I wasn’t sure how I felt when EPIC Games removed themselves from the Gears of War development and the title was placed into the hands of The Coalition (formerly Black Tusk Studios). They were new and still unproven, yet this was the company that Microsoft formed to pass the torch too, similar to what they did with 343 Studios and the Halo series. Though, The Coalition had their work cut out for the, with the last entire the Gears of War series being seen as a disaster and disappointment. Could this new studio handle the development of one of the Xbox’s greatest series? Going further, could they provide a better experience that their last outing on the PC, Gears of War: Ultimate?
Game Name: Gears of War 4
Platform(s): Windows 10 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Publisher(s): Microsoft Studios
Developer(s): The Coalition
Release Date: 10.7.2016 (Ultimate), 10.11.2016 (Standard)
Price: $59.99 (Standard), $99.99 (Ultimate)
Seeing how the original Gears of War trilogy had reached full circle at the end of Gears of War 3, Microsoft wanted to have a new trilogy created, and as such, the development of Gears of War 4 started. The new beginning, so to speak, which would replace the old guard and intro a new set of characters in which we’ll (hopefully) come to love. Taking front in center this time around is the son of the disgruntled Marcus Fenix – JD Fenix, and his friends Delmont “Del” Walker and Kait Diaz. Interesting enough, JD and Del seem to be the next iteration of the original Gears of War Marcus and Dom tag team, due to their backgrounds – Both are boarding school friends, which Del following after JD Fenix’s footsteps when he enlists into the Cog army. Right off the start, you’re setting out on a mission to grab a valuable piece of hardware that’s needed for a settlement that our new friends are living in and it’s that you find out that something isn’t right here. Eventually, you’re fed more clues that push the story forward, one that ultimately includes both JD Fenix and Del Walker being ousted from the Cog army and is now on the opposite side of the fence. Sadly the grass isn’t green on this side at all, with the settlement not having much in terms of resources, which results with you being placed on this mission. Times haven’t been kind to the human race and twenty years later we’re seeing a different Sera
As the story progresses you learn a little more about the characters that you’ll be spending the remainder of the game with, which helps push character development a bit more. I was really enjoying the build up and was genuinely interested in what caused the duo to either leave the Cog army or being kicked out of it. And just when it looked like we were going to find out more about this, the story makes a left turn and now you’re being blamed for the sudden amount of missing people from the Cog army. This is a bit more severe than just stealing Cog resources, especially since the human race isn’t as plentiful as it used to be and every able body is more important than stolen pieces of technology. While the story definitely goes on to form a more elaborate tale, I was a tad disappointment with the bridging of the old guard into the new Gears trilogy. It’s not news that JD Fenix and team catch up with Marcus Fenix during the game. And while this is a father and son relationship, one that does require a bit more explanation than was is fleshed out in this chapter, I was hoping that Marcus wouldn’t be tapped as much as he was. Don’t take it the wrong way, I enjoyed Marcus during his time, but that’s just it. This is the new guard, let them have front and center, while Marcus fades away into the stuff of legends.
Who are we kidding? We know a large majority of gamers who play Gears of War aren’t playing for the story. No, they’re playing due to the fire and cover system that has been refined to the point of perfection and that is so damned fun. If it’s action you came looking for, it’s action you’re going to get and in high quantities. The Gears series has never been one to shy away from a good gun fight, thankfully Gears of War 4 provides the same fast and glorious gunplay that your remember. Only this time it cranks it up a notch or two by putting you into some tense situations. Every dreamed of riding a motorcycle-ish vehicle through a landscape with rocks and trees that only serve to wreck your face? Oh, you have? Well, how about we toss in a huge plane that’s dropping mortar onto your path, while shooting at you, all while you are dodging to stay alive? Yeah, you have to shoot down the plane, that’s not too hard, is it? Not enough? Ok, how about running for your life while horde after horde of lifeless robots are coming for you, while you and your friends are trying to avoid being swept away by hellish winds and fried by lightning storms? Yeah, I knew you’d like that. That’s just a taste of some of the excitement that The Coalition has packed into Gears of War 4, all of which still plays it safe, yet opens up the throttle just enough to make you go “well, damn that was crazy”.
