Gears of War review: Time to rev up that lancer!

Please note, dear readers, this is a review of Gears of War 4’s campaign and not any of its MP modes. If I get time to play any of them, I’ll post my thoughts, but that said, I like single player campaigns more than MP so that might be a while …

I’ve always been a fan of the Gears of War video games.

Son of a gun: JD Fenix
Son of a gun: JD Fenix

In fact, I’ve always liked the series much more than Halo, to be honest. Maybe it’s  the over-the-top characters with larger than life calves and that it has a gun that has a freaking chainsaw attached to it, but I always liked the dude bro chemistry between original Gears characters Marcus Fenix, Dom Santiago, Damon Baird and Augustus “Cole Train”Cole as they battled the Locust.

Set 25 years after Gears of War 3, you fill the combat boots of James Dominic (JD) Fenix, the son of Gears legend Marcus Fenix, and this time around the COG (Coalition of Governments) that Marcus and his pals Dom, Cole and Baird fought for so long ago are now the enemy, with JD and colleagues Kait and Del sort of revolutionaries fighting against the machine that is now the COG.

This is a much more vibrant Gears of War game, at least compared to the dark, gritty colour tones of previous games in the series, and while it’s not unicorns and rainbows it’s nice to see colour that isn’t various shades of brown and grey.

Gears of War 4 Drone BattleGOW4 takes a while to warm up and much of that is down to the fact that for the first couple of hours all you battle are COG robots called DeeBees. Don’t give up, though, as once you start fighting the Swarm – the new enemies – things pick up for the better.

Despite a new developer, Gears of War 4 feels like a Gears game and by that I mean it’s a tightly scripted affair where rooms are combat arenas full of knee-high walls and barricades that you can hunker down behind and pick out the horde of enemies, one by one. JD smacks into walls with a satisfying thump (you can almost feel the masonry crumble as a shoulder slams into it) – and there’s always plenty of cover to move to as you advance. There are new weapons too, to mix things up a little so you don’t have to reply on the faithful lancer all the time: One that fires saw blades, while another fires projectiles that drill into the ground then explode.

Gears of War has always been about arenas where you enter a room, clear out the enemies then move towards the objective. It’s never been about open-world exploration where you can wander off the beaten track.

Narrative has never been  a strength of the Gears games and it’s pretty average here but JD Fenix is a likeable character that grew on me the more I played the game and in a nice nod to the previous Gears titles, it was nice that Marcus Fenix becomes part of the team during the latter stages of the game.

A welcome return: Marcus Fenix makes a welcome return in GOW4.
A welcome return: Marcus Fenix makes a welcome return in GOW4.

It was nice seeing The Coalition give us an older, more grizzled (could he get more grizzled?)

Marcus Fenix, a military man who has lived life as a civilian for 25 years and now lives on a farm, growing tomatoes and generally leading a quiet life (there’s a nice sequence where JD, Marcus and co make their way through Marcus’ tomato plants and Marcus complains that his plants are being destroyed).

The Coalition hasn’t reinvented Gears of War here, and I don’t think anyone expected that they would, but I felt that the middle sagged a little, with the game becoming bogged down with traipsing through Swarm-infested lairs. As you’d expect, the ending has set us up for Gears of War 5.

gow4benchmark

 

Gears of War 4 looks wonderful on Xbox One – it could be the best looking game on Xbox One right now – and on PC, and it’s the third game to be released as part of Xbox’s Play Anywhere scheme where if you buy a digital copy on PC or Xbox One, you’ll get a free copy on the other platform and despite having a four-year old graphics card, I played most of the campaign on my PC. It’s incredibly scalable and my PC managed solid frame rates of close to 60 frames a second at 1080p using a mix of medium and high graphic presets. I was pleasantly surprised.

For a fan of Gears of War, I found number 4 in the series (let’s just forget that Judgement ever happened, shall we?) incredibly satisfying. It delivered all the things I wanted in a Gears game.

Now that The Coalition has got its first album out of the way, let’s see what direction the series heads in the future.

 

 

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