Imagine it’s the coldest day of your life. You open your cupboard, pull on your favourite pair of underwear, swiftly after, a really cosy pair of tracky bottoms or PJ trousers. You then get the most un-constricting pair of socks out of the draw. The kind that aren’t too tight, but not so loose they slip off your feet, they’re just right thickness to keep your feet warm too. You then grab whatever t-shirt you like, no one will see it because you’re about to complete your ensemble with the most snug hoody you own. It is your gaming hoody, the hoody you vegetate in for hours on end as you become one with your spot on the sofa and the blanket that the most prominent woman in your life (wife, girlfriend… mother?) bought from Primark… or if they’re posh, Sainsbury’s.
Game: Gears of War 4
Developer: The Coalition
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
(Review code provided by publisher)
Hopefully, you’re in an optimum state of comfort! Well then, the only thing you need to reach a higher state of comfort is Gears of War 4. It is literally comparable to a comfy pair of shoes.
Is that a bad thing, or a good thing?
Well in my opinion it’s a bit of both.
I by no means want to be seen as trashing a great game. The members of The Coalition have put out a title well worth playing. The 3 Gears before it (because nobody mentions Judgement Day) have laid a foundation that is solid. To me, it is a title built to please the hardcore fans whilst trying to lure new players in. New players that will hopefully embrace the essence of Gears like many have before.
The main campaign is going to give you a good 10+ hours depending on the difficulty you sign up for. It’s a 3rd person cover shooter matched only by its predecessors and maybe the Mass Effect series. The story puts us a good 20 years after the conclusion of Gears 3. You take the commanding role of “JD”, son to the one and only Marcus Phoenix. You appear to have allied yourself with a group of “outsiders” and as the game progresses, you pick up hints as to why you are not part of the COG anymore. Other than this enticing enigma, the rest of the story takes on a very familiar and predictable feel.
As you are lead through the linear world of Sara, you will find no end to conveniently positioned walls and pillars that you will definitely use in the imminent gun fight. Each section of cover gives you the chance to move through a hailstorm of bullets as you’d expect in order to push the horde back. The environments you fight in take you through picturesque landscapes, forgotten factories, and where else other than an ominous cave network. All of which are filled to the brim with varying degrees of enemy that intend to, scratch, bite, impale or shoot you for being anywhere near them.
Enemies of Gears 4 are exactly as you’d expect. Each “race” has its own version of a light, medium or heavy unit with a usual boss type floating around too. The AI of both your enemy and your team has always been solid and most battles provide enough of a challenge to keep you interested, even if their is an ere of repetition to them. The let down from your computer based team is that sometimes they seem to leave your ankles open to the highly annoying “Juvie’s” (this gears version of a wretch) while you are mounted on a turret dealing with the more taxing threat. Having said that, they are also incredible at taking a kill or two from you.
As with any Gears, the campaign breaks up the consistent cover, move, shoot, then walk to the next area for more cover, move, shoot with turret mounted sections, or areas that need fortifying while you take on a few waves of horde of what is essentially campaign horde. There isn’t as much of the vehicle based combat this time around, however they save the best for last…
As for the weaponry, well this is the first installment of a new trilogy and it feels as though they’ve taken a step back. Weapons like the mortar bombs have been withdrawn and replaced by a couple of new additions. The “BuzzKill” is one that needs to be cover mounted, and fires buzz saw blades that will cut an enemy (and some areas of cover) to pieces and then continue to bounce around the battle ground. Another newbie is the “Drop Shot” which is hard to master but deadly when used correctly.
I say that Gears of 4 have taken a step back because in Gears 1 all the way to 3, there were consistent new additions that were bigger and better, leaving you in awe of what could be next. We can most definitely expect to see similar progression from Gears 5 and 6, but for me it felt like they held back slightly in Gears 4. Probably for the very reason for not peaking too soon but throughout the campaign I was desperate for that wow moment that never came.
