By Michael Battista
“Gears of War” has been one of Microsoft’s staple series, and it was only a matter of time until a new Xbox One game was released. Available for Xbox One and PC on Tuesday, Oct. 11 — or Friday, Oct. 7, for those who pre-ordered the special edition of the game — “Gears of War 4” tries to start a new story in the “Gears” universe since the initial trilogy came to a close at the end of the third title. “Gears of War 4” revs up some originality, but a lot of cheap tactics are at play here, as well.
In the previous games, the main enemies of the series, the Locusts — a species of ungrounded, human-insect hybrids — were completely wiped out, which led to peace for the humans of Sera. However, since then, a central government called the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) has tried to restore order to the population.
Meanwhile, other clusters of people, referred to as Outsiders, choose to live on their own, free from COG’s rule.
In the lead up to the fourth title’s release, video game developer The Coalition advertised a new enemy type called “the Swarm,” who had been attacking human settlements and taking people in the middle of the night.
The strange thing, though, was that for the first two acts of the game — or between 90 minutes and two hours of playtime — you don’t fight against the Swarm at all. You fight against COG security, which seemed odd given how much attention the game’s new enemy had received in comparison. When you finally encounter the Swarm, they turn out to be quite similar to the Locusts, in both appearance and tactics.
That’s not to say the game’s storytelling is lazy. “Gears of War” has, for the most part, always dealt with a world in which people know what they are fighting against. The humans in the game know what the Locust are because they have been fighting them long before the player stepped into their world.
This time, when the player jumps in as James “JD” Fenix, the son of the previous games’ main character Marcus Fenix, they get the experience of uncovering a new terror along with JD.
The gameplay still uses the same iconic “Gears” formula, but seems streamlined and enhanced for the new console. If you like third-person cover shooters, then you’re going to enjoy this game, though, the story is sometimes off-putting.
The latest story mode has multiple sections that are taken from the game’s “Horde Mode,” in which the player(s) must survive waves of enemies while fortifying the area with defenses. The Horde crossover within the story didn’t make sense at first, but after a while, it settles with help from the new cast, who really keep the game alive.
While exploring new areas, JD and his team’s banter ranges from hilarious to informative to intense, depending on the situation’s context. While the gameplay may be vital, the characters are what make video games memorable. The “Gears” series has yet to fail in that department.
The game looks stunning, even more so than last year’s “Gears of War Ultimate Edition,” with the weather taking main stage. Rain, wind and flying debris look crisp without the frame rate ever dropping below 30 frames per second (fps). The entire experience, from appearance to performance, is immersive and stunning.
If you look back at my Signal review for the “Gears of War 4” beta, the multiplayer remains mostly the same, but with much more available content. It’s fast-paced and runs consistently at 60 fps. The main talking point for the multiplayer has shifted to a more competitive style, as The Coalition tries to push “Gears 4” to have an eSports scene.
While there is an option for social games, the reminders about competitions push the fact that the game wants players to be involved. Just like other recent eSports hits, like “Overwatch” and “Rocket League,” the game has microtransactions for crates to give both cosmetic and experience bonuses in-game, which dismays some players. In order to earn rewards, the game forces players to play well or pay well.
Overall, “Gears of War 4” might not go down as the best of the series, but it’s hard to overcome the hurdle of the past successes. That being said, “Gears 4” still shows why the series remains the best at what it helped start.