Gears of War 4 Review
I only got into the original Gears of War back in 2008 and since then I've pretty much played all flavours, including the Ultimate Edition remastered version. So it was a dead cert that at some point I would grab a copy of the latest outing.
I won’t bore you with the technicalities but most people will know that The Coalition now takes the helm of Gears 4 (previously Epic Games) and to be honest you don’t really notice any difference between the two devs. At its heart this is a Gears Game through-and-through! Albeit, an old formulae, with new characters.
I need to point out that if you grab the Digital version of the game you can also run this on your Windows 10 PC and all saves are transparent i.e. play downstairs on your Xbox One in the lounge and then later go upstairs later to grab a few more hours on the PC version.
I believe there is also cross-network play, which will allow PC games to go up against Xbox One owners and vice-versa, though from what I’ve heard this feature is having a few teething problems at the mo.
The only snag with the digital version is the hefty 54GB download size for the Xbox One and 80GB size for the PC version (as it supports 4K), which will certainly slow down matters in terms of getting into the game. Of course you need a PC capable of running Gears of War 4 in the first place.
My computer falls short of the mark here as you need 2GB of graphics card memory and at least an Intel i5 3470 or AMD FX-6300 minimum, so I can’t really play this on my PC.
To be honest my core focus is on the console version anyway because alongside my Xbox One I hope to at some point grab a review sample of the Xbox One S which has HDR support.
After the game finally installed the first thing that hit me was the visual quality of the new lead character (Marcus Fenix’s Son JD) that appears on the opening screen. The graphics looked crystal clear even on my standard Xbox One running on my Hisense 4K TV (but as the latter upscale this could be why).
I was then impressed in how the game seamlessly blends with the prologue as you go from the main menu into the campaign proper; a lovely touch!
Speaking of which in this game you have moved on a fair bit from the events of Gears 3, so there is a new change of guard which will allow new-comers to the franchise a fresh outlook on matters. Though that’s not to say Gears fans won’t get some nostalgic moments, as there are some for sure! Albeit in snippets –ed.
You are then introduced to some truly gob smacking visuals! I have to say this is the best looking Xbox One game I’ve ever seen. If the quality is this good on the standard Xbox One, I can’t wait to try this on the Xbox One S with HDR and I’ve seen clips of the PC version in 4K and this is also looks stunning!
What impressed me more than just the graphics however was the performance, which has remained pretty rock steady during the campaign. Only on two occasions in my play-through did I notice a slight dip in performance, once in a cut-scene and one before a huge battle. On the whole though it’s a pretty polished game.
However once you get over the lush presentation you will soon realise that you are playing the same Gears games you have played for years gone by, only this time with a fancy makeover. At its heart there has not really been many advances to the core mechanics here, with the exception of a few new moves you can do while in and out of cover.
On one side of the coin this is not a bad thing for fans, because if it isn’t broke don’t fix it sort of thing. On the flip-side for the opening stages it can get repetitive and I’d admit things can certainly get a bit stale in the first few chapters, but thankfully just as your energy starts to waver The Coalition throw in some twists and turns which keeps things interesting.
What I did like was that you now get a few variants to fight against, the Swarm and some COG Automated combat robots for example.
You also have some linear driving sections to deal with which at least provides a break from the relentless cover mechanics. There is also some Horde mode gameplay thrown in to, which also acts as a training exercise at the same time.
For example you need to build base defences using what is called a Fabricator. The latter allows you to spend credits on barbed-wire, turrets and decoys. You can then place these strategically in the playing area before you get a set number of waves of enemies trying to attack you. Once one wave is destroyed you then have time to re-build your fortifications before the next round starts.
Sadly the story-line that runs throughout is OK and is depicted in several cut-scenes nicely, but I feel that towards the end it still whimpers out. The new core characters are not a patch on the previous outings either and you don't have the same sense of bound between the core characters as you did in the early games.
AI Team Mates & New Gear!
However on a positive note, at least the AI actually does some good this time!
