Game Review: Gears of War 4 (XBox One)

What's old is new again

The Gears of War series has become one of polarizing opinion. The first entry in the series was almost universally loved, however subsequent entries were mostly accepted as mediocre, especially the Marcus Fenix-less entry that is Gears of War Judgement. 

After Microsoft purchased the rights to everything Gears of War from it’s original developer Epic Games and passed development of the series over to The Coalition , a studio created to work exclusively on gears games, fans wondered if the series could stay relevant in these changing times where game sagas become boring after only a couple of entries. To ensure that the studio’s first foray into the gears universe felt authentic, Microsoft brought Rod Fergusson, executive producer for the first three games in the series, to lead development on a brand new Gears of War title.

Gears of War 4 is the first entry by The Coalition and our experience with the game give us pause. How could a rookie studio full off a title so high in quality that it feels like the series never took time off?

Gears of War 4 begins with a game of catch-up. Those who have never played a gears of war game will appreciate the opportunity to get familiar with the timeline of the story and to find out how this whole battle started.

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Gamers take on multiple roles throughout the game, however the bulk of the game is played by J.D., a character seemingly new and forgettable, however soon becomes linked to the series as a whole. J.D. is part of a COG (Coalition of Ordered Governments, the military force from the first four Gears of War titles) militia who now fights from the outside like rebels against the military. From the beginning things seem out of sorts; it’s hard to figure out what is going on but those questions are answered, albeit slowly, throughout the course of the campaign.

The game play is as action packed as the other entries in the series, that is to say that it rarely stops (Hint to new Gears of War series players, the cover system that was ground-breaking back in 2006 is still there, and you’ll need it through every inch of the game). Gamers will find themselves constantly looking around corners to see what’s next as soon as their current battle is over. This is where Gears of War 4 both succeeds and creates areas of opportunity. The action gets sort of stale and repetitive. This is nothing new to the gaming industry as most action games have the same roadblock, but gamers might find themselves playing through the game and enjoying the cut-scenes more than the actual playable portions of the game. This is really no fault of the studio as the other games in the series have do the same thing, but being the fifth entry in the Gears of War world, experienced players might find that this results in a lower replay factor for the campaign portion of the game. That said, the cut scenes do serve as a palette cleanser for the time between game play, and as with any gears game, the story arc is amazing.

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Controls are very comfortable and those who’ve played a game in the series before, Gears of War 4 players will feel right at home. To those who haven’t, there isn’t a single button that feels out of place. The control tutorial almost isn’t necessary as it mirrors almost every other shooter that’s ever been made.

Visually the game is stunning. the Gears of War series has always been known for its’ impressive high graphic fidelity, but the power of XBox One really takes things to the next level. Environments are flush with color and content, and the draw distance is fantastic; There is virtually no fog or fade in to be seen.

Sound is another strength of the series. There’s music when there needs to be and that’s it. This keeps the atmosphere of the game authentic and gives that uneasy sense that something bad is about to happen. Those who use surround sound will immediately be impressed by the accuracy of direction that sounds come from. This is an expectation of games these days, but Gears of War 4 hammers it home with this facet of the game. It’s very tight and just adds more depth to an already packed game.

Gears of War 4 Drone Battle
Gears of War 4 Drone Battle

Multiplayer is an expectation these days and the gears series includes it, but it’s not what the games are known for. While it holds up very well and includes all of the modes one would expect from a shooter. One piece that does stand out is Horde Mode 3.0. This mode is common in shooters these days however Gears of War 4 allows players to battle in maps that they don’t own. The only requirement is the person hosting the battle must own it. This is a first for the genre and a welcome change to gamers who aren’t ready to shell out more cash.

Gears of War 4 also includes another first for the video game industry and that is cross platform gameplay. Microsoft toyed with this a few years ago with a game called Shadowrun, but the technology available at the time wasn’t quite sophisticated enough to handle the needs. Gears of War 4 changes this with it’s XBox Anywhere feature. Gamers who own Gears of War 4 can play the game either on their XBox One console or on a PC. In addition, if a gamer is playing on PC, it’s no sweat to jump into a co-op game with a friend playing on XBox One. This is an absolute ground-breaking feature that has to be used to believe.

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Early adopters of Gears of War 4 also receive the entire Gears of War series with their purchase. This makes the game a fantastic value and allows players to really dive in to the gears universe without breaking the bank.

Gears of War 4 both changes the game and keeps it the same. In most areas the game shines with it’s stunning visuals, great sound, incredible story and game-changing cross platform play, but feels a little bit less than satisfying with it’s action. Had the Coalition been able to focus a little bit more on varying the gameplay this title would be definitive game in the series. That said, the game is still a must-own for any PC or XBox gamer, and for those on the fence about buying  XBox One or building that Custom PC, Gears of War 4 just might push you over.