Published on November 2nd, 2016 | by Scot Mackay0
GEARS OF WAR 4
I haven’t written anything in a while and my fingers are twitchy. So much so that I’ve restarted this piece several times trying to figure out how to get that perfect opening sentence….and apparently it includes finishing it with “fingers are twitchy” which is all I could come up with. So there we go.
When I got my hands on GOW4, memories flooded back to when I first picked it up for my Xbox 360 and blasted through it on co-op with my brother. It was exquisite. It felt chunky, beefy and bigger than life. Enemies were clever enough to utilise cover and flanked you when possible, a rich story to envelop you and most importantly…. people to fight at your side that weren’t blank faced bullet sponges.
It was the beginning of a tale about four soldiers thrown together and then hurtled into series of meat grinding moments that made your heart pound and your fingers sweat. The way Marcus, Dom, Cole and Baird interacted became just as important as killing the next boss or making the next checkpoint. Over the following sequels, we were strapped to an emotional rollercoaster that brought a genuine sense of camaraderie and loss which gave the player a unique sensation. I’m sure if I mention certain moments such as ‘Dom finding Maria’ and ‘Dom vs petrol station’, you will know what I mean. Actually, how much did it suck to be Dom??
GOW1-3* were all beautifully constructed games and whilst they had their individual pitfalls (every game does) they stood out amongst the glitzy, glamorous sci-fi shooters that were hitting the shelves at the time. Now, fast forward 10 years and a generation later, we have Gears of War 4.
*I know I am missing out a particular GOW but it’s because I didn’t like GOW: Judgement. Mostly because I just plain don’t like Baird. The guy annoys me, like a drunk mate who keeps running his mouth at bouncers on a night out no matter how many times you tell him to shut up.
With the original crew split up and going their separate ways now that peace has spread across the land, we now move on to the younger generation. The generation that is tasked with rebuilding their society (within or outside the militaristic COG society). I feel like I should introduce JD Fenix as the main character but in truth he seems to be used as the vehicle to move the story along. With his friend Dex backing him up and more importantly Kait who really seems to be the main focus of this particular story, there is plenty of personality to go around. Rounding out the team is the return of the gravelly voiced, muscle man himself, the legend that is Marcus Fenix. Albeit an older, grumpier and father of the year winner 3 times in a row.
There are several other characters that make an appearance and all play their respective parts well, even though we might want a little more Cole Train (WOOO!) than we actually get, we do also get a brief link to the unlucky Carmine family in the form of who I believed to be Clayton Carmine, the surviving brother from previous games.
The plotline for GOW4 comes at us on two fronts. Firstly, we have the COG who are headed by their wonderful supreme ruler First Minister Jinn. Due to FMJ being a little over zealous and running “civilised” society with an almost iron like fist, the Stranded from previous games have grown to be now known as Outsiders and many COG Gears went AWOL and joined with them. This includes our main man JD, his pal Dex and Kait whose mother happens to be the leader of one of the Outsiders settlements. The Outsiders rely on ‘borrowing’ COG tech from nearby automated construction hubs to help maintain and provide energy for their settlements so this instantly puts them at logger heads with Jinn and her DeeBees (Think Ironman’s Iron Legion) robots.
The second front of the GOW4 storyline come from our old frenemies, the Locust. When the battle for Sera ended 25yrs previous, thousands of Locust carcases were buried and sealed in mines to be left to rot but it wasn’t the end….it was all part of the process. As eluded to in an early appearing cut scene, caterpillars enter their chrysalis before emerging as something new, improved…. different. The locust takes that to the next level. With super hard crystals building up on the piles of bodies and the newly born creatures emerging in a state of mutation, they are bigger, badder and tougher than before. With a connective hive mind, the Locust kidnap humans to use them as possible fuel/spare parts by storing them in pods where they are sucked dry of nutrients and potentially mind altered.
With the upgraded Locust drones, grenadiers and snipers appearing, it’s time to add a couple of new classes to the mix. These come in the form of Juvies (GOW1 Wretches…but naked), Scions (Big ass, heavy weapon carriers), Snatchers (giant beetle like COG swallowing vagina monsters) and Swarmaks (Brumaks with crystallised toughness and bad attitudes).
An interesting thing to take note of is that the Locust and DeeBee’s forces mirror each other with both having the same classes yet their own design. This makes sense, especially if you are going to use the character models in multiplayer.
A third opponent that enters the fray at set moments is Sera’s weather. With hurricane styled Wind Flares carrying lightning storms through the battlefield, it slows certain parts of the game down and gives it a small yet varied approach to the combat. Part of the demos that I had seen before the release of GOW4 kept showing and talking about how much the weather plays part in the game ….it doesn’t. It makes a change to your gameplay style roughly 3-4 times and is used quite often to move our characters along in their story or to focus on getting them to a location before a storm hits.
