed cover points, take out a wave of bad guys that arrive right on cue, and repeat. That list may have sounded sarcastic, but its linearity is offset by the fact that every encounter is fun. There's always an exposed head or shoulder to exploit your marksman skills, some situational heavy weapons like the new Dropshot and Buzzkill to play with, and cojones to show off by charging an enemy with a revved up Lancer or bayonet style Retro Lancer. Or you could yank them over cover and execute them with some nasty knife stabs. It's Gears combat staples and they never gets old, although the first two acts are a little less thrilling as your enemy targets are robotic soldiers called DeeBees. There's something about oil splattering on the screen and dismantling a tin can with wires that just lacks a certain visceral quality you expect in a Gears game. But once the opposition gets a little more fleshy, you'll feel right at home.
Most of your hours spent with Gears of War 4 will likely be in the robust online modes. The Coalition has checked off every must-do when it comes to multiplayer offerings. The competitive Versus mode has many different match types. Apart from the standard Deathmatch and King of the Hill, there are interesting variations like Dodgeball, where a kill respawns an ally; the weapon locked Arms Race; and the ring (area) holding and point building Escalation. The variety fits casual, social, hardcore, and even professional eSports gamers alike. Cooperative selection is equally bloated, supplying an open partner slot for the entire campaign, and house rules-style Versus matches. The biggest co-op draw, though, is the upgraded Horde 3.0. This tower defense, fifty wave survival fest can be played on any multiplayer map. Not only that, it also includes five unique classes to choose from, each with specialized skills that can be leveled up and tailored to complement the 5-person squad. Everything is customizable, from player and weapon skins to Booster cards and optional Bounties for bonuses. It has all the digitally tangible loot you crave, and it helps that the action is fast-paced and enjoyable, especially with friends.