In Gears of War Ultimate Edition I remember the AI was literally rubbish and they would seem to die almost instantly when it came to large scale battles. Now the AI actually puts up a good fight and I’ve been saved from near death on several occasions.
Vice versa the Swarm seems to do a better job of defence/attack, so this does provide more entertainment.
Alongside the familiar Lancer rifle, Retro lance, and Gnasher shotgun, you have a few new weapons to play with such as the Overkill alternative to the latter shotgun. This unleashes a devastating attack the more you press the fire button.
Then you have the Dropshot which allows you to fire deploy-able aerial mines with drills attached to them. Basically you fire the mine and as it burrows in a straight line hold down the trigger button and release it near an enemy. At this point the mine will tunnel straight down taking the enemy out with them or explode when it hits the ground, either way it's game over time.
Another construction style weapon is the Buzzkill which fires spinning blades of death in the general direction of the bad guys. The blades are also capable of bouncing off walls, so you can do some cool Robocop take downs if anyone is hiding behind a wall.
Cover is also not as safe, as some types can be destroyed and there is a new dynamic in play that I forgot to mention in that there are various storm conditions which can affect the surrounding environments and this makes you approach each combat scenario a littler differently.
For example not only do they look spectacular, which gives the game a real authentic Gears look, but if you throw a grenade for arguments sake the wind will completely change the direction of the projectile, so you need to allow for this.
It's just a pity that these sections are few and far between.
It’s game over man!
On the whole the game is relatively enjoyable and yet the best bits come towards the end as you get to wreak havoc in spectacular fashion (I won’t spoil this anymore). Sadly just as it starts to get really good, it’s all over too quickly and like Halo 5 I get the feeling the game’s single player has been sacrificed for the Multiplayer.
I’ll talk about this in a moment, but I managed to complete the entire campaign in 8 hours and 19 minutes on Normal. Bearing in mind I did spend time a lot of time looking for hidden collectables, so I believe you could wrap the game up in 7 hours or so at a push.
Replay value I suppose comes from the harder difficulty levels and co-op mode which allows you to team up locally or online. Yet I don’t really feel the need to go back to the Single Player if I’m being brutally honest.
Achievements are also a complete an utter grind, in that you only get a meagre 5 Gamer score for completing most chapters, so over the course of my gameplay you feel like you have just been give the scraps and all the main achievements are in the Multiplayer...
Multiplayer is the focus
As I said before I believe the Multiplayer is the core focus on this title, you can tell instantly as you constantly get news bulletins appearing showcasing eSports events and so forth.
You also have a gimmicky card system in place which allows you to boost your class or game modes with various benefits to XP or in the Horde Mode a reduction to base building costs.
The booster packs also provide new skins and so on, but it’s just another business model to make you spend real money. For example the game has its own store and provides in-app purchases so you can buy additional booster packs and this is something I don’t like personally. If you have shelled out nearly £40-£50 for the game I don’t expect to spend anymore money in order to get benefits to help with the core gameplay.
Plenty of Modes
There are at least plenty of modes to sink your teeth into and also plenty of ways in which to play them. For example they have coop and online modes, but there is also a LAN option which again proves that this title is geared for eSports Multiplayer.
There is even a dedicated competitive option within the Multiplayer, I think the modes available are Execution, where you have to take everyone out using executions only. You also have Escalation where you have to capture and hold rings to score enough points.
You then have standard Core modes that are similar takes on classic game modes, such as CTF and Domination where you have to hold certain points. You also have an assassin style game where you need to take out the leader to prevent re-spawns and then you are free to mop up the rest of the opposing team. Each mode offers a slight variant on the PvsP scenario.
To be honest i’m not a huge fan of the Multiplayer anyway as the Gnasher is still way too powerful in this game from long range for my liking. However in the Team Deathmatch mode I did find the gameplay was certainly smoother and you can sense this instantly. So movement, firing weapons and so forth was fab and this does make a difference. Yet on the flip-side you do notice a loss of graphic fidelity, but I don’t think this is a major problem for this type of gameplay as performance is king.
