Big thanks to the folks at Xbox UK for the code to this one for review, took us a bit of time, but we wanted to dive in and give it a good thorough blast.
The Gears keep Turning
Five years has passed since we had a Gears of War game grace our screens. Well, the wait is over. Gears of War 4 is here and it's a fantastic debut from The Coalition. Epic's legacy is quite safe in the hands of these developers, and for anyone who wants the lowdown right away: this is my favourite Gears game yet, with one of the best delivered campaigns for the series so far.
A bold claim?
Precise and Deadly
The Coalition understand what makes a Gears game great. Like Rocksteady finally delivered on the Batman game we'd been waiting for with Arkham Asylum, the Coalition manage to get into the DNA of Gears of War and deliver something of a roller-coaster ride full of action, exposition, grand set-piece battles and solid (at times thoughtful) storytelling.
It's like Gears of War with all the polish of modern game design and tech we have now. It feels familiar, yet fresh, as if someone took an old-time sports car and restored it to its former glory.
It also looks bloody gorgeous. It's hard to quantify just how damn fine the game looks, and the level of detail across the board is simply stunning. It delivers incredibly detailed character models, great looking cut-scenes, superb environments and tons of incidental detail if you decide to stop and look. Not as though you'll be stopping to look often, because it's also relentless at times, pushing you with enemies, environmental effects and other surprises.
The Windflares are some of the best storm-effects I've seen in a game for a long time.
When the bullets start flying and chaos is all around, Gears 4 keeps a gorgeous steady frame-rate and is silky smooth.
The animation is some of the best in the series as well.
Rev that Chainsaw
I love the Lancer, and the Custom Lancer. I love the chainsaw and sawing the bad guys into two in a saw-clash. Gears 4 delivers all the things I want from an action game, it knows when to pour on the pressure, and it knows when to let you relax. The gameplay systems at play in Gears 4 are refined, honed, polished and tuned from the previous iteration of the franchise. Cover works perfectly and there's no moments where you get stuck on the wrong bit of wall or snap to the wrong bit of a doorway.
You can dive over cover with the B button during a Roadie Run. You can pull an enemy over cover if you're opposite them. Little things that make the experience a lot more intuitive and open up a new set of tactics in the Gears playbook.
Blindfire has been tuned, and the weapon balance seems pretty slick in the campaign. It forces you to switch up your arsenal and delivers some great surprises in terms of new weapons. I'll let you find out for yourselves though, because that's half the fun.
Shooting itself feels just as rewarding as it has done in the past, and the enemies are capable of taking a fair bit of punishment to make sure you don't have things too easy.
Pulling up a comrade from Down But Not Out state is easier than ever, tap X to get them on their feet and get them back into the fight. If you go down, the A.I. will go through hellfire to get you back up too and usually they'll accomplish it, a bit of a change from previous games.
It's definitely a cover shooter and it rewards tactical play in that regard, rush in and you're likely to be as dead as the next Gear.
The campaign delivers a new story and new characters, with J.D., Kait, and Del at the forefront. A new enemy has risen and the chunky story takes you into some pretty epic moments. I'm loathe to mention even a tiny bit of it, I want you to enjoy the whole thing without any kind of spoiler.
With a Little Help
Gears of War has always been a game you can enjoy with your friends. Well, campaign co-op is in. Split-screen on local, or 2 player co-op over Xbox Live. The second player can choose between Kait or Del to support the first player as J.D.
It's also just as good as Gears previous iterations.
Also, since Gears 4 is Play Anywhere, you can team up with a buddy playing on the Windows 10 PC version and still enjoy the game together via the Cross-play feature. This goes for all the online modes too...
Chainsaws vs. People
Gears of War 4 has a suite of robust multiplayer options that would take another review to dive fully into. It's got a ton of content right out of the box, with a bunch of new features that add a layer of micro-transactions to the proceedings, but don't force you to part with cash if you want to play the game to earn the in-game currency to buy these boxes of stuff.
There's a bugbear here if you look at various community sites, whilst the cards you can unlock from the boxes aren't going to tip the balance in competitive games, the Horde 3.0 mode is a different matter. At the moment it's pretty much Pay to Win and whilst as I said, you can buy this stuff with in-game money - you'll be grinding like MAD to get enough in-game cash to do it.
