I need to start this review with a disclaimer: I have never played Gears of War up till receiving Gears Of War 4. I have mentioned this in mixed company a couple of times and every time the music stops, the conversations end abruptly and everyone turns and stares, as if waiting for the punchline. The truth is I just don’t enjoy 3rd person shooters. If I’m going to play a shooter, it will be 1st person.
It’s important you know this because, if you are expecting a “Gears 4 is better / worse / the same as 1 – 3 because…” type review, this won’t be it. What it will be is a review coming from a totally neutral place, a clean slate, so to speak.
This is not a bad thing, per se, and I think in the case of GoW4, it’s a good thing because, as far as I can tell, 4 is setting up for a new trilogy. Not so much a reboot as a 2.0. New characters, a new threat to humanity and very importantly, a new developer in The Coalition.
To be able to give some background into the thinking behind Gears Of War 4, I had to get familiar with what it was that fans fell in love with to start with. So instead of playing all 3 of the previous games, I did what any good reviewer does, I went to other reviews to get an idea of what came before. So, a big thanks to Metacritic, IGN, and Gamespot for your always brilliant insights.
The Locust has been eradicated, thanks to Marcus Fenix and his team of hard as nails Gears. There have been 25 years of relative peace on Sera, but the use of the Imulsion Countermeasure weapon that eradicated the Locust and the Lambent also knocked out the use of fossil fuels. Add to that, the Countermeasure also somehow brought about a terrifying phenomenon called Windflares, which basically looks like someone opened the door to hell and let a little escape.
These atmospheric anomalies tear across the planet and make people dead. They are so good at making people dead that the new COG (Coalition of Governments) estimates that only a few hundred thousand people are left on Sera.
Using this as their reasoning, the new COG implements martial law in all the cities, which most of the populace welcomes. Those that don’t choose to live outside the walled cities and are called (cleverly) “Outsiders”.
Enter J.D Fenix.
That’s right, Fenix, like as in Marcus Fenix…
“Whaaat..???” I hear you say.
Well, turns out even in the digital world of Sera, fathers and sons disagree on things. J.D disagrees with the whole military government thing, and Marcus can’t get past that.
SO like many sons before, even here on Earth, J.D ends up in a hippy commune on the outskirts of civilization, and this is where we pick up the story.
We meet J.D, Del, and Kait, a group of wise cracking frat brothers (well, Kait is a girl). You think that this light-heartedness will wear off as the intensity and seriousness of the game grows, but it really doesn’t. Their interaction is not unlike a 90’s buddy-cop action comedy. For 12 hours.
In the beginning, we watch a TV broadcast on a monitor in a particularly creepy lair, of the head of the COG, an Asian woman named Jinn (which is also Arabic for demon… is this a clue as to her real nature..?)
She is honoring the fallen of the Locust War. The flashback serves as a kind of tutorial phase for you as the player to get used to the mechanics of the game. A nice move.
This was my first taste of the GoW4 universe and I must be honest, it didn’t suck. There is something really gratifying about running into an arena, scanning for cover through a relentless barrage of monsters and hot lead, and running, diving and slamming your shoulder into a slab of fallen concrete, and waiting for the perfect time to poke your head around and fire!
With that out of the way, we get into the new story, humanity rising from the ashes of the devastating war with the Locust (fitting that the lead protagonist should be called Fenix…).
I don’t want to focus too much on the story line here, but JD and his posse end up calling on JD’s dad, Marcus, to help them as the new blood has discovered that the Locust are not dead, they have been metamorphosing into a new (yet exactly the same) threat called the Swarm, which behaves pretty much like the locust…
Anyway, Stuff goes sideways.
From then on, apparently, it’s more of the same in terms of what people would expect from GoW, which is good. The action is hard and fast, and combat happens in waves, normally with some sort of mini-boss at the end.
Think of Serious Sam meets Starship Troopers.
It’s a balls-out death match in full 60 fps yumminess! The Unreal 4 engine makes sure everything stays smooth and crisp.
The campaign is nothing groundbreaking, but I can understand why. The Coalition has pretty big boots to fill. Gears of War has a massive following and the title is a Microsoft staple, so playing it a little safe, at least initially, makes sense. It does feel like this release is setting things up for releases 5 – 6, so, easy does it.
If the campaign is not your thing, there is the multiplayer mode, which The Coalition is pushing to develop into an eSport. It’s your basic run-in-circles-and-blow-baddies-into-mincemeat fare, and that’s fantastic! It’s fast and loud and unnecessarily violent! I played this for about 5 hours on 3 Red Bulls. For an hour after that, I spoke, in short, staccato barks and shouts.
Gears Of War 2 introduced The Horde mode, which is where you fortify an area against wave after wave of enemies. In GoW4 it’s back, this time, called Horde 3.0 (pretty bad-ass!)
They have also introduced some new mechanics. At certain points in the story, you get to ride kick-ass motorbikes and pilot giant mechanical armor, and there are plenty of familiar, but improved weapons to turn foes into bolognese.
I have mentioned before that this game is flat-out and frenetic, but it is also incredibly beautiful. The Windflares for example, will rip the skin off my granny’s custard, but from a distance, look like an Impressionist work of art. At its core, this game is about relationships, between friends, between family, and when you consider this, the game becomes more than just hack and slash.
Many people have called it “excessive” and “hyper-masculine”, and that is all true, but I have to ask, so what?
There is nothing wrong with hyper-masculinity. In this day and age of metrosexuality, I think we need to celebrate being masculine, in the loudest, most meat-soaked way, in 60fps!
If this game offends you, don’t play it. There is Just Dance and Ori and the Blind Forest for you to play.
It’s not a perfect game, by any means. It ends abruptly, and some of the ideas The Coalition had, get introduced, and then just seem to disappear, but that could be because they will play out in future releases.
As a first timer to the Gears Of War universe, I love it. It’s changed my opinion of 3rd person shooters. For those of you who have an investment in the GoW mythology, you may struggle, but the clever guys and girls at The Coalition have tried to make the transition to GoW 2.0 as gentle as possible.
Are there better alternatives available now?
Maybe Destiny, which I am also loving. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, possibly, but if you loved Gears of War 1 – 3, I think you will forgive 4’s apparent shortcomings.
I say BUY BUY BUY!