Last August, The Coalition joined forces with Splash Damage to create a faithful remaster of the original Gears of War complete with five additional campaign chapters taken directly from the PC version of the game. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition wasn’t just a sensational remaster but it was also the perfect appetizer to hold fans over until the release of the next major installment in the gore-filled third-person shooter series.
With the long-awaited retail and digital debut of Gears of War 4, The Coalition have not only proven that the franchise is in good hands but they have laid a solid foundation for future stories and spinoffs ripe for further exploration down the road. Here are a few more reasons why Microsoft’s latest Xbox Play Anywhere title may or may not appeal to you.
After an impressive prologue mission that highlights key moments from Aspho Fields, Emergence Day and The Battle at Anvil Gate, the entirety of the Gears 4 campaign takes place on the planet Sera approximately 25 years after the events of the third game. The narrative revolves around the trials and tribulations of three pivotal outsiders who find themselves at odds with an enhanced GOG militia known as The DeeBees and a new species of hideous creatures called The Swarm. These unlikely protagonists consist of James Dominic Fenix (voiced by Liam McIntyre) his childhood friend Delmont Walker (voiced by Eugene Byrd) and his girlfriend Kait Diaz (voiced by Laura Bailey). Marcus Fenix and several other noteworthy characters return in supportive roles and by association instantly lend more credibility and charismatic badassness to the trio.
The core storyline behind this title is different in a sense because it’s treated as a passing of the torch showcase to a younger generation of fighters similar to how this IP was passed on to The Coalition from Epic Games. The relationship between James and his father remains strained after he and Delmont are kicked out of the COG over an undisclosed incident and relocate to a secluded Outsider village. After a hostile takeover by the Swarm and the disappearance of several inhabitants, James and his friends reach out to Marcus for help in saving their loved ones and humanity by taking down this mysterious new threat. The end result is a journey filled with exhilarating action, twists and turns, gut-wrenching chainsaw duels and of course quality bonding time between father and son.
When Gears 4 was first revealed during Microsoft’s E3 2015 media briefing, the footage indicated that the development team was bringing back a sense of mystery and horror to the series. Some of these elements remain intact in the final product but it’s evident that survival is the main focal point behind the overall experience. The player never really feels scared when encountering robots and creatures of various shapes and sizes because there isn’t any legitimate level of fear that he or she can’t overcome them.
Instead, you are thrown waves upon waves of enemies as you progress through each chapter and expected to deal with every threat head-on. Furthermore, several questions are left unanswered and will most likely not be revisited if at all until Gears of War 5 drops. It’s worth noting that none of these things take away from the great writing put into this campaign but I certainly will be interested to see if this formula evolves in future games.
You can playthrough the entire campaign by yourself or co-operatively with a friend through local split-screen or online via Xbox Live on Xbox One and Windows 10 compatible PCs. There’s a total of 50 collectibles that are located throughout various sections split across 24 chapters and 5 Acts. It took me approximately 13 hours and 30 mins to get through the game on hardcore difficulty.
This was due primarily to my AI teammates not being quite as helpful in boss encounters and my personal desire to see how many collectibles I could find in my first playthrough. Your play time may vary based on the difficulty setting and whether or not you decide to play with friends. I would strongly suggest that you consider playing with a friend because it adds a deeper level of excitement and engagement to every showdown.
The core aesthetics behind gameplay remain virtually the same but with a few additional nuances here and there to keep things fresh. While in cover and facing an enemy with their back turned towards you, the player can now grab that adversary from behind and perform an execution while the enemy recovers from a stunned state. Additionally, you can vault directly over the object that an enemy is using as cover and achieve the same results if timed correctly. It’s worth noting that the enemy AI can do these exact same things and level the playing field so that certain tactical advantages aren’t one-sided. There are also a few special moments within the campaign where the player is taken out of the monotony of the average shoot and cover dynamics and thrust into some adrenaline-filled action sequences. I won’t spoil any of these details now but I will revisit these standout moments in another write-up later this month.
Both the DeeBee and Swarm enemy types offer some variation and promote the use of different and effective strategies to defeat them. This concept bleeds over into several new weapons that you can acquire after emerging victorious. The DeeBees use technologically advanced weaponry when compared to the Swarm, but knowing that you can use these weapons on either faction at different instances throughout the campaign definitely adds to the overall fun factor.
Weather is another important part of the gameplay experience thanks to the inclusion of a dynamic weather effects system by the development team. Wind Flares and Stormwall Lighting Flurries impact visibility on the battlefield and require timely navigating to get past obstacles. These storms also appear during standoffs and impact how projectile weapons are thrown at enemies. It takes a great deal of thinking to pinpoint how a system like this works and I’m very intrigued to see how it changes as the series moves forward.
Graphically, GOW 4 looks absolutely marvelous on the original Xbox One. While Xbox One S and PC owners have the benefit of HDR support and 4K respectively, that doesn’t mean that you’re missing out on anything by not being able to use these features. The painstaking level of detail put into each and every area you encounter really draws you deeper into the storyline and the overwhelming conflicts faced by our heroes. When a game succeeds in capturing your attention like this it’s a living testament to both how talented the designers are and how great a game looks regardless of the TV monitor or console it’s played on.
A captivating, yet brutally graphic game like Gears requires the use of a powerful soundtrack to evoke a sense of emotion and feeling. The Coalition had a firm understanding of this notion and enlisted the aid of Game of Thrones Composer Ramin Djawadi to help elevate their title to a new level. As an added bonus, the performances by everyone on the cast is nothing short of remarkable. Both of these factors culminate into a vibrant title that new and old fans alike will remember long after they’ve completed the campaign.
When it comes to multiplayer, GOW 4’s iconic five-player co-operative survival mode now titled Horde 3.0 is the most addictive feature in the overall package. Players must work together to survive 50 waves of increasingly difficult enemies while completing objectives and using a fabricator to create weapons, barriers, and fortifications at will to remain alive. There’s a boss wave that occurs every 10 waves and most times the type of bosses generated are unpredictable. You get a brief taste of this mode at various instances throughout the campaign, but the difficulty bar is raised significantly when other players are involved.
Another aspect that makes Horde even more special this time around is the inclusion of five classes designed around a battlefield role. These classes are Soldier, Scout, Heavy, Sniper, and Engineer. Every class has 13 different skills, 5 skill slots, and can be leveled up over time. This gives players several different play styles to explore and 141 unique combat ribbons to earn. I was fortunate enough to play some multiplayer sessions with a few Coalition representatives and I can confirm that there were no noticeable issues or diminished performance quality. It will be interesting to see if this remains the same once the servers are flooded next week but for now, I’m confident that there won’t be any serious issues from here on out.
Outside of Horde, players can choose from several other multiplayer matchup types including Team Deathmatch, Dodgeball, King of the Hill, Arms Race, Guardian, and Warzone. There also are competitive modes like Escalation and Execution for those who are looking for deeper challenges. Just like with the campaign, all multiplayer modes are cross-platform between Xbox One and Windows 10 compatible PC. Gear Cards and Gear Packs can be earned as you play to add further cosmetic personalizations to your character but don’t impact multiplayer performance and aren’t in any way required to enjoy all that these modes have to offer.
Gears of War 4 is a solid step forward in the series and a promise of what greatness awaits us all in future sequels. Rod Fergusson and the insanely creative team over at The Coalition have succeeded in breathing new life into this franchise by giving veterans and newbies an engaging campaign and addictive multiplayer experience. If you’re ready and willing to join the fight for humanity, enlist in this war as soon as humanly possible.
This review was based on a digital review copy of Gears of War 4 for the Xbox One provided by Microsoft.