If you try and say similar to a number of the folk at NGB they will immediately tell you that Gears isn’t about the story but the multiplayer. It is true that many of us have incredibly fond memories of playing Gears of War with friends. Be that online Co-Op or Versus, it doesn’t matter, it was always immense. I think the only Gears of War I’ve not played through more than once is actually Gears 3, purely because life got in the way. With Gears 4 though I simply cannot wait to run it on the hardest difficulty with 3 other squad mates.
At the time of writing this review, it was incredibly difficult to join any online games that were not lead by the Dev team. During my one and a half hours of playing with them though, it was loads of fun. The 3 modes we got to experience were:
Dodgeball… every kill of the enemy team allows one of your own to re spawn.
Arms Race: Everyone starts with the same weapon, your team then needs to get 3 kills to progress to the next. Your goal is to make your way through the weapon roster as fast as you can by racking up kills! The only annoying thing with this… lining up your head-shot and then being forced to change weapon right when you pull the trigger! Yea yea I know… “learn to play”, “be better”, “QQ” or some other “what an atomic n00b” statement.
A mode I can’t remember the name of so i’ll call it rings: This can be likened to a domination/king of the hill kind of round. There are 3 control points and you score points when your team has one or more in possession. This was a best of 13 game which was good, but could definitely do with being best of… well much less than 13. Let’s hope this was a host setting rather than official coding.
The gulf in quality of those who know what they are doing and those who didn’t was more than apparent. Once out to the masses, there will be a much needed ranking system so matchmaking will put you in a game with players of a similar skill. Perfect for my to learn to play needs then!
Even though, dying a lot is frustrating and I wasn’t the only one to think that the shot gun seemed to be stronger when hip firing. I gave another player a full facial aiming down the sites which the rest of my team saw because I was the only one alive, however said other player killed me with a no look 0_o. Frustrating but never did I want to throw down the pad in some form of Brumak based rage.
Horde 3.0 is where the real challenge of Gear lies and is also tons of fun! You and up to 4 others have to face 50 waves that get progressively harder after each completion. On every 10th wave you also get a boos round that is truly testing. The notable new feature the Gears series, is that you can choose a class specialisation before going in. Again much like the versus battles I only got to play one round that lasted until wave 30 on normal before we were over run.
Similar to previous modes, Horde 3.0 gives you a Fabricator which effectively acts as you shop to build defences such as barricades and turrets from. The key here is that only the Engineer class can build the better defences and fix them. Horde 3.0 squads basically need to set up around an Engineer (or two depending on your fancy). Each kill during a wave drops “power” which the squad must collect and deposit back at the Fabricator so that the Engineer has currency for more builds and repairs. The other classes are Sniper, Soldier, Heavy and Scout.
During the online session, I was a scout. Scouts receive better bonuses for both melee damage and defence. They are also slightly quicker than other classes. Ideally your scout will run out into the arena when the coast is nearing clear to grab as much of the power drops as possible.
At their base value, Snipers are good for head shots, Heavies for the big lumbering hard to kill folk and Soldiers are your bread and butter Gear. As you play you can level up the class you are playing which unlocks more card slots allowing you to attach cards earned from packs. As with most card based perks we find these days, you can unlock everything imaginable to customise your character. Skins, Damage Boosts, Exp multipliers.
With 5 classes to level up, and many a wave to take down before even thinking about insane mode, there is tons to do here and it’s where the war machine starts to purr.
Gears is brilliant at doing what it does best. Gears. If you love offerings already on the market, then you will love this game, but it may let you down with it’s lack of exciting innovations and predictable story. Maybe it’s because when you make three solid 8 or 9 out of 10 games, you can’t do much to make it better, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. The hardcore and the newbies alike will love Gears 4, but it won’t be the ground breaking Gears we reminisce about.
The versus mode also has plenty of variation and the PvP aspect brings in new tactics to contemplate. I learned early that as a n00b I struggled with getting kills, but luring other players to chase me into an ambush was very helpful and satisfying for all. Everyone has a part to play. The multiplayer offering brings the title right up into contention for a high score. With each failure on Horde a gauntlet has been thrown down, the leather glove of a noble is slapped across your face. You just cannot walk away from the challenge.
Gears 4 is back with a smack, bang and wallop! It lets itself down purely because it is holding something back and I cannot wait to find out what that is.