Gears of War 4 is the latest release in the Gears of War series, a third-person cover shooter focused on gunplay and occasional bits of gore. The previous games were developed mostly by Epic Games, however this entry marks the first in a permanent change in developer. The Coalition has been handed the reins in carrying on the series legacy into the next-generation, not unlike 343i creating the new trilogy of Halo titles. That said, Gears of War 4 doesn’t set out to re-haul the entire series and almost change the genre, it simply attempts to be the best game released in the legacy of Gears of War.
One thing that’s worthy of mentioning before jumping into the gameplay is that Gears of War 4 is the latest of Microsoft exclusive titles being released on Xbox One and PC through the Windows Store. In the past, the titles released through this method, specifically Quantum Break as an example launched with crippling performance issues for many including shoddy framerates and crashes. Fortunately, Gears doesn’t fall into the same trap, with a solid port and features included that will be touched on later, it feels like Microsoft and the developers under them have finally hit their stride and made the platform something respectable and usable.
Gears of War 4 can be purchased in Windows Store for $59.99.
First up is gameplay, as this is what the developers really needed to nail to ensure that this was a good, proper sequel. The Gears series has been known for its satisfying gunplay with a wide assortment of power weapons that change the flow of the battlefield like the Boomshot or Torque Bow. Thankfully, this trend continues with the newest release, gunplay is just as satisfying as previous releases while adding a set of new unique weapons to replace others. The Dropshot allows players to draw an explosive drill onto enemy cover, while the Tri-shot adds an extra layer of risk vs. reward when it comes to firing, as the more it fires, the more barrels are disabled due to heat. Firing the various bits of Gears of War 4’s arsenal is satisfying thanks to good sound direction and the ragdolls or gore they can inflict on the various targets throughout the game. Single player was clearly a focus for the developers as well as various sections of the game are built around using the gunplay as a base to make a traditional boss battle more exciting, and the set pieces included in the solo experience are thankfully not just cinematic inclusions. It doesn’t try to be a movie with the over the top moments, but rather a fun game first, and an exciting experience second. That’s something very laudable, as it’s easy for developers to go overboard in trying to make an exciting scripted sequence while ending up just making a boring slog of a section.
Being a Gears game, it’s expected to come with multiplayer featuring a wide variety of modes, which is also preserved practically untouched from the third entry. It features modes familiar to other shooters like a traditional Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill, but also includes staples like Warzone and Guardian alongside some new types thrown in as well. The multiplayer experience is exactly what fans have come to expect, it keeps the satisfying gunplay and adds an exciting new element of fighting over power weapon spawns and various environmental aspects of the maps that can be controlled. All of them facilitate fast-paced action where the pull of a trigger from a Gnasher shotgun or a well-placed grenade can singlehandedly decide the match. While it’s down to the players as to how crazy a match gets, the framework provided here allows for a swathe of variety in how matches play out from game to game, giving it the longevity it needs.
In addition to the basic multiplayer, there’s also an improved Horde mode, which builds upon the predecessors by taking the class system from Judgement and applying it to Horde. A set of five classes can be leveled up by playing matches and completing bounties with the new bounty card system, and these levels allow for game-changing cards to be activated before the start of a match. Each starts out small, things like ten percent reduced cost of a certain structure or a percentage increase in the amount of power deposited to the fabricator, which is used for building necessities. As the class is leveled up, more cards can be active at once, allowing a player to become the best at what they do, with engineers able to save thousands on building new structures and repair them with almost no cost, while soldiers can get perks that allow them to fire faster, hit harder, and greatly increase magazine size in addition to the bonuses provided normally from well-timed active reloads. The class system adds a new layer of depth to the game that ties in heavily with the card system, and provides a much more fun experience as progression is earned in a variety of ways, and encourages class diversity among players by offering the best kind of rewards for each class based on how much time is put into them.