Note: In fact the Versus modes don’t feature the same 1080p graphics as the core campaign, but the modes are optimised for fluid action and hence they run at 60FPS for the most part.
I believe you have 10 maps to play on out the box and more to follow via DLC. They all have there pro’s/cons in terms of cover based mechanics. You usually play to the best of 5 in Team Death Match and it was good fun for the first match, yet I don’t think I will play much more as it’s not really my bag as I said earlier, however I can see Gears fans get a kick out of it!
Horde Mode 3.0
For me I actually prefer the coop Horde Mode and this mode in question offers some new mechanics over the previous outings. Mainly because of the way you use the Fabricator which I spoke of before.
The latter is what is used to build your base defences but this time instead of having your own credit total the whole team adds to the pot by depositing credits after they have killed the Horde. So for example you shoot and kill one of the Swarm and this provides credit which you can deposit into the Fabricator by simply moving towards it.
From the Fabricator you can then place defensive traps and automated gun turrets for example in key defence-able positions. You can also build weapon lockers to store some of the guns that usually disappear before each round starts. This new credit system and optional defence features certainly provides new ways in which to play and it also empathises the need to coordinate your spending.
In reality though this does not work entirely for public matches and as with most things in life anything involving group spending means you can be sure to get the odd person with a power trip problem! From my own personal point of view I experienced some moaning first hand as I remember spending a snippet of money on a base defence, only to get winged at for the next 10 minutes because he thought it should not have been deployed. I think this put me off the mode really because I just want to play the game to have fun and I don't want to listen to some stranger winging in my ear or in my case through my TV's speakers. I could nobble off voice comms, but this beats the whole point of social gaming.
In fairness it’s not always like this, as you do get a great bunch of players who just want to have some fun. In this case with a good team and on a casual difficulty level, you can easily get to round 40 on your first play-through.
Business as usual!
As usual each round offers wave after wave of enemy types and they get stronger as each round goes by. There is also a boss round every 10 rounds or so as well. For the most part it’s frantic and hectic, yet really good fun!
On the flip-side the biggest problem with Horde mode (apart from the winging) is the people that Quit too early. For example during one match the team had got to round 19 and we were doing great and then suddenly I was fighting with just one other person. Obviously most of the time had quit and while I don’t mind this, it would be great if other players could join so that you can continue to get to the next round.
Otherwise you are then left to face the Horde with 2 out of the allotted 5 and this is where the game falls down. All that effort and then you are forced to quit out yourself because the team has abandoned you.
Thus, if you want to play Horde you need a bunch of lads that you know, otherwise it spoils everything.
Another downside is the long waiting times for each round to start. Because of these gimmicky booster cards that you can deploy, you have to sit there for nearly 2 minutes just to get the darn game rolling!
I’m in two minds over Gears of War 4. Graphically it’s stunning to look at and the new effects really showcase what the platform is capable of.
On the flipside though the game is over way to quickly and I feel the Single player experience is sacrificed once again for the Multiplayer. Halo 5 was a similar story.
To be honest I think most people will by this for the Multiplayer anyway, in fact I have several friends that own the game and have not even touched the Single player mode yet.
For me though 8 hours or less to complete a game that costs nearly £50 (at the time of writing) is a little bit pants to be honest. Considering I’m still finishing off Doom’s Single player campaign (and this also has Multiplayer option) you are looking at 15hours+ here, so you can see there is a problem with Gears of War 4. The only way to increase the time is to play it from the off on a Hard difficulty level.
I did like the new Horde Mode to begin with, but at the same time unless you play with a good bunch of people you could get issues with early quitters that spoil the game or in my case the winging I experienced also put me off playing it to be honest.
Gears fans will probably like it, but I feel Gears of War 4 needs more than just a graphical polish to re-spark my interest in any future titles. Now that the single player campaign is finished I really don’t think I’ll play it as much as I thought I would.
Best online price from Xbox Store for £41.74