I remember the first time I played Gears of War. I received the game as a Christmas present alongside Viva Pinata and Mass Effect. I was 11 years old and convinced my mother to get the game for me since it was “like Halo” in the fact that you were killing aliens.

Little did she know how violent and prolific the game was, and not long after popping it in my system she walked downstairs and heard the first f-bomb dropped in the game. She wasn’t happy about that one, and then as she was heading up the stairs another f-bomb was dropped and then she really wasn’t happy with the decision to purchase such a game for me. I, however, was pretty darn ecstatic and being my 11-year-old self felt super rebellious for playing such a game.

10 years have passed since then, and here we are today with Gears of War 4. Damn, I feel old.

Gears of War 4 takes place 25 years after the events in the third Gears of War. If you haven’t played the series up until this point, I’d highly recommend doing so, or at least watching Let’s Plays of each of the games so you have an idea of what’s going on. There’s a lot of backstory in the Gears of War franchise and much like Halo, makes the experience feel much more complete when you know what’s going on and can piece things together, or come up with your own theories as you play through the game.

The Coalition has come up with a very compelling way to continue the Gears of War storyline in a way that doesn’t feel shoehorned. This was my biggest worry heading into the game. I was concerned that it would feel like an extension of the narrative just to keep the brand around, but that’s certainly not the case. However, much like the original Gears of War, this entry in the new trilogy is primarily used to set up events for what’s to come in the franchise, something that I’m not too terribly fond of.

Gears4_Screenshot_Kait_DB_combat

Gears of War 4 brings up a ton of questions and doesn’t provide many answers, which is fine for the most part. It kept me pushing through the campaign as, much like the characters in the story, I wanted answers to the questions I had. The game is full of mystery and intrigue as to why the world is in the shape it is, what happened to the Locust, where are the Deebies from, what happened to JD’s mother, and so on.

The narrative in this fourth entry is a much more self-contained story than the big epic battles of Gears of War 2 and 3, and it mostly works. My main gripes with the campaign center around the three new main characters that have been introduced, JD Fenix (Marcus’ son), Kait and Del, and some pacing issues.

I think The Coalition missed the mark on this entry to make the player really care for these characters. They have distinctive personalities and are constantly cracking jokes or providing relatively funny one-liners. However, we don’t really get to “know” these characters as much as I had hoped we would. Again, I have to assume this is intentional, as Gears of War 4 sets up so many questions that will presumably be answered in Gears of War 5 and 6, but even during downtimes when there could have been small bits of narrative included, it mostly resolves around small talk.

This is something I enjoyed as an 11-year-old, no doubt, but much like the franchise itself, those of us that played the game when it released have aged and are a bit more mature (I would hope). The small talk is still funny at times and contrasts the overall darker tone of this entry well, but I would have appreciated some more narrative depth to what is marginally a rather generic plot. The questions you’ll have once you’ve finished the game will stick with you much longer than the basic plotline employed in Gears of War 4. I will say, however, that the ending of the game is a surprise and sets up for a very interesting plotline to come in the next installment.

That’s all I’ll say about the narrative in the game to avoid providing any spoilers. I think fans of the Gears franchise will enjoy the story for the most part, even if the character development department is lacking a bit — the end of the game employs a huge, yet surprising, cliffhanger. If I had to compare this entry to anything in the way the story is set up, it would probably be Halo 4, which is good or bad depending on how you look at it.

The gameplay in Gears of War 4 is the best it has ever been, however. When The Coalition released the remastered version of the original Gears of War, the lack of many of the mechanics that were present in Gears of War 3 was very noticeable and completely turned me off from the game. I can’t tell you how many hours I poured into Gears of War 3, but I played it enough to make the remastered version of Gears of War feel completely off.

Gears of War 4 Drone Battle

Gears of War set the standard for third person shooters way back in 2006; even though it’s cliché to say, don’t fix what isn’t broken. Each iteration of the franchise has introduced some subtle changes to the gameplay mechanics that, on most occasions, improves the experience. The gameplay in Gears 4 is spot on with what players expect from the franchise. It’s punchy, responsive, and runs like butter.