A black mark against the game, and The Coalition for some people.
Barring the micro-transactions madness (that seems the norm these days) the game is great in multiplayer, with some fan-favourite modes making a return, and tweaks, along with new modes and a bunch of new content to sink your teeth into.
There's also a private match option which lets you set a ton of parameters to create your ultimate match for your friends and so on.
Take Team Deathmatch, you're usually respawning until you hit the score counter right?
A Core Mode and Each team has 15 tickets/lives and once all those lives are spent you can no longer respawn. At this point it becomes a Last Man Standing situation and if you die, you die until the next round. The team that eradicates the opposition wins the round and it's time for the next round.
The team with the most rounds won, is declared the victor.
Atop of this you have
Dodgeball: You have 1 life, when someone from the enemy team dies, you get revived. The only way to win, wipe out the enemy team.
King of the Hill: Standard King of the Hill with additional sites to capture, whoever captures the most 'hill's wins.
Arms Race: Each team starts with very strong weapons. Every 3 kills you get slightly weaker weapons. The first team to get kills with every weapon wins.
Guardian: Each team has a VIP leader. So long as the leader is alive the team can respawn indefinitely. The only way to win, kill the leader and then wipe out the team!
Competitive Modes (There's only 2 and they're tuned to make things tougher and more competitive)
Escalation: On the map you have 3 rings. Capture all 3 to instantly win, or hold a couple of rings to build up score and win like that.
Execution: This is a variant of Team Deathmatch where everyone has one life, and you can only kill them by knocking them into a DBNO status and then executing them.
I've played a sampling of these modes, online and off. They're great fun, and each one brings something interesting to the table. In addition you can activate bounty cards during the multiplayer game-types and if you manage to fill the criteria for the card, you'll be able to reap the reward - XP or in-game cash.
One of my favourite iterations of Horde Mode I've seen so far. There's a lot to it, and here I'm only going to touch on the basics that make the game-type stand out from the previous Horde Mode. You can solo this, or join up to 4 other buddies for some co-op fun!
In addition to the cards you can level up, there's classes now, and they are as follows:
Engineer: A builder and a maintainer, this class builds and maintains the defences that you create when playing this mode. Starts with a repair tool and can get major bonuses as they level up in regards to defence and structure creation.
Soldier: A combat specialist, able to go toe-to-toe with the toughest enemies. A bread and butter kind of class.
Sniper: One shot, one kill. The sniper is your team's ranged specialist and they excel at keeping the enemy pinned. Later on they can gain enough power to one-shot even the strongest bad guy.
Heavy: As the name implies, heavy weapons are the bread and butter of this class. They gain some serious perks that allow them to inflict amazing AoE damage.
Scout: The scout is up close and personal, they gain extra Power during combat too. They work best at close range engagements and with that extra Power they can earn, they can be the difference between success and failure at the higher difficulty waves.
Horde Mode 3.0 is different, you're not locking down a specific area of the map. You have the Fabricator as your base HQ and when you set that baby up that is where your base is. Defend it with your life, collect and deliver Power to it and you'll soon end up being able to build bigger and better defences for your chosen area of the map.
From the Fabricator you can use the Power you collect to build barriers, turrets and other surprises to delay and murder the enemy.
You can also purchase weapons from the Fabricator.
You need to hold against wave after wave of bad guys. Warning, weapons that are left on the ground at the end of a wave are gone for good unless they're in a Weapons Locker (built from the Fabricator).
Horde 3.0 is a great new take on Horde and it plays like a dream, it's immense fun with friends and adds yet another layer of epic play to the new Gears game. Barring the bugbear mentioned above regarding the cards and the cost in game-money to buy even the smallest early pack.
In Good Hands
Gears of War 4 is an apple that hasn't fallen far from the original tree, it's ripened with age and this iteration is one of the best yet. With a superb campaign, lots of multiplayer, split-screen, co-op for 2 (Campaign) or 5 (Horde). You can play vs A.I. bots in the other game modes if you like and just kick about with your friends.
It has Play Anywhere, so if you buy the game on the Xbox One you'll get it on Windows 10. You can play with Cross-Play folks on PC and Xbox One.
It looks fantastic, it's smooth and so-far it hasn't crashed once.
Up and at em Gears!