But what good is a new Gears entry without new tools to play with? Of course, when I say tools, I mean guns and there are a few new additions that help to liven up the game. Sure your favorites make a return, yet the new ones are just as fun to fire off. Take, for example, one of my least favorites, the OverKill shotgun. Instead of a double barrel shotgun, this beauty gives you 4 barrels of destruction and when press fire it shoots off two. When you depress the button, it releases the other two rounds. So it could be a tactical weapon or a reign of chaos fire if you’re blinding smashing away. Honestly, I’m surprised that this is the first time I’ve experienced a shotgun that acts like this, it’s pretty ingenious. There are more guns to play with as well, but I won’t spoil the all the surprises. Though, I wasn’t a fan of the reloads this time around, as they seem a little slower. It could be me, but it was definitely slower.
There’s also the addition of a move I call “get over here”. Basically, whenever you’re behind cover and an enemy is directly in front of you, you can press the X button and your character will grab them from over the cover and put them into a 3-second stun animation. During this time you can then press the Y button to quickly perform an instakill animation, all of which is really satisfying, to say the least. I’ve tried to do this as much as possible. There is a downside to using this move as it’s not 100%, meaning that if you attempt it while an enemy is there and they happen to move during the grab animation, you’ll still perform the move. This leaves you open to fire, so there is some risk, but the reward is definitely worth it and fun.
Worried about how the controls handle? Don’t be, as the controls are just as refined as they were in previous titles. Just don’t expect these guys to turn on a dime because they aren’t made that way. Sure they aren’t built like giant defense backs like the characters of old, but they still play like them. Still, I’m surprised that they haven’t introduced a way to quickly switch directions like other games in the genre have done. Having to do 180’s in the heat of battle doesn’t always work. I want instant “who the hell just shot me” abilities!
Horde mode, which is what many will ultimately end up playing long after they’ve beaten the game has also been revamped. The goal is the same as ever, survive through 50 waves of carnage by taking out not only the BeeGees but also any Locusts that appear in your wake. For every enemy you take down, they’ll drop energy which can be deposited in your fabricator, which in turn allows you to create weapons and fortifications to help you last through the waves. Fortifications also make their return in the form of barricades, mounted turrets and other assortments of goodies to keep your enemies at bay. Though just as previously, they do cost and this time around the price is fabricator energy. You’ll have to pick and choose what is needed if you want to continue to progress. Constantly deploying fortifications will drain it, forcing you to do without, so you’ll have to plan accordingly if you want to survive.
New to horde mode is the ability specialize into specific roles based on your play style or your team’s composure – Solider (average and good for beginners), Sniper (Long ranger killer), Scout (Faster than all classes, able to collect energy faster), Engineer (Able to repair fortification) and Heavy (Big damage dealers, slower than most and can not survive on their own). Each class has a purpose, a weakness, all of which will determine how long you survive during your time in Horde Mode. Pick all soldiers, and you’ll end up spending more time running back to the fabricator to get items, where an engineer can save time by repairing your fortifications. A scout can easily and quickly get all the energy left on the ground, but aren’t able to soak up as many hits as a Heavy could. Everyone will find a class they can relate to, that much is apparent. The big question, however, is can everyone work together to survive the entirety of Horde Mode? That depends on actually who you’re playing with. That said my first couple of games I was able to hit level 32 with a team of randoms before we started getting overrun on normal mode. This was also without any sort of communications, so everything we did was reactionary. Playing alongside friends will likely make your time a bit easier.
Speaking of which, I never encountered any sort of latency or server issues during any of my online horde sessions. Finding a game was quick, though the load in the process was about a minute long your character and the map is loading into. I would have preferred it being a bit shorter but at the same time, it lets you get a drink or something while you wait. That’s the only time you have through, as each round is pretty much instant. You get a brief breather during each round, which lets you gather up stuff and then it’s back to killing stuff.
Update: Of course, shortly after the review I started experience server issues that were linked to player synchronization. The times jumped up to 2-3 minutes per every new game. This is likely to server issues and how the game handles P2P. I’ve reached out to The Coalition in regards to this, hopefully this gets resolved soon.
During my review I didn’t get a chance to check out online co-op and to be fair, I had no interest in doing so. My reasoning behind this was due to Gears of War 4 including a split screen local co-op option, something that many games simply don’t include anymore. This option was also missing in the Windows port of Gears of War: Ultimate and such I really wanted to check it out this time around. Thankfully it didn’t disappoint, as my daughter picked up the second Xbox One controller and we went to war. There was no dropped frames, no downgrade in graphics and the game ran without a hitch. It ran so well that I’m a bit spoiled in regards to wanting other games to emulate this. The only negative is that if you’re playing on a smaller monitor, you likely won’t have the same experience as I did. During the first round of testing, we played on my 34″ ultra-wide screen monitor, then again on a large HDTV. I’m imaging that this option was tossed in as The Coalition has acknowledged that PC gaming is no longer anchored to desks and there are gamers out there, like myself, who do have a PC connected to a large format monitor or TV. To this, I say thank you! Seriously folks, this has to be experienced first hand.
