Gears of War 4 brings the iconic franchise back to its roots [This week in Gaming]

Patrick O’Rourke

Despite losing touch with the series over the last few years following the release of Gears of War 3 and the lacklustre offshoot that was Judgment, the Gears series holds a special place in my memory.

In fact, I’d even credit the original Gears of War’s eerie trailer with getting me back into console gaming in the mid 2000s. Visually the game was a feat for its time — even the recently released remaster Gears of War: Ultimate is beautiful — and as a teenager, the game’s rampant, over-the-top violence was right up my alley.

Coming back to the Gears series as an adult (or so I claim) after being away from the series for so long has been an interesting experience. Gears of War 4 (GoW 4) is amazing looking, just like its now ancient predecessor was back in 2006, at such a level that I’d contend it’s the best looking Xbox One title released so far. The PC version of the game, which is breathtaking, is also a joy to look at and is even cross-platform with the Xbox One version of Gears. When playing co-op with my colleague Igor, in most cases he gamed from his PC and the experience was seamless.

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While Gears of War 4 is still a ‘bro-fest,’ the level of ‘bro-alitiy’ present in Vancouver-based The Coalition’s reboot of the series has been toned down considerably. The game’s story, which is actually a smart underlying social commentary on the atomization of manufacturing, as well as global warming, is surprisingly smart. New characters like JD Fenix — the now super grouchy bandana clad Marcus Fenix’s son — Kait Diaz and Del Walker trade quips that make the relationships between characters in Gears of War 4 feel more like an entry in the Uncharted franchise that I remember of the series.

Gameplay wise Gears of War 4’s character movement, which remains cover-based and at times still adopts a plodding pace, feels more fluid than other entries in the series. Rolling, dodging and locking onto cover is intuitive, especially during the brief amount of time I’ve spent with the game’s multiplayer mode.

I’m also a huge fan of Gears’ new automated COG enemies called DeeBees. Unlike the series’ standard Locusts, which are now slightly revamped and called the Swarm, DeeBees explode in a very mechanical way, trodding forward, even when missing a limb or two.

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One of the game’s major drawbacks is that it feels a little too much like past Gears titles. Similar to the Star Wars series’ recent reboot with the Force Awakens, The Coalition was put in a difficult position with GoW 4. The studio needed to create a new game from the ground up that felt like the original Gears while still reinvigorating the series and holding true to what made Gears of War so popular in the first place. This is no easy task and I think The Coalition did the best job possible under the circumstances.

If you’re hunting for a great, amazingly polished third-person shooter for either the Xbox One or PC, Gears of War 4 is your game.

Igor Bonifacic

Like Patrick, I picked up the original Gears of War back in 2006 when it was the reason to own a Xbox 360. I fondly remember spending countless hours playing the game’s co-op campaign with my best friend. And in much in the same way, I lost touch with the series in the intervening years.

Thankfully, Gears of War 4 is the perfect game to get reacquainted with the series. There’s some fan service in the form of past characters making cameos, but the game, blissfully, doesn’t require an encyclopedic knowledge of the Gears of War universe to get the most out of it.

It all starts with a new cast of characters that, while not incredibly deep, are extremely likable — especially Kait, voiced by the always fantastic Laura Bailey. It also helps that the first half of Gears of War 4 shows the series at its most inventive.

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It doesn’t sound like much, but the new DeeBees add a lot to the game. Since they’re machines, the same sense of preservation that drove the Locust’s aren’t at play; instead, the DeeBees have no problem with abandoning cover to try and put pressure on the player. They also drop interesting new weapons that handle and function differently from the weapons Gears fans have had 10 years to master. It’s here too that the game’s story beats are at their most interesting. Where the original trilogy was a typical end of the world scenario, Gears 4 is much more interested in exploring what happens when humans have to rebuild after a calamity.

So it’s unfortunate that in its second half Gears of War 4 starts to lean on the series past story and gameplay hallmarks. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the second half of the game, I did, but it’s here that the game is at its most familiar.

The good news is that Gears of War 4 uses its new mechanical intricacies to great effect throughout its multiplayer suite. In particular, all the enemies and weapons showcased in the main campaign make for a great Horde mode.

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The Coalition has also done a fantastic job of porting the game to PC. The game not only looks great, it runs great as well. If you have a PC capable of running the game, try it; with Microsoft’s new Xbox Anywhere system in place, you get a free copy of the game on PC when you buy the game on Xbox One.

Gears of War 4 is available on the Xbox One and PC.

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