Gears of War 4 won’t surprise anyone. It relies heavily on the established formula that the original trilogy perfected in the last console generation. No, Microsoft and The Coalition haven’t reinvented the wheel for the latest chapter in the long-running shooter series, but they have evolved it. Gears of War 4 succeeds wildly at creating something that feels both new and familiar at the same. It’s a thrilling ride that constantly keeps moving you from one gigantic action set piece to another. Perhaps most importantly it delivers the tight shooter gameplay that fans of the series have gotten used to but delivers just enough to make it feel like something with an identity all it’s own.
Taking place twenty-five years after the events of the original trilogy, Gears of War 4 takes the Force Awakens approach to storytelling. There’s a new group of heroes in town, led by JD Fenix, son of legendary Coalition of Government (COG) soldier and original Gears protagonist Marcus Fenix, only they don’t know they’re the heroes yet. The COG as we knew it from previous Gears of War games is all but abolished and survivors live in walled off cities, watched closely by what’s left of the government. It isn’t long before JD and his friends are provoked into a war they’re not ready for with a familiar enemy. It’s your typical action sci-fi story and while it admittedly doesn’t reach the heights of its predecessors in terms of scale, the story of Gears of War 4 does have a lot more going for it than it originally let’s on.
Deep down, the Gears of War series has always been about relationships, whether it’s the bromance between Marcus and the other members of Delta Squad or Dom and his search for his wife and the latest installment is really no different. There’s a strong theme of family that runs throughout Gears of War’s entire campaign as it takes its time exploring the strained relationship of JD and his father,along with a few others. Really, though, it seems to be asking the question of just what is a family and it makes some interesting points in the process. Don’t be fooled, Gears is mainly about shooting aliens in the face but the latest game in the series does continue the tradition of being smarter than it originally lets on.
Gameplay wise, Gears of War 4 feels like a polished and tuned up version of the original series and that’s for good reason; that’s pretty much what it is. While last year’s Gears of War: Ultimate Edition re-skinned the original game Gears of War 4 uses that original framework to create something that’s at once original but familiar at the same time. The game uses the same cover based mechanic that each of the previous games in the series has used but tightens it up to keep it fresh. That’s ok, though, I don’t think anyone was really looking for a complete reinvention of the series since it’s mechanics have always been so damn fun. It’s just as fun as ever to take down a fleet of enemies with high powered artillery or introduce them to the business end of your chainsaw lancer. The game also introduces a bunch of new weapons that are a ton of fun to use. One of my favorites has to be the buzzkill, which sends instill buzzsaw blades riffling through the air at your enemies.
The developers may not have reinvented the series, but they did evolve it with some pretty interesting ideas that will make you rethink the way you’re playing certain sections of the game. A series of new robotic enemies are more aggressive and use far more advanced techniques than anything that came before and they’ll require you to rethink your strategy. The same goes for the destructible environments; while previous games introduced the idea, it’s never as implemented as it is here in Gears of War 4. Entire sections of the screen are blown away and you’re left racing, looking for more cover. The biggest change though is the addition of weather effects, like wind flares that affect everything from how your weapons fire to the position you can get on your enemies and vice versa. Watching a storm rip through an entire map is an oddly satisfying experience.
What Gears of War 4 succeeds at more than anything though is its ability to take all of this and move you through from one gigantic action set piece to another so quickly. Whether you’re defending a camp for survivors, taking down an enemy stronghold or even chasing down a helicopter in one of the most insane motorcycle chases in recent memory, Gears 4 never has you doing the same thing for too long but never feels like it’s rushing by any means. Most importantly, Microsoft and The Coalition seem determined to make sure you’re fun with Gears 4 and they’ve more than succeeded at that goal.
Gears has always been a series that’s equal parts campaign and multiplayer and Gears 4 continues that tradition as well. Similar to the campaign’s gameplay, modes like versus and Horde have been evolved into something that feels familiar but new at the same time. Horde is just as fun as ever and I’m just as bad at the PVP modes as I was with the last few games. I really did appreciate though that the entire campaign can be played split screen or online as I have great memories of playing through the series with friends and having that option to do so again is a very welcome one.
If you were looking for something completely new, Gears of War 4 isn’t for you. It admittedly borrows heavily from previous games that you’ve already played. The game does put enough new ideas in though to keep the series feeling fresh and most importantly keeping it extremely fun. If Gears of War 4 is any indication the long-running series best days are ahead of it.
- Gameplay remains strong
- New ideas work well
- Huge action set pieces
- Very familiar for fans of the series