On Nov. 7, 2006, “Gears of War” was released and it reinvented the third-person genre of video games. With its impressively intuitive controls, imaginative world and machine guns with chainsaws attached, “Gears of War” made a resonating impact on the gaming community and forever changed the way third-person games were made.
Since then, the developing studio, Epic Games, went on to finish a highly successful trilogy in its established “Gears” universe, thus perceivably ending the storyline of their hero – Marcus Fenix – and the Locust War forever. Luckily, when Epic Games decided it wanted to move onto other projects, the trilogy’s director of production, Rod Fergusson, broke off to continue the story of “Gears.” When he took the stage at Electronic Entertainment Expo, E3, in 2015 as the new studio head of the Coalition, he finally announced the return of the beloved “Gears” franchise with “Gears of War 4” and fans seemed hesitantly excited.
With the story following a new band of characters and a relatively unproven team of developers working on it, “Gears of War 4” was a project that many were not optimistic about, especially after the poor result of “Gears of War: Judgment.”
The game picks up 25 years after the events of “Gears of War 3,” where a world without the Locust and Lambent’s villainous onslaught has created its own highly dividing conflicts. The world of Sera is unstable due to wind flares, lack of resources and a dictatorial leader named Jinn, all a result of past games’ events. With these harsh conditions that Sera faces, the Coalition of Ordered Governments, COG, under Jinn’s control, have begun to confine the populace inside of walled cities, ultimately declaring martial law. Those who disagree with the COG begin to escape these confinements to become “Outsiders.”
The story follows a trio of these Outsiders struggling to help their village survive in the increasingly cruel world. The leader of this trio goes by the name of J.D., and when the Outsider settlement is attacked, he decides the only person who can help is his father, Marcus Fenix. With the Swarm – a new threat in the same vain as the Locust – stealing people for their army, it is up to J.D., Del, Kait and Marcus to stop them and attempt to end the war before it even begins.
With every similarity to the original, the game is able to capitalize on nostalgia, while also bringing enough new gameplay mechanics and twists to the story to make it feel different and worthy of existence. The story of “Gears of War 4” is one that has dark and powerful elements that are engaging throughout its roughly 8-hour duration and the ending will undoubtedly leave players with many questions and hopes for the eventual sequel.
Once the nostalgia-inducing campaign ends, most players will be immediately hooked into the game’s social and competitive online multiplayer. Running at 60fps, the multiplayer modes feel fast, frenetic and fantastically engaging. Each skirmish feels powerful and the enemy-player encounters are almost always a heart-pounding experience. The new weapons also integrate well into the established multiplayer formula, but the best gun continues to be the Gnasher, which maintains its shotgun brutality from previous games. The best additions though are the new modes – Arms Race and Dodgeball – which feel well-balanced and incredibly fresh for the franchise. The returning “Gears” modes unsurprisingly continue to work well and are definitely worthy of their repeated presence in the new game.
Another strong returning cooperative multiplayer mode is Horde – an innovative survival based game – which “Gears of War 2” conceived back in 2008. Titled “Horde 3.0,” this mode is one of the greatest cooperative experiences in games today. With the inclusion of a device called the “fabricator” – a 3-D printer for weapons and defenses – Horde is able to truly reinvigorate a consistently retreaded wave-based, survival mode. The goal of 50 completed rounds is daunting, but the mode is considerably well balanced thanks to a new class system that gives the five-player squad important roles that all adequately aid survival. Each role gives a new gameplay style to the mode – with “engineer” forcing the player to repair defenses or “scout” pushing a player out of the base to collect higher powered energy. These are all highly welcomed additions and they create a mode that is addictive and satisfying.
Despite these novel takes on multiplayer, “Gears of War 4” does sadly integrate a terrible pay wall that becomes infuriating over time. Adopting the loot-box system of unlocks, “Gears of War 4” creates an unbalanced micro-transaction mess, making a total completion of the games unlocks unforeseeable to the non-paying player.
In spite of this arguably fatal flaw, “Gears of War 4” is a fast paced and incredibly enjoyable game that is well worth a full price purchase – especially since it includes every “Gears” game for free. The story is well constructed and interesting – creating strong potential for the new franchise – and the gameplay is at its peak of performance. The latest installment of a gaming franchise has never felt this boldly fresh and familiarly exciting. “Gears of War 4” is most definitely one of the best games of the year and it is a worthy addition to such an exceedingly inventive franchise of games.