I actually came to the Gears party a bit late as I was introduced to it by my brother a year after it first released (Thanksgiving of 2007). I was visiting his house for the holidays with my daughter and her mother and being the fans of couch co-op, started up a game. I was immediately hooked so when my brother's 52" Panasonic rear-projection TV bit the dust mid-game, we were crushed, but we soldiered on ... with a 20" or so TV that he brought down from his second floor and we were at it again, though in a MUCH smaller space. Ever since then I have made it a point to pick up each Gears, both for the gritty, ruined world of Sera and for the couch co-op / co-op campaign possibilities. Gears of War 4 is the latest installment in the venerable franchise, and while it misses on some aspects, it most certainly scratches that itch that only a Lancer can reach.
To start, Gears of War 4 is the first full Gears release not developed by the original studio behind the franchise (Epic Games) but rather by the Microsoft studio The Coalition (Gears of War Judgment was the last Gears title Epic worked on, and that was in conjunction with People Can Fly, and in my opinion, the weakest of the franchise). I was a bit concerned at first, thinking that maybe we would have another Halo 4 / 343 Industries on our hands because be honest, Halo 4 ties for worst of that franchise (tied with Halo 2 and Halo 3) and it was developed under Microsoft's 343 Industries. With The Coalition taking the reigns from franchise founders I was worried, and those worries do not go unfounded as Gears of War 4 has plenty of missteps, though it ultimately finds its footing mid-Act III (and boy does it run with it).
The first few acts feel contradictory and juvenile, two words that are very much NOT normally associated with the gritty, devastatingly deep and incredibly rough world built in the four previous titles. Strange story loops show their head early in Act II and continue up through Act III but eventually evens out into some solid pacing, stellar voice acting, and opens the story up for a solid Gears of War 5 follow-up. The first two or so hours of the short campaign (I beat it in about 5-6 hours) feel far more like testing the waters before finally diving in come mid-Act, which lent itself to weird pacing, but overall it seemed to work.
"But what of the multiplayer" you ask? Well, it is multiplayer. Familiar Horde mode is back and is the same (if fun) as previous iterations but the biggest downside? Good heavens does it take forever to find a match. I was waiting 7-10 minutes to find matches, often getting in a game of Airheart (roguelike shooter I will be posting about in the coming days) while waiting to connect to a game. And that was AFTER release (lord knows I could not get into a game prior to release). In all reality I was not all that impressed by the multiplayer and found that going back to Gears of War: Ultimate Edition yielded a more interesting and visceral experience.
Though Gears of War: Ultimate Edition was 60 FPS it retained its grounded feel; Marcus and Friends are hulking brutes wearing massive suits of bulky armor and they move like that. The FEEL heavy. JD and Co. in Gears of War are incredibly spry and snappy and I ran into the same issue with Gears 4 that I have with Dark Souls 3, which is still a great game, but is too fast. The weight is lost in the new faster, more responsive gameplay, which to me seems to imply that there is hope in the world. Gears of War (and Dark Souls for that matter), has never been about hope; it has been about survival and that feeling is utterly lost in the fact that I am now running around like a badass supersoldier. Previous iterations of the franchise(s) are not like that, and with the move to 60 FPS, while great, I think cuts out a lot of the weight of survival. Though the introduction of assassinations, even if nearly impossible to pull off, is really great.
Despite the orphaned feeling of the first half of the game, not to mention the snappier more responsive gameplay, Gears of War 4 is still a rock-solid third person shooter. Set in the broken world of Sera, humanity is trying to rebuild after the Locust (and later, Lambent) devastated the world and in doing, somehow turns into an Orwellian nightmare for the first few acts. Muscle through it, whether through single player, couch co-op, or online co-op, and you will be rewarded with a decent "next step" in the franchise that really ends on a cliffhanger worthy of a follow-up. For trying on their boots, The Coalition did a solid job and by the end of the game fell into a solid rhythm that was both new and familiar. Gears of War 4 might not be the best in the franchise, but it is certainly a worthy follow-up to a longstanding fan favorite. Well Done.
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Article by Robert