By Oliver Aston
Gears of War 4 is an incredible balancing act, at first glance you’d be hard pressed to guess that the title wasn’t crafted by original developers, Epic Games. But as the campaign progresses and things begin to go bump in the night, the new developer, The Coalition, shows its teeth and delivers a blockbuster, polished experience albeit a safe one.
Taking place 25 years after the third game, we pickup with James Dominic “JD” Fenix, a somewhat cocky newcomer who happens to be the son of series veteran Marcus Fenix. JD, along with childhood best friend Del, and a young solider named Cait, have been living outside the militaristic government’s controlled cities for some time and at the onset set out to loot one of these establishments for supplies. After some initial conflict the action really heats up during the second chapter. Cait’s mother is abducted by a frightening new enemy called The Swarm and JD is forced to call upon a grizzled war veteran for help. In the following acts Gears 4 reintroduce JD’s father Marcus and drops set-piece after set-piece at an unrelenting pace, a desperate motorcycle chase gives way to miles of underground tunnels filled to the brim with ominous red pods, all leading up to an excellent twist ending.
Game play in Gears 4 doesn’t miss a beat; pop and shoot mechanics developed in the 2006 original are alive and well but have been refined for this outing. If there is a problem, it’s that multiplayer feels a little stagnant, not that it’s any less explosive than previous entries, it just doesn’t bring much new to the table. Players still find matches dominated by shotguns and explosive torque bows, though the new weapons do add some flare to the proceedings. Horde mode returns too and adds classes to the familiar 50 wave onslaught, its good old fun and remains the most satisfying way to enjoy the series. Just don’t try to play it offline because for some puzzling reason it is restricted to dedicated severs.
As usual, Gears is a visual tour de force, especially on a PC where the best of rigs can enjoy the game in crisp 4K resolution. The Xbox One version is a showcase in and of itself, with advanced lighting techniques, rain that elegantly trickles down a character’s armor, and a smooth frame rate. The soundtrack composed by Ramin Djawadi of Game of Thrones fame, fits right in to the existing mold and makes for great icing on the cake.
Although it stumbles in a few areas, Gears 4 is a great addition to the series making a fantastic pickup for fans and newcomers alike.
Developer: The Coalition Publisher: Microsoft Studios
REVIEWED ON XBOX ONE, PC / NOV 7th 2016
Disclaimer – Oliver Aston works for Microsoft, the opinions herein are his own and do not necessarily reflect that of Microsoft or it’s employees
A version of this story, titled “Gears 4: a worthy addition,” appeared in the November 17, 2016 print edition of The Valley Star, Volume 8, Issue 4.