The Unreal Engine 4 does an incredible job of bringing these characters and environments to life. Every point of view is meticulously crafted and has an almost cell shaded quality to it. Long gone are the dreary greys and browns of older GOW games to be replaced with a more vibrant colour palette. Wind Flares shock the sky in colours of red and orange, whilst the lush green trees flow in the rural zones. Even the Deebees have a livery of Bright Blue and yellow forgoing any kind of camouflage with all of the mechanisms subtly on show through their armour. As dark as many of the areas are in GOW4, they aren’t hiding imperfections or to distract the player from the immersion, they are there to build tension. With the mounted flashlight on your lancer illuminating the way, the light cast across surfaces in a realistic yet stylised manner which gives a sense of atmosphere. Dust billows around our COG’s feet as you sprint to cover under a hail of gunfire that quickly turns your cover into splinters of wood and metal. Every little detail is accounted for.
Character animations are as smooth as I have ever seen, with each character beautifully detailed and given their own unique look. From the moment you move, slam into cover with a solid thud or active reload your weapons, it’s a smooth action with stunningly detailed movements. Switching between cut scenes and live gameplay is barely noticeable graphic wise as the amount of polish that has been applied is clear and obvious. This is a beautiful game.
Now for the bad bits.
I know I have just heaped praise on GOW 4 and with good reason but like any game, it has its pitfalls. Kicking off with the fact that straight from the get go, there are a lot of things to buy in the store. I’m not saying its pay to win, but I must have gone through about 20 different things on there coming in at £2.50+ and with more skins/characters/DLC planned to become available, this can be a very expensive game nearing the dizzying heights of Destiny, COD and Battlefield.
My next issue is as new as this game is, it all relies on an old, tired, repetitive formula.
- Walk to area.
- Get shot at.
- Take cover.
- Shoot back.
- Keep shooting.
- Everything dead?
- Walk to next area.
Whilst GOW4 does try to change things up by allowing you to pull opponents across from the opposite side of cover to give you that split second to end them with a rather snazzy kill animation and some of the larger locust creatures use their size and mobility to keep you moving not much else has changed in the gameplay dynamics since the original title back in 2006 (feel old yet?) In saying that, would it feel like a GOW game if the made too many changes to it? Probably. Like previous games, there are sections to break up the banality of the repetitive action by changing the player’s perspective. In GOW4, tis comes in the form of taking control of some heavy duty motorbikes and avoiding missile fire whilst shooting out a jet engines of COG aircraft. It’s a nice break from the tedium and doesn’t take much brain power to figure out what to do.
Another area where i felt myself getting annoyed is the first third of the game pits you against the soulless Deebees. Now normally that is fine but when you buy a GEARS game, you want to be knee deep in slaughtering Locust drones, cracking skulls and chainsawing your way through giant city sized worms but due to the Deebees being pushed at you from the get go, it almost had an Alien: Colonial Marines feel to it. You know, like when you wanna get in their and shoot aliens but spend most of your time fending off irritating Joe’s instead. I dunno, it kind of annoyed me to be honest. More bugs, less bots.
Now this is an honest review, and I can honestly say that I HATE the GOW multiplayer…. always have and probably always will. Since the beginning, it’s always been a shotgun fest with little to offer me apart from frustration, irritation and the discovery of newly created swear words. Horde mode is back and bigger and fuller than ever so make sure you get a good squad together and you should be able to see your way through but it will be tough.
On the other side of that, the co-op experience is phenomenal. This is how GOW is meant to be played. Like I said earlier, it’s not always about the action, it’s about having the back of the person next to you. It’s about covering each other’s back, timing reloads, acting as bait whilst your team mate flanks and enemy position, picking each other up when you fall foul of Snatchers and teaming together to take out Harriers (think Harambe but with an armoured shell and a bad case of revenge).
So in short ladies and gentlemen, pick up GOW4 if you truly want a fantastic co-op experience. Don’t expect it to last too long thought as you could probably blast through the best parts of the game in a little under 8 hours. If you enjoy the multiplayer element of Gears, this is the best it will ever be. Packed full of features, customisation and player options, it is a fully kitted out title.
This is clearly the beginning of a new era of exploration with the Gears franchise and I will be interested to see where the Coalition take it from here as I don’t think they can rely on this same old battered formula as they have done for the last 10 years. New dimensions are needed, maybe some fresh perspective or a fundamental shift in gameplay is required so that Gears can continue with the new headlining characters. Whilst GEARS 1,2 and 3 gave an incredible storyline from start to finish. Maybe it finished things too well. It makes it hard to kick start a new storyline and make people care about it as much as the previous one, I mean, look at Star Wars. The original movies are undoubtedly the best ones, with the newest ones have had a positive yet tentative reception. Gears 4 is exactly the same. Way.
Buy it for the story, keep it for the multiplayer, invest in it for the inevitable trilogy to come and become a COG in the machine.
Summary: Not exactly a return to greatness but a re-skinning of many of the familiar mechanics that made it great. The start of a new trilogy that can tug at the heart strings and bring out the blood lust in you.