Gears of War 4 makes it easy to forget any reservations regarding the franchise's new home at The Coalition. While the original trilogy was one of the biggest hits on Xbox 360 and a cash cow for Epic Games, earning itself a rabid fanbase, that devotion has been tied to Epic Games. Gears of War Judgement, the first Gears title not developed by Epic, received lackluster reviews. It didn't feel like the rest of the series, and fans justifiably worried that the magic may have been lost. The Coalition Studio, a Vancouver-based Microsoft game studio formed to serve as the new stewards of the franchise, realized the huge job ahead of them as they were tasked with creating the true successor to the original trilogy. It is with great pleasure that I can say the Coalition was up for the challenge.
Made by Fans, for Fans
Gears of War fans pay attention to every detail of the story and every minute change in multiplayer gameplay, all while expecting the same ridiculously gory fun that the series is known for. It is apparent right from the prologue that the Coalition Studio views the original trilogy with tremendous respect. As the game begins, players are given a refresher course in playing the game alongside a history lesson that provides a setting for Gears of War 4. The prologue really gives gamers who are new to the series a look at how the Cog defeated the Locust and Lambent.
Gears of Time
Gears of War 4 takes place long after Delta squad saved Sera from the Locust horde. The world has begun to heal: lush greenery sprouts throughout the planet, in stark contrast to the rusted destruction of prior Gears games. Gears of War 4 is truly a franchise refresh in the spirit of Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Doom 2016. While canonical, it introduces an entirely new foursome of characters: JD Fenix, the son of Marcus Fenix, his girlfriend Kait Diaz, her uncle Oscar Diaz and Delmont “Del” Walker.
The story begins shortly after JD and Del have defected from the COG and joined up with their “outsider” friends. Kait's mother, Reyna Diaz, is the leader of the outsiders and another strong female addition to the Gears canon. The Locust Queen is gone but a new adversary has appeared in the form of Jinn, a dictator who constantly interferes via virtual presence robots.
JD's and Kait's narratives drive Gears of War 4's campaign. They are thrust into a new conflict as Jinn sends her minions of weaponized robots, DeeBees, as the team tries to steal a COG fabricator for the outsider village. After some tremendously lucky battles with DeeBees, the gang gets back to the village and yet another threat appears. The Swarm appears to be a mutated locust horde, but there is something more sinister going on.
Without spoiling what is a fantastic story, it is important to highlight the Coalition Studio's success in creating an authentic successor to the original trilogy. Gears of War 4 has the most over-the-top, sweaty-palmed moments I've experienced in some time. Gears has always been a game that felt like an action movie, and Gears of War 4 more than meets that standard. Plus, it's peppered with cameos from friendly faces that ground it in a familiar framework. While the campaign ends rather abruptly, the Coalition Studio has laid the groundwork for a new trilogy driven by new characters that have the spirit of the franchise embedded deep in their DNA.
Gears of War is known as much for its multiplayer as for its compelling campaign. To that end, the Coalition has introduced several new modes and weapons that are a welcome addition to the already fantastic gameplay that fans and eSports competitors have come to know and love.
The new Arms Race mode tests players' versatility by challenging each team to get three kills with every weapon, while Dodgeball is a twist on Warzone that allows players to respawn dead squadmates only after getting a kill. The latter mode led to some lengthy matches and huge swings for the lead, making for some tense moments.
Online matchmaking has worked as smoothly as one would expect from a Gears title and players can now check a box to fill open slots with bots.
New weapons like the Dropshot, Buzzsaw, and Tri Shot are welcome additions to series. The Dropshot fires a drill bit through the air and drops the explosive projectile down on the enemy when players let go of the trigger, making for very satisfying headshots. Buzzsaw fires table saw blades through the air, and the gruesome results show off Gears 4's impressive collision detection. Tri Shot is an amped up Mulcher turret with even more bullets. They each contribute to the mayhem, and more importantly, feel right at home alongside the classic Gears arsenal.
The Coalition didn't simply add a couple of weapons to the game and call it a day, though. Instead, it worked to evolve the cover mechanic. The addition of the combat knife allows for some more realistic, close-cover combat to occur. Gears of War 4 adds two new additions to the cover mechanic. "Yank and Shank" and "Vault Kick" address some of the clunkiness that can occur when two opponents are stuck in cover. The "Yank and Shank" maneuver allows the player to pull their opponent over cover to their side leaving the opponent open to a knife finishing move. "Vault Kick" allows a player to leap over cover without stopping and kick the opponent, leaving them open to a knife finishing move. Both of these moves can be countered, as they only temporarily stun the opponent. These two new gameplay mechanics add fluidity to the cover system in the game and also prevent a "Naked Gun" stalemate.
Finally, it wouldn't feel like Gears of War without a full-fledged Horde mode. This time, your defenses are administered by the "fabricator," a tool that uses a special energy currency to build barriers, turrets, and dummies. The best update to horde is that you can build your barriers, turrets and dummies anywhere on the level as opposed to the fixed locations of past iterations. The push and pull of building defenses and fending off waves feels much more active as you rush around gathering energy to keep up your defenses.
What's Old is New Again
Gears of War 4 is a fantastic addition to a great franchise. It introduces characters and paves a runway for future games. The Coalition Studio updated the series with a careful attention to detail that is clearly rooted in a deep respect for the history of the series. Gamers who have never played a Gears of War game will feel just as welcome as players who have logged thousands of hours killing grubs. This is one of the best games to be released this year, without a doubt. While the campaign may have felt a bit short with its abrupt ending, it left me itching for a sequel.
This review is based on a PC/XBO code provided by the publisher. Gears of War 4 will be available in retail and digital stores on October 11, for $59.99. The game is rated M.