If I had my rearranging God powers still (damn cheating old lady…), I think I’d place Gears of War in the slot currently occupied by Call of Duty as the yearly shooter stapled to your calendar. Sure, Gears of War 4 proves this is always going to be a slower series full of more rude-dudeness than your average Super Bowl commercial. I just can’t help but feel more engaged in the firefights. Every enemy absorbs more punishment, seems to take more care with their own lives, and doesn’t seem as large of a waste of time and effort.
After all, what’s the point of feeling like you’re winning a war if the enemy is too weak to fight back? Jesus, that’s a sociopathic statement, ain’t it?
Anyways, that’s mostly why I played through the original trilogy. It wasn’t the sum of the parts that kept me coming back so much as the parts themselves. Gears of War 4 simulates the same rumbling kinetic energy of a strung-together story and action movie stakes to create a fine baseline of what I’d love to see and play more often.
This branch of the story deals directly with the next generation of indirect humanity protectors through the lens of Marcus Fenix. He and his rag-tag group have purged themselves from the main population, now years after the end of the events of the first games, to avoid the overwhelming control within. It comes across as a pretty natural evolution of the end of Gears 3, albeit with less of a beating heart..
Either way, it’s an enjoyable enough setup that suffers from the same abstract “your princess is in another castle” problem as Gears 2 did for me. The end goal is almost never in sight until it is…then it isn’t again! There’s a difference between a slow burn and a carrot on a stick. Red Dead 2, for instance, gives you a big target that looked small because it was so far away. You have the sense that it will be a huge journey to achieve your goal from the first gunfight. Gears of War 4 just keeps on telling you that everything you’ve ever wanted is right around the corner, only to have the hook yank back again and again.
Marcus and Anya, who is the daughter of the free community’s leader, don’t have particularly good chemistry as partners but are pleasant enough on their own. Oddly enough, they feel like actual characters separately that don’t tread too hard on the stereotypes even as the vast majority of the banter is assembly-line quality. Only together do they both seem to puff chests full of hot air that drowns out their characteristics.
The rest of the gang that comes and goes just make up ultra-super-megazord of the Dude Rangers. A line early on sets the tone for what to expect:
Person 1: “Uncle, you’re obviously hungover.”
Person 2 (or “Uncle”): “Actually, I’m still a little drunk.”
It’s nothing entirely new or unexpected that the tone doesn’t really waver. That’s a little bit of a Gears curse from time to time where the dialogue just stays in a rut. That doesn’t make the reality we’re given all that comfortable. For all the forward-momentum the few new enemy types and antagonist lend in the early hours, everything quickly falls back into old habits. You’re fighting a Locust substitute called the Swarm. You’re hearing even the same phrases and sentence structures into downright creepy echoes that run throughout your playtime. Developer The Coalition very clearly wanted Gears of War 4 to serve as a hand-off from one set of elements to another. As that equation often does, it leads to a ho-hum time that never reaches the height of bros-being-bros nor emotional involvement.
On the multiplayer side, the classic horde mode stands as my only mode of choice. The regular ol’ PvP modes are fine holdovers from every game since…jesus, ever. You’re not missing much by avoiding the shotgun and chainsaw killers of the world in another Deathmatch round. As every player chugs through mud and holds to cover like it’s the last door of the sinking Titanic, there’s a greater sense of inertia that I appreciate. There’s also a sense of being in a joust contest as low charges spawn bullets and blades. You don’t have that feeling readily available in other online shooters I’ve played.
Horde mode is no tacked-on side dish as it sometimes feels elsewhere. No, no, this bad boy is back home with papa and spoiled out into its best form since Mass Effect 3. The main addition is a movable supply box where you bank the remains of your fallen foes for increased defensive and offensive capabilities. Spikes, turrets, and automated guns with range embrace the horde mentality even more than past games for a full challenge that forces you into your self-made coffin corner. Difficulty settings can increase your hauls as you last as long as you can, reaping equitable rewards that usually have the draw of weapon skins and perk cards. Those can then breakdown into different classes that you choose for horde, creating a huge pool of loot in total.
No matter which mode you choose, Gears of War 4 revolves around those perk cards to help run progression. You can unlock guns along the way but you’re mostly looking for credits to unlock weapon skins I’ve found. Microtransactions can help the speed with premium currency and while it’s not an intrusive system, that’s never going to be a well-to-read option. That’s despite earning au naturel not feeling like a full chore – quite the contrary in my experience. All that microtransactions showcase are that there was likely at one point a version of this game with better balancing than we have now.
Gears of War 4 does a lot to hold up the standard set by the series Microsoft really launched into prominence within online shooters alongside. Gears and Halo are what Microsoft has hung their hat on for a decade now but the changes that have come feel too far and few between for this particular game to be held up as an industry leader. Horde mode is great fun…but that’s the only time the game spikes through the “greatly above-average” glass ceiling. I’d still take these every year but that doesn’t make them the be-all, end-all for quality across the board either.
And yes, damn it, I know I’m one Gears of War behind at this point. It’s called being thrifty!
Gears of War 4 Score: