Also On: PC
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: The Coalition
It’s been five years since we’ve had a proper Gears of War sequel, and since Epic Games sent Marcus, Dom, Anya, Cole, and Baird on their final adventure. In the meantime we’ve had a new developer take up the Gears helm with The Coalition, a not so well-loved prequel with Gears of War: Judgment, and a pretty solid remaster of the original Gears of War. And now we’re a week out from Gears of War 4 on Xbox One, and I hope you’re excited, because hey, this one is pretty damn good.
I’ve only played through the Campaign so far, which is why we don’t have a score on this review yet. Multiplayer and Horde modes are live, but there were limited sessions hosted by Microsoft this week that I wasn’t able to attend. So I’m going to hold off on scoring this thing until I can spend some time online with other players starting Friday. Coming off of the beta, I’d be surprised if there are major issues with online play, but you never know.
But let’s talk about the campaign. It’s really fun! Honestly, the overall Gears of War formula doesn’t feel remarkably different in this sequel. It’s still very much a run-to-cover shooter, where you’ll need to outmaneuver and flank entrenched opponents with a handful of A.I. controlled squad members (or co-op with another player). A lot of the classic weapons return here, including the iconic Lancer, and there’s still an active reload system in place to boost damage and clip size. The movement enhancements from Gears 3 are still present, so you can vault cover more easily and stun enemies for melee attacks and executions. All in all, if you’ve played a Gears of War game before, you won’t have trouble acclimating yourself to the action in Gears of War 4.
However, that doesn’t mean the game is lacking originality. The individual levels all feel pretty unique, offering up a variety of new enemies, and a handful of new weapons. There’s a number of huge, cinematic action sequences that we’ve come to expect out of the series. And while the game does feature a few familiar faces, I think it also does a solid enough job of establishing the new cast. I don’t think that characters like J.D. and Del get enough characterization here, but you get the feeling that this is just the beginning of a much larger arc, so it’s understandable that there aren’t a ton of revelations being laid out just yet.
Also, Gears of War 4 looks fantastic. I don’t really have a beefy enough PC rig to run the game adequately, but on Xbox One it looks pretty sharp. It also seems technically sound, I can only remember one escape sequence around the midpoint of the game where the framerate appeared to take a dive, but outside of that I think Gears 4 runs consistently on the console. And the audio, particularly the weapons, sounds fantastic. There’s some serious heft to explosions and gunshots that helps to sell the overall chunky feeling of the Gears universe in a way that is better heard than described.
I’m suitably impressed by what The Coalition has done with this sequel, and they’ve definitely surpassed my expectations. The overall campaign is a blast to play though, and it’ll definitely be something I revisit with friends down the road. I’m looking forward to getting more hands on time with the multiplayer this weekend, and with the Horde mode, so look for my full, scored review to be uploaded early next week.
EDIT: And now how about that multiplayer and co-op? Since the early edition went live Friday I’ve spent a good chunk of the weekend playing through both vs. multiplayer modes and Horde 3.0, enjoying both quite a bit. There’s some technical hiccups server-side, I had a hell of a time getting into matches Friday night, but it seems as if The Coalition has managed to iron things out as the weekend progressed. I expect we’ll see more of those server issues come Tuesday, but ideally staggering the release and entry point for players will alleviate some of those concerns.
That said, hey, both modes are a lot of fun. The campaign actually gives you some light Horde style elements at various points, which in turn prepares you for what to expect when you enter Horde mode proper. Teaming up with a handful of other players, you’ll kill enemies of both the Swarm and robot variety, gather up points for your replicator, and lay down defenses in-between waves of enemies. There are various spawn points on the map to manage, and the waves increase in difficulty at what feels like a pretty good, and fair, pace. 10 waves culminates in a substantial boss fight, in addition to the other various minions you’ll typically encounter. There’s also four difficulty levels to choose from, various loadouts and classes to manage, and a leveling up system for those classes that remains separate from your overall level across all multiplayer modes.
For versus, you’ll have quick playlists that are unranked assortments of various modes, ranked modes, and competitive modes. The difference between ranked and competitive modes revolves around weapon balancing, which adjusts weapon power and effectiveness accordingly. As someone who plays Gears casually, I have a tough time telling the difference between the two, and find myself generally sticking to ranked.
The various modes within ranked and quickplay run the gamut of popular Gears multiplayer modes from previous games. Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Dodgeball and more make an appearance here. You’ll have five games to see where your starting rank is for the season, and matchmaking is a fairly seamless process. Finding games this weekend has felt a bit sluggish, about 2 to 3 minutes between the point where I select the mode and when the game actually starts, but ideally as the player base expands that time will lessen. But once in a match, everything runs very smooth, with few instances of lag, and no disconnects.
All in all, as an entire package, I remain impressed with what The Coalition has done with Gears of War 4. I think it’s safe to say the franchise is in the right hands, and I look forward to seeing more from both the developer and this series in the years to come.