The biggest change with the gameplay mechanics in Gears of War 4 is the ability to counter enemies over cover. If any enemy is on the other side of the wall where you’re taking cover, you can click X, reach over, and pull them towards you and, if you’re holding Y, you’ll perform a brutal execution. This new moveset adds some more depth to the cover mechanics and makes for some super intense moments when you think your relatively safe behind a piece of cover only for a player to grab you and stick a knife in your skull. Another more subtle enhancement is the ability to run towards cover and seamlessly vault over it by clicking B while roadie running. If another player is behind that cover, you’ll knock them back and stun them for a moment, allowing you a second to take them out in whatever way you choose.

There’s quite a few new weapons to play around with in Gears of War 4 as well. The new robotic Deebies faction introduces a new arsenal, along with some other new heavy weapons like the Dropshot and Buzzkill.

If you’re worried about the Deebies faction not being fun to play against since they’re robots, think again. After watching the initial reveal of the Deebies, I was a tad bit worried myself, but they fit right in with the Swarm and have a wide variety of different forms to take on. The Swarm, on the other hand, is a whole other beast.

The Locust were fun to fight in past games and had quite a bit of variation, but The Coaltion has upped their game with this newest faction. I can’t say much for the sake of spoilers, and I’ll assume other outlets are going to tell you all about these guys, but you’ll find even on the casual difficulty level (for the sake of getting this review out on time) that they pose a significant threat and will repeatedly force you to change your game up.

If you can’t tell, I very much enjoyed playing through Gears of War 4, even if the campaign’s narrative didn’t necessarily live up to my standards. The fresh look for the series also enhanced my enjoyment, as you might expect. Running on the Unreal Engine 4, Gears of War 4 is a visual treat.

Gears4_Screenshot_Farm_Entrance

It’s not as visually impressive as Uncharted 4 or Forza Horizon 3, per say, but the immense of amount of detail in the environments and The Coalition’s use of what I’ll call “overgrown history” is impressive. The original Gears of War and its sequels showcased a lot of extravagant architecture that bared the brunt of the war against the Locust. It was pretty mesmerizing at the time, and while Gears of War 4 incorporates some of that, it’s more focused on the wilderness and how nature has reclaimed much of the world.

Abandoned towns are covered in newly grown vegetation and buildings continue to crumble around you as their structures deteriorate from the Windflares that are ravaging the world. This entry in the series also uses a much wider color palette that makes use of The Coalition’s excellent lighting system that, again, much like the small talk among the characters, contrasts against a world that’s quite literally falling part.

The Windflares, which looked rather gimmicky in the gameplay footage shown off at presentations, are actually rather terrifying to traverse through. They’re used just often enough to not overstay their welcome, and something tells me there’s more to these storms than meets they eye. They also force you to change up how you play as well during combat as wind will affect trajectories of projectiles and you can destroy your enemies cover and send them rolling around in the wind — not to mention there’s also environmental objects you can dislodge and send flying into enemies which is always satisfying.

The one thing that I don’t necessarily think was improved upon in the presentation department was the soundtrack. This is something that really bugs me when it comes to established franchises with musical scores that are highly recognized. If you played a track from any of the previous Gears of Wars, they had a distinctive personality to them that set the games apart, much like Bungie’s Halo titles.

Gears of War 4, much like Halo 4, has the soundtrack too far in the background of the action, and it honestly affected my enjoyment of the game during big combat encounters. I’m all for change and improving upon things, but when you have iconic soundtracks in a franchise, I feel you should still find a way to utilize them in future titles as, much like the gameplay and characters, they are part of the game’s charm and soul.

It’s still a good soundtrack in its own right, but I don’t think there’s really that ONE recognizable tune like the original games had (example below).

The story is a little weak in this entry, but the set up for what’s to come is mesmerizing. As a fan of the franchise, I have so many questions that are pondering around in my head that I want answered sooner than later. The gameplay experience is the best it has ever been in the franchise, and the small changes The Coalition has made to the core mechanics are welcomed and further innovate on what’s arguably a perfect formula.

The Coaltion has a bright future ahead of itself with the Gears of War franchise.

Note: We did not review the multiplayer or horde mode portions of the game and thus did not factor them into our score. 

Reviewed on the Xbox One with a copy provided by the publisher.

Developer: The Coalition | Publisher: Microsoft | Genre: TPS | Platform: Windows 10/ Xbox One | PEGI/ESRB: 16+/M | Release Date: October 11, 2016

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Nick Calandra
OnlySP founder and former site owner.

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