Gears of War 4 wanted to make gamers feel at home by modeling their latest game as an improvement on the original trilogy, a lofty goal that failed to reach its mark. It’s a throwback, and that’s not a good thing. The first in a new trilogy, Gears of War 4 carries forward all of the flaws that marred the previous games.
Following the events of Gears of War 3, the Locust are defeated and the war’s heroes have all gone their separate ways. Typical of sci-fi and fantasy stories, the big bad is never truly gone and when it returns, the good guys must reunite to deal with it. And they do.
Playing the role of J.D. Fenix, Marcus’ son, who looks and sounds like Nathan Drake with a tree trunk for a neck. His sarcastic quips carry J.D. and his friends from one waist-high wall section to the next, offering some of the best humor the series has seen to date. That said, J.D. isn’t quite as memorable as his dad.
The story gets its legs once J.D. returns to daddy Marcus’ home, who gives him a homecoming welcome that’s both fatherly and filled with disappointment. Writing has never been the series’ strong suit, but it shines whenever the characters interact—and they tend to do a lot of talking. Their chemistry prevents the otherwise boring and uninspired story about blowing up alien monsters tolerable.
There’s a great moment early on in the game when hostile robots are bombarding Marcus’ greenhouse. Listening to John DiMaggio do his best impression of Harambe as Marcus is upset over the destruction of his tomato farm is one of the funniest monologues I’ve ever heard in a video game.
Story aside, Gears of War 4 feels clunky. Thanks to a strict adherence to the series’ control conventions, it handles rather poorly. It was already sluggish in 2006, and it feels even more dated now. The “roadie run” still limits your ability to turn, and character movement around cover objects is about as coordinated as a monkey humping a football.
The melee attack requires more finesse than the game allows. When you melee an enemy in Call of Duty, your character will automatically face them to perform the execution. It’s not the case here, and I often missed my attacks on fast-moving enemies like the new “Juvies” when I should’ve been able to kill them in a hit or two. It’s even worse with the series’ iconic weapon, the Lancer, which needs you to rev up the chainsaw for a second before attacking. There’s no quick attack, and getting hit resets the revving animation. It got old.
The game’s insistence on playing through the entirety of long, uninterruptable reload and weapon pick-up animations also caused countless unnecessary deaths for me and my co-op buddy. Though the game isn’t particularly hard, even on harder modes, we often died because the AI-controlled characters either failed to revive us or got into trouble on their own while faffing about in the midst of battle. They don’t fare much better when it comes to melee attacks, either.
Despite its love of guns, the weapons feel ineffective. You have to unload multiple clips on most enemies, and many of them don’t even flinch even when you shoot them in the head. Scoring headshots is nowhere as gratifying as it should be.
As with every Gears title, there’s even a mandatory vehicle sequence. And no, it’s not any good, either. It plays entirely on rails and while it looks cool, it has no substance. Thankfully, there’s only one of those. That said, the final part of the game more than makes up for it as you ride around in a gigantic mech and reenact something out of Attack on Titan.
Multiplayer is where it really shines. The game is good wherever it breaks convention, and the new offerings are good examples of its potential. There are a wide variety of modes, including the new Horde 3.0 mode, which has you killing wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies. Here, you can choose a role with specific abilities and strengths to deal with a wide range of enemies, who are a lot smarter than your companions in the campaign. Teamwork is essential, but the only stupidity you’ll have to deal with is that of whoever you’re teamed up with.
Overall, Gears of War 4 is an entertaining game that’s held back by its predecessors. The original trilogy was great for their time, but it’s about time the series moved forward.
Disclosure: A copy of Gears of War 4 was provided by the publisher for review purposes.