Press Start: ‘Gears of War 4’ is the series’ triumphant return
“Gears of War 4” is a return to what made the original “Gears of War” games of the last generation so great while simultaneously treading a healthy amount of new ground without taking too many risks.
As in past entries, “Gears 4” has got your meaty heroes, a monstrous adversary and more blood and guts than you can shake a chainsaw bayonet at. But the campaign doesn't do too much to answer lingering questions, and the gameplay has been enhanced only slightly. The result is a thrilling yet safe addition to the “Gears” saga.
Set 25 years after the conclusion of “Gears of War 3,” the “Gears 4” campaign stars a new cast of lovable, foul-mouthed characters. Everything from the heroes' mission to how they interact with each other feels more intimate and less high-stakes than other “Gears” games. The world is more colorful and less gritty—a welcome change—but still capable of delivering some intense moments.
Whereas the original “Gears” games starred heroes trying to save the world, “Gears of War 4” is a more personal tale of soldiers trying to save their loved ones and themselves and getting in over their heads in the process. I wish the characters had more depth and interaction outside of their constant witty quips, but I enjoyed learning what limited information about each one I could—especially Kait, the cast's sole female character.
The story is short, taking only about six-and-a-half hours to beat. That feels even shorter when you don't get into the real meat of the game until a couple of hours in. The story also features a few tedious sections where you have to hole up and survive waves of enemies. I always have more fun in “Gears” campaigns when I'm on the move.
For some variety, “Gears of War 4” features a new robotic enemy type called DeeBees. The addition includes some fun new weapons with which to experiment, but nothing can replace the growling, meaty, burnt-marshmallow-looking main adversary known as the Swarm. It's a shame it takes so long for the game to introduce them.
“Gears of War 4” also features a new mantle and grab mechanic. Players can now hop over cover in one fluid motion rather than having to get into cover first. Players also can grab opponents on the other side of low walls, pull them over and execute them. The new moves are nothing revolutionary, but they're welcome ways to help combat stay fluid and frantic whether you're playing through the story or online against human opponents.
The story's emotional and abrupt ending took me by surprise, especially with its mysterious cliffhanger that sets the game up for a sequel. Despite the relative shortness of the campaign, it was full of high-octane moments. I remember one section of the game that required the Gears to escape a deep mine shaft. How they accomplish that had me grinning and laughing throughout the minutes-long escapade.
Probably the best upgrade from older “Gears” games is “Gears 4's” Horde 3.0 mode. Horde is an addicting game mode where a team of five players must work together to fend off progressively more difficult waves of enemies. To add a strategic element, players can spend currency from defeated enemies to buy fortifications such as turrets and barbed fences to hold the horde back.
For the first time, players can easily move fortifications and their entire bases if they want, making it easy to switch strategies on the fly. Players also can use their currency to purchase weapons when a boss drops in. It's a challenging mode that will test friends' cooperation on their quests to reach wave 50.
Of course, competitive multiplayer has gotten some upgrades, too. I especially enjoy the new Arms Race mode, which requires teams to get three kills with a specific weapon before they are granted a new one. It's a blast, but when a teammate unexpectedly leaves and no one fills his or her place, prepare to get demolished. The tediousness of the slow matchmaking only adds to the frustration.
“Gears of War 4” is a solid revitalization of a decade-old series. It features a solid, more personal campaign that takes some missteps but sets the stage for a promising sequel. The upgraded Horde 3.0 mode is the best it's ever been. The competitive multiplayer is a blast, even though finding matches takes too long and can become one-sided.
Final score: 8/10
“Gears of War 4” was reviewed on the Xbox One with a digital copy provided by the publisher's PR agency, Assembly Inc.
Video game columnist Jake Magee has been with GazetteXtra since 2014. His opinion is not necessarily that of Gazette management. Let him know what you think by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, leaving a comment below, or following @jakemmagee on Twitter.