Oh, and if you do play with a sibling or offspring, don’t taunt them or tell them they stink at the game. That’s a sure-fire way to lose your co-op buddy…. trust me!
Looking at Gears of War: Ultimate on PC, and then looking at Gears of War 4, the seem like night and day. On is full of muddled textures, darks and while not completely unattractive, ti doesn’t have the wow factor. The other is absolutely stunning. The environments are full of details which serve to give each environment their own unique look. More than anything, there’s more color which is something fans of the series have typically complained about for years. Sure it’s gloom and doom everywhere, but it doesn’t mean that everything is dark, the world isn’t dark and neither should the world that game takes place. Both the Cog and Outsider settlements have been designed to signify their differences, with the Cog’s being technologically superior, while the Outsider’s digs show that they’re scrapers and use every piece of resources they can find to their advantage. While I can’t speak for the Xbox One version of Gears of War 4, on a decently outfitted Windows 10 PC, the game is easily one of the best games I’ve seen and played in while. Thanks to the Unreal Engine 4 and the relationship with EPIC Games, The Coalition have crafted the best looking Gears title to date.
While Gears of War 4 isn’t The Coalition’s first outing on the Xbox One and Windows 10, it’s definitely their strongest. Especially compared to Gears of War: Ultimate on Windows 10. The game is basically is a technical masterpiece on Windows 10 PCs, regardless of the which hardware the game is running on. Most recent computers with at least the minimum amount of ram and the video card with a least 4GB of VRAM can run Gears of War 4 with an impressive frame rate. This was one of The Coalition’s claims going into this title and I’ve tried my best to test this out. On three different machines ranging from high-end, recommended and slightly below recommended specs , the performance was simply amazing. On the high-end PC, I cranked it up to ultra settings, at 3440×1440 and was still able to hit a constant 60 frames per second. This was mirrored on the mid-range PC, with the only different being that the resolution was set to 1080p. Even the lower-end PC managed to stay at 60 frames per second at 1080p, with everything set medium and high settings. There’s definitely some magic that’s being worked here, it shows and damn is it impressive. Oddly absent is the inclusion of HDR (High Dynamic Range,) which is present on the Xbox One version of the title. We’ve reached out to The Coalition to see if this would be patched into the PC version and will update when we hear back.
Sound-wise, the game is flawless. Every gunshot, every footstep, and even that all-familiar sound of the lancer as the chainsaw mod is being revved is a harmony to your ears. While the music, composed by the same person who composed the music for Game of Thrones, provides the inspiration tone for every situation you’ll encounter. It’s a musical tour de force and it’s definitely up there with the memorable themes of old. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to enjoy the title in true 5.1 sound, due to some ongoing issues with NVIDIA based video cards connected via HDMI. Due to this, I wasn’t able to output a 5.1 signal to my receiver. I highly doubt it’s due to the game and I didn’t have a Toslink cable handy to try and output the signal. Even without the 5.1 surround enabled, the sounds were robust and powerful. That said, only time will tell if the tunes in this installment will be as memorable as those found in Gears of War 2 and 3.
Gears of War is back and does Windows 10 gaming justice
Coming into Gears of War 4, I really had my doubts. As I mentioned before, I wasn't sure if The Coalition was up to the task of carrying the torch and moving the Gears series into a bold new direction. Thankfully all my fears were disproved with the release of Gears of War 4. And even though the game still plays things close to the hip, instead of going balls deep into a new territory, make no mistake that this is a Gears of War title that does exactly what it was meant to do - Get you excited and have you smiling from ear to ear.
Gears of War fans, you can disregard what happened with GOW: Judgment and GOW: Ultimate, Gears of War 4 is ready to embrace you with open arms and snuggle you in it's lovely, yet strong arms.
- The same familiar action and over the top gunplay you've come to love.
- Easily the best UWP game optimization from any of Microsoft's first party offerings.
- Why is Horde 3.0 so damned good? I can't stop playing it.
- The story started getting interesting and just stops!
- Put the options selection on the main menu!
- JD Fenix needs some more character development if he's going to be the main star of this new Gears Triology.