We return to Sera, decades after the Locust threat has been destroyed. The wildlife has come back. The planet has had time to restore itself. And the humans, being humans, have once again divided themselves into their groups and are at odds with each other. They allow their difference to divide them. The mighty Cog, with their machines, rules, order and proud history. And the Outsiders, those who pillage Cog facilities and refuse to bend a knee to the establishment. They’ve lived side by side, attempting to prevent an all-out war with one another. But that peace is about to shatter. And nothing is ever going to be quite the same again.
In the latest and most intense installment of Gears of War to date, you play J.D., son of Marcus Fenix and Anya Stroud. Like his father he’s brash, bold and very sure of his own abilities. So much so, that he’s gone against his father’s advices (sound familiar?) and joined up with the Outsiders. While J.D. is expecting something along the lines of garden variety trouble for J.D. and his friends, such as Cog resistance to his actions, he’s in store for a whole lot more than anyone could have imagined as the story starts to unfold.
The controls for the game are mostly comfortable and familiar, however. It was very, very nice to jump right back into the game and be able to pick it up as if it was an old friend. Hello, Lancer. How I’ve missed you. You jump right into the action with several flashback sequences that take you through some of the game’s history before catching up to modern day – a warm up if you will. But once the game gets you back to the present and gets you moving again, the break is incredibly short lived. In fact, it’s a teachable moment. Do not get used to breaks or rest periods in this Gears game. They are practically nonexistent. The game is almost all action, all the time. You’re bounced from action sequence to action sequence with regularity, moving between encounters constantly. The only difference is in the amount and kind of enemies you get. The experience is extremely intense.
Enemy types in the game have been enhanced and upgraded as well. In addition to being much more bullet resistant, they are very intelligent. If given a chance they are much more likely to try to flank you. They are also hyper aggressive. When playing, there were multiple enemies who, when injured enough, simply started charging my position. At least one of those enemy types exploded when they died. Additional enemy types include two new special enemies that are both extremely agile and that ignore cover. They jump, leap and hop all over the battle field and are very dangerous. So some caution is recommended.
There are also environmental dangers as well that are a constant threat throughout the game. A persistent weather effect known as the Windflare plays out at certain points in the game, affecting your ability to move and shoot projectile weapons. This includes grenades and Boomshots. Good luck with those. Playing the levels with the weather effects was very interesting and actually pretty cool as objects in the environment could be used against the enemy. There was one section that completely bombed, however because it required the use of a projectile specifically. Due to the weather effect it took an extraordinarily long time to move past the section and the entire time my computer teammates were yelling the same things over and over at me. It was incredibly grating and annoying.
Constantly having to juggle retrieving power, ammo and the Fortifications is a tall order. There is a very small window of time between each successive wave in Horde. Optimally, enemies are killed before they rush your position, but if they’re killed too far afield it can make it difficult to pick up their power, pick up ammo and get back to your position before the next wave starts. And if you want to build new fortifications or repair the existing ones, you are seriously pressed for time. Also if you don’t get to the power the enemies drop before a new wave begins, it disappears from the field.
Complicating matters is the fact that all abilities or skills are locked behind a “card” system. You must have the card in order to equip the ability. Cards can be obtained by unlocking crates that can be purchased with in game currency which is obtained through leveling up your individual character or spending real money through the Xbox Live Marketplace. You can level up faster with bounties – but bounties are also locked behind the card system. Some bounties give you money. But again, you must have the bounty card. You can destroy your cards to create scrap and purchase other cards with the scrap. But it takes a large amount of cards to create the scrap and you have to accumulate the cards initially to make use of the system, which takes us back to the initial problem with the card system.
The multiplayer in Gears 4 is an interesting experience as well. There are some very fun modes available for play. Dodgeball allows you to go back and forth between kills, with each enemy kill bringing back a teammate. Arms Race has you killing the enemy with every gun, with every third kill changing your team’s preferred weapon. Guardian has the players execute the other team’s leader before they can kill the other team and of course there are other modes such as Deathmatch, War Zone and King of the Hill.
Overall, Gears of War 4 is an enjoyable experience. The campaign mode did not disappoint with its constant action and a story that was not only interesting but amazingly funny. Watching the interactions between J.D. and his squad had me laughing every time they started talking to each other. Make sure your volume is turned up as you play; you won’t regret listening to their banter. By the time I was done with the main game, I was excited for the next installment.