Gears of War 4 Review: Fenix Rises
Ryan Bloom / Nov 15th, 2016 No Comments
For a half decade, the testosterone-fueled Gears of War trilogy ruled the Xbox 360. Its musclehead heroes tore aliens to literal shreds with chainsaw-strapped guns and made the ground tremble beneath them with every step. If Gears were a person, it would have probably manifested into a Doritos-munching, Monster Energy-drinking dude-bro boasting through his headset about what he’d do to your mother.
But beneath the blood-soaked surface, there has always been more to Gears of War. Through three games, Marcus Fenix and his pals shared some emotional moments amongst all the gunfights, and the plot expressed a deeper narrative than its bullet-flying gameplay.
Gears of War 4 continues this formula with slimmed-down characters and a brighter tone. It picks up the Fenix bloodline but the story takes a back seat to the action. It is familiar, but at the same time new. The game is exactly what most fans of the series would expect, but it hints at something grander without exploring these subtleties.
Gears Family Reunion
JD Fenix, Marcus’ son, has taken over for his dad as the franchise’s main protagonist, but Gears 4 tells us little about the Fenix heir and his relationship to comrades Dell, Kait and Oscar. After a slow start, the pace quickly hastens, and the campaign cares more about throwing players into constant battles with a newly rejuvenated Locust horde.
This group clearly isn’t tasked with ending the alien uprising. Instead, campaign missions feel like a series of unimportant chores that eventually open up to a story about Kait and her familial roots. It is clear that she is taking the Dom Santiago role to JD’s Marcus in this second coming of Gears. Aside from this thread, there are only a few lines of dialogue that give context to the characters and their bonds to each other, and these moments don’t hold much weight. By the time the story really gets going, you’ll just have to wait for Gears of War 5.
Over the course of the campaign, you’ll meet up with a few old friends while facing off against new enemies. Gameplay uses the same cover-then-fire system as the original titles, but Gears 4 isn’t afraid to try some new things. There is a cinematic on-rails motorcycle sequence and giant mechs to pilot through one of the game’s later levels, but gameplay during these moments feels out of place.
However, the integration of Horde mode into the single-player campaign works to perfection. The defense-building moments don’t feel forced into the story and they help to serve as somewhat of a tutorial for the multiplayer version of Horde.
Like the original Gears, mystery creates a layer of horror over the campaign, but this new Gears of War has brighter visuals and a lighter tone. Players encounter never-before-seen enemies and become more aware of their surroundings as they progress through the game, but there are too many plot points that are left unexplored. Boss battles, which are a series staples, don’t live up to infamous fights from previous games. The result is a less focused campaign, although it is still a blast to play.
Gears of War has always been better with friends, and that is no different despite being under a new development team. There is limited replay value in the campaign, but multiplayer provides endless amounts of fun.
The PvP playlists continue to encourage close-quarter combat. Dodgeball, where players only respawn when teammates kill an opponent, is the best the series’ multiplayer has ever offered. Escalation, Warzone and the rest of the versus mode offerings are also chaotic and satisfying.
Multiplayer is supplemented by a card-based system where players can earn emblems, character and weapon skins, XP bonuses and upgradeable skills. Of course, this means microtransactions have made their way to Gears of War. This is disappointing, but those who never spend a dime will not be at a major disadvantage.
The system extends to Horde mode, which now features five classes — Engineer, Heavy, Scout, Sniper and Soldier. Because it is best for each team member in Horde to play as a different class, there can be some tension when it comes to choosing your role. As Gears caters to a more in-your-face style, it can be difficult to play as a Sniper, but Horde is equally fun no matter your role.
Rather than starting in a designated area, Horde 3.0 allows the group of participants to carry a Fabricator to the location of their choice to set up shop. Killing enemies adds to a pool of currency that players can spend to buy fortifications and defenses to take on waves of enemies.
Horde mode has long been the best aspect of Gears, and it has only improved with Horde 3.0. Combined with new enemies and a few other creative PvP game modes, Gears of War 4 multiplayer has plenty to offer.
Gears of War 4 seamlessly blends creative new gameplay elements into the classic formula. The gorgeous visuals show off a vivid, brighter environment that matches the game’s tone. Multiplayer, especially Horde mode, is loads of fun.
The campaign leaves too many unanswered questions and the pacing is off. However, being introduced to new enemies and weapons and reintroduced to characters from the original trilogy creates a sense of discovery and nostalgia. It’s not enough to overcome the feeling that you’re just shooting at stuff throughout Gears of War 4, but it is exhilarating and it’s a fine foundation for a new era in Gears of War.
Gears of War 4 was reviewed on Xbox One using a code for the game provided by the publisher.
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