The Gears of War franchise could have easily died after Gears of War: Judgment. The unnecessary fourth installment received a poorer-than-usual commercial response and Epic Games soon moved onto other projects. Yet just when the series appeared to be bleeding out, The Coalition (and Microsoft) breathed new life into it with Gears of War 4. The new game features tongue-in-cheek humour, ridiculous battle sequences, and solid co-op play, making Gears of War 4 a high-octane bro-fest that is accessible for both new and veteran players.
At its core, Gears of War 4 recognizes the appeal of blasting enemies’ faces off with overpowered weapons. The latest installment in the third-person shooter series is unapologetically gory, and it’s better for it. The human-on-monster-and-robot violence never crosses into horrific or realistic territory, which makes the blood and guts seem irreverent in the most sophisticated way possible. Gears of War 4 has a ridiculous tone that is in line with what the series has always brought to the table.
Gears of War 4 is also a reboot of sorts. Though the game retains its core combat mechanics and exaggerated art style, the story kicks off when Marcus Fenix, the protagonist of the previous numbered installments, is taken captive by enemy forces. The game then introduces a new generation of monster hunters: Del Walker, Kait Diaz, and Marcus’s son J.D. The characters toe the line between stock tropes and lazy stereotypes, but it’s unlikely to bother most players because the banter and dialogue is as fantastically cheesy as the bravado-heavy action scenes. The group is battling an entire enemy horde and attempting to rescue the kidnapped Fenix elder, yet they talk like there isn’t a doubt in their minds about their ability to accomplish that task. The ass-kicking confidence produces some serious belly-laughs.
It helps that the script has a sense of self-awareness that allows the game to balance the brooding visuals with a light-hearted tone. As a new installment, Gears of War 4 isn’t revolutionary. However, that doesn’t make the ostentatious battle sequences any less exhilarating. The game’s familiar third-person shooter formula feels warm and comfortable rather than tired.
On that front, the cover system the series is known for is more fluid and intuitive than it’s ever been. Jumping between tombstones and various concrete ledges for shelter is both necessary and mentally stimulating, while mapping out a plan of action and then implementing it is a rewarding feat. Sometimes it’s more fun to run into battle guns a-blazing. Sometimes you need to develop an actual strategy (especially on higher difficulty settings). Thankfully, individual battles aren’t particularly challenging and the system doesn’t have a steep learning curve. Even on the highest setting, you’ll never want to throw your controller at your screen, though there are times when you’ll wonder how you stayed alive against a massive onslaught. The intense shootouts are suffocating, but it’s worth it for the eventual exhale.
Bigger and badder creatures are introduced as the game progresses – the new DeeBee robots have the ability to hop over cover – but the same is true of your weapons. New guns include The Overkill, a double-pump shotgun, and The Buzzkill, a sawblade projectile, and the list is well-rounded to combat the unique enemy types. The best of the bunch – well above all of the other weapons – is the EMBAR, a versatile chargeable gun that’s a blast to dominate with. It doesn’t hold a large amount of ammunition, so it feels like a treat when you get the opportunity to use the military wonder.
Meanwhile, some of the best moments in the campaign are spent on the back of a motorcycle during one of the game’s vehicle sections. In one early sequence, you have to shoot down a large airship while bombs detonate around you like New Year’s Eve fireworks, and it’s the perfect palate cleanser that prevents the shootouts from getting stale. The vehicle sections feel unique after hours of running through demon trenches in the underworld. If anything, they don’t occur often enough, which might be the biggest missed opportunity with Gears of War 4.
It’s also worth noting that while the linear story mode is a satisfying solo experience, the over-the-top action makes it even better as a co-operative adventure. Co-op allows players to bro out together and blast through the story as a team either locally or online. The competitive multiplayer is similarly worthy of praise, though whether you like it more than the campaign is probably a matter of personal preference. New multiplayer modes like Dodgeball, Arms Race, and Escalation put an interesting twist on PvP action and hold more replay value, while the story gives everything meaning and context. Either way – whether co-op or competitive – Gears of War 4 is best when shared with others.
Gears of War 4 is the kind of game you want to tell people about, and it’s refreshing to play a major release that doesn’t ship with any graphical or mechanical issues. It’s the most impressive looking and feeling game in the franchise, and when paired with the addictive nature of all of the game’s combat mechanics, it makes for one hell of a ride. Gears of War 4 is grandiose and brazen in all aspects, and proves the relevance of the property today.