Graphically, the game is absolutely beautiful. Environments are often flush with fauna and various bits of detail like cracks in rock walls and wood or other natural weathering in the environment being particularly good examples. In motion, everything serves to bring the game world alive in a way that previous games really weren’t able to do due to their “gloom and bloom” color scheme. While that can be excused in the past as it fit the style of a hopeless war against an overwhelming enemy, it doesn’t fit the fight presented in Gears of War 4 so a change in scenery and color is more than welcome. There’s also a fair bit of contrast in the presentation, while cog settlements and outsider villages have a distinct vibe of feeling alive in their own ways, the mines later in the game feel almost devoid of humanity, outside of the technology laying around. Unfortunately, the ball is dropped a bit when it comes to sound design, while the guns and voice acting are fine themselves, the music will leave most wanting, as no score in particular stood out. The music all just blurred together in the background of the combat. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it was hardly noticeable.
Performance was the biggest thing that could’ve been a point of contention after the gameplay, because being a Windows Store release, the ball being dropped wouldn’t have surprised anyone. Thankfully, this is a fully featured port with no features to be left behind. Drops below 60 FPS were almost unheard of, and often the framerate landed somewhere between 70 to 140. No major issues cropped up during gameplay as very little stuttering occurred and when it did, it never lasted longer than a fraction of a second. The most egregious complaint to come up with in regards to PC performance is that some cutscenes have freezes that last up to several seconds before continuing, which isn’t ideal. While most of these instances are short, it’s still worth mentioning here, especially since it seems to be the cause of a cutscene early in the game having a particularly awful audio desync with the character models. The PC version even includes split-screen co-op for the campaign, as well as cross-platform multiplayer with the Xbox version when playing the horde and campaign modes. There really isn’t much more to ask for here, the graphics options are both detailed with information and cover almost everything we could ask for in regards to graphical control, and even allows PC users to use the dynamic resolution scaling that the console version uses, which will drop resolution to achieve a smoother framerate in particularly demanding sequences.
Lastly, it’s worth covering the DLC practices here. Right off the bat, it does include microtransactions in a full-priced release. We have no doubt some people will be put off by this, but it’s worth mentioning that unlike Forza 5, the game isn’t intentionally balanced to make players want to buy packs with money. Credits used to buy packs are handed out on a regular basis by leveling up one’s profile and contain enough value to actually buy packs with them instead of having to save forever like say Hearthstone. Also worth noting is that the packs aren’t required to enjoy the game whatsoever, as they mostly offer experience boosts for completing certain objectives, which allow the profile to level faster and buy more packs for free. The game also includes a season pass, which again sounds like more money-wringing from the consumer, but it doesn’t appear to be anything egregious, as the developers have already stated what the pass entails. Two maps every month for a full year for the multiplayer and horde modes, which adds legitimate value to the game, and can be enjoyed by everyone in a group as long as one person owns them and hosts a private match. All in all, the way they handle DLC isn’t particularly invasive and offers a good value to the consumer, as they can participate in some parts of it without paying a dime extra. That is to say, if the inclusion of the pack system and season pass are solely to get more money out of the fanbase without adding any real content to the game, it’s doing a terrible job of that.
Overall, Gears of War 4 is exactly the kind of sequel a fan could want to a game. The single player is just as good as it ever was, the multiplayer has been improved with new modes and dedicated servers, the horde mode has had a new layer of depth added to it that makes each play of even the same maps feel entirely different, especially when switching classes. The DLC added serves to make the game last longer and add value to the consumer as opposed to existing solely for generating cash for the publisher, and the value included in the base game is already staggering at times. Graphically, it’s beautiful and performance exceeds the “standard” put in place by previous Windows Store titles. It’s hard to find anything major to be upset with or annoyed by, the worst thing about the new release is the cutscene issues previously mentioned. For Gears fans and shooter fans alike, Gears of War 4 is unquestionably worth the price.
|+ Looks gorgeous graphically and well-optimised||– Music is forgettable, never stands out|
|+ Has a wealth of content split between the single player and multiplayer modes||– Ending is a bit abrupt|
|+ DLC is non-invasive and adds value to the game by allowing users to get it without paying money||– Non-Ultimate Edition buyers have to wait until the 11th to play|
|+ Stands up to the quality of previous releases|