Whilst I believe that the Gears of War series was one of the defining experiences of the previous generation of consoles, I never 100% got into them. Yes, their “press Y to look at this thing we want you to look at” and cover mechanics defined an entire generation, but they just never felt right to me. Maybe it was the overwhelming odds that the group faced, as they consistently survived with no issues, or maybe it was the fact that the attempts at horror fell flat when the game was constantly making you feel like a hero, interjecting humour wherever it could. Regardless of the reason, I still continued to play every single one, and proceeded to enjoy my time with the series whilst playing co-op with my friends, enjoying, but never loving, the series.
So here we are, with a new generation of consoles to play the game on, and a new story. With Gears 3 destroying all the locusts (the main protagonists of the series), we find the world of Gears a very different place to be. Humanity is trying to repair itself, building cities using hulking robots (that are now a new enemy – more on that later), and proceeding to remind women the world over to have as many children as possible to replenish the dwindling population. this new world is weird, and in some respects, welcome. The previous game’s dreary underground segments were what defined last generations “murky” games, so the chance to explore a new world with less destruction and actual daylight was always going to be a nice change. The problem is, that change doesn’t last long, with Gears 4 soon turning back to it’s tried and tested formula of jokes, laughs, and dreary dark narrow hallways
You see, not only are there new enemies in the robots that are controlled by the CoG (the governing body post-war), there’s also a new type of gruesome enemy that’s kidnapping people and taking them underground. Throughout the course of the campaign you’ll learn that these new enemies are simply re-skinned locusts that have managed to evolve due to their to prolonged exposure to imulsion and 25 years of being left alone in pits across the world. With Marcus (the protagonists father) being kidnapped, you spend most of the campaign fighting in the dark trying to find him, along with kait’s (a sidekick) mother.
These underground and ruined locations that you’ll progress through unfortunately don’t look too dissimilar to previous games. The only difference I could discern is that stages now have brand new colour ranges thanks to the new HDR support, meaning leaves and blood look more vibrant thanks to the new hues that can be produced. Otherwise, for the most part, you’re still seeing the same buildings, same murky walls, and weird architecture. Don’t get me wrong, this looks and feels like a Gears of War game, but I just couldn’t get over the over-reliance on underground and building scenarios. There are moments that stand out and shine above the rest, like the beginning area where you observe a city being built from scratch in broad daylight, but these moments are few and far between.
My other issue is one of tone. After the first act of fighting robots in a day-lit city, you proceed to spend the rest of the game in the dark. This is fine: the developers at The Coalition are obviously trying to set up some elements of horror with the new “Swarm”, the issue is, it just doesn’t sit right with the constant jokes and playfulness of the characters. At one point in the campaign we have a grieving and upset sidekick, alongside an annoyed protagonist, and both of them are cracking jokes all over the place about not saying a place is “all clear”, as it jinxes them. It’s all fine and good having humour here and there, but I can’t help but think The coalition straddled too close to the line as to whether the game was a horror, or funny, shooter.
I didn’t mind the story too much, but it did feel like a setup to a trilogy rather than a standalone game in it’s own right. Half of the acts are finding out what threats lay in the world, with the final few being running away from said threats or trying to find your way from one town to another. The campaign was longer than I anticipated, totalling around 8 hours, but it ends so abruptly that you can’t help but think the developers cut some content from the end of the game.
Graphically, I wasn’t impressed that impressed. When Gears of War first released on our xbox’s 10 years ago, it was a technical achievement, one that showcased the dawn of a new era of machines, and one that would take years to beat in regards to visual fidelity. Gears 4 on the other hand feels out of date in comparison. There are times when the amount of detail on screen can look lovely, stunning even, but for the most part it looks like a slightly more polished Xbox 360 title with slightly better textures. Not exactly a revolution in graphics, more of a refinement, and that just doesn’t hold ground anymore when every other developer is making better looking games.
Like my opening paragraph alluded to, I still enjoyed my time with Gears 4, it’s a fun game that continues to delight as you play through. I just want something new from the series after it’s mechanics have been picked up by most other games over the last decade.