It goes without saying that if you want a great third-person squad-based shooter then Gears of War is the place to go. However, does this fourth title in the epic series provide enough Swarm-slaughtering action to satisfy fans?
Although Judgment didn't quite live up to its predecessors, Gears of War 4 thankfully makes the series exciting again. This time around, you play as Marcus Fenix's son J.D. and his group of outsider friends. The story begins with you trying to help a village by stealing supplies from a COG settlement. You mainly fight robotic soldiers at this point but, of course, things get crazy when a new kind of foe known as the Swarm attacks. These monstrosities are quite similar to the Locust (which Marcus battled in previous games) except they're much more gruesome. I found the mixture of robots and monsters to be extremely satisfying as the variety will make you constantly switch up your strategy in order to survive. Being eaten by a certain enemy then having a squad mate free you so you can take down an enormous freak of nature by blasting away at its weak spots is just awesome.
Speaking of variety, there are many fresh and familiar weapons to find along the way. A couple of new ones include a gun that launches saws and a cannon that fires bombs which drop on enemies' heads from above. It's great to see that the classic shoot and cover gameplay is back full throttle. There's an undeniable addictiveness to working together with your squad as you strategically eliminate foes and occasionally help each other get back on your feet. Overall, the controls are spot-on, the action is intense, the new enemy types and weapons are great additions, and it all comes together to make a fantastic formula that's easy to get immersed in.
Not only is the gameplay phenomenal, Gears of War 4 is one of the best looking games that I've ever played. The environments are incredibly realistic whether you're battling robots in the midday sun or fending off the Swarm in a dark organic cave. However, the most impressive part of the visuals is the weather effects. I've never played a game that made me feel like I was in the center of a storm as much as this. It's amazing how they rendered the wind to blow dirt and your surroundings in such a way that it'll make you squint (as if that would help). The weather affects the gameplay as well because a thrown grenade may not fly straight when you're in the middle of a storm. On top of all this, the audio is integrated seamlessly with a perfect mood-setting soundtrack, a talented voice cast, and authentic sound effects. In the end, this is one current-gen game that definitely takes advantage of the hardware.
Back to the campaign, I must admit that I'm a little disappointed in it. Don't get me wrong, it's full of memorable moments that you'll think fondly of for years to come. Who could forget controlling massive mechs while smashing everything around to bits or the unbelievable final boss? The problem that I have is that there aren't enough of these moments. The vast majority of the campaign is spent simply shooting at enemies which makes sense because this is a shooter, but it starts to become tiresome after a while. Also, it's super linear. You get to make a few decisions of which path to take along the journey but besides that, you're just shooting your way from point A to point B in closed-off environments. I can imagine that if the developers attempted to design expansive areas with multiple branching paths that change the story slightly then that would have made it feel far less generic and restrictive.
If you're looking to cooperate with a pal or two then you can play through the entire campaign in local split-screen multiplayer. Of course, you can cooperate online, too. Besides the campaign, Horde mode is back and better than ever. For the uninitiated, this mode has you and a few folks protect your base to the best of your abilities against computer-controlled enemy forces. As you play, you collect energy that you can convert into defenses just like in a tower defense game. Considering each player has their own class, the dynamic of working together to survive as long as possible requires everyone to use their strengths for the betterment of the team. It's this sort of comradery that makes Horde mode one of the most addictive online experiences in gaming.
For competitive Gears fans, there's a selection of versus modes to challenge. Standard modes include team deathmatch, dodgeball (not the sport; it just means that every opponent taken out revives someone on your team), king of the hill, arms race (where guns change frequently), guardian (each team has a leader that allows respawns), and warzone (where you only have one life). Besides those, there are some variations such as one that pits you against a team of AI players, one where only executions count, and special limited time events (like a snowball fight). To be honest, all of these modes felt like "been there, done that" as I worked my way through trying them out. There simply isn't enough variation to keep me entertained for longer than a few rounds. I know that many gamers will delight in these basic competitive gameplay modes but there's no denying that they could have made them more fresh and exciting.
Gears of War 4 is an impressive return to form. It may not be the most innovative title in the series but what's here adds up to a great game that any Xbox One owner would be proud to have as a part of their gaming library.
- + Awesome shoot 'n cover gameplay with satisfying new enemies and weapons
- + Incredible graphics and weather effects
- + Horde mode is great cooperative fun
- - Campaign is much too linear and doesn't do enough to set itself apart
- - Competitive online modes are too basic and lack a sense of excitement