When Microsoft purchased the Gears of War franchise back in 2014 and announced that The Coalition would be given the task of taking the series forward, the pressure was on to match the already high standard set by Epic Games’ previous four titles – yes, Judgment does count.
DeeBees also bring a few new toys to the battlefield - a personal favourite being the Enforcer, a fast firing SMG that was so good at turning mechs into scrap it remained firmly in the back-up weapon slot until the campaign’s conclusion roughly ten hours later.
Fun as they are, Jinn and her army of mechs were only ever destined to play second fiddle to the game’s true antagonists, the Swarm. Don’t let the name fool you though, if it looks, sounds and fights like Locust, chances are it is one. Still, it wouldn’t be a proper Gears game without some big scaly bastards to kill, and the Swarm fill that role quite nicely.
Swarm mostly come in three types: the classic Drone, the Wretch-like Juvies, and Scions (think Boomer and you’re pretty much there), but there’s a few mini boss types that keep things interesting. Snatchers were a highlight, and aptly named as it turns out. These powerful creatures will target any downed player, hoovering them up in a mess of tentacles and ooze before attempting to leave the battlefield, ending the player’s progress.
As well as new enemy types, The Coalition also introduces us to some new tech in the form of the Fabricator, a piece of kit that allows players to build defences such as barriers, decoys and turrets to take on waves of enemies at certain points in the story, offering up a bite-sized take on the series’ iconic Horde mode.
While these moments may be a more condensed version of the real thing, packing a room with six auto turrets and watching them decimate any enemy foolish enough to come within range is still immensely satisfying.
It’s undeniably pretty – ripping enemies to shreds with a chainsaw bayonet has never looked so good.
Such thrills can be found in the dedicated Horde mode, but it’s much more of a slow burn process – be prepared to settle in for the long haul if you want to complete all 50 waves. Here, the Fabricator acts as your team’s home base and can be moved to whichever spot on the map players decide is the most defendable. Unlike in the campaign, the currency used to purchase or repair fortifications, known as Power, must be earned.
This is done through a sort of ‘kill confirmed’ method, where Power that has been dropped by downed enemies must be collected and deposited back at the Fabricator before the next wave begins. All Power is shared amongst players and needs to be treated as a team resource, otherwise selfish players may find themselves quickly abandoned by their fellow Gears.
It’s good to see Horde back in its true form after Judgment’s experiment with Survival mode, and it bridges the gap nicely between the campaign and competitive multiplayer.
It’s in the PvP side of things that we see one of the biggest changes from previous Gears games, with all the action taking place at a silky smooth 60fps. The jump in framerate can be a little jarring at first, but once you get used to the upgrade it feels like a perfect fit for the brutal, close-quarters combat the multiplayer is famed for.
Series veterans will instantly feel at home one-shotting opponents with Gnashers (which still dominate, despite my attempts to introduce longer ranged combat), and new abilities like the ‘Yank and Shank’ - which grants players the ability to grab and gut enemies in cover - improve upon the existing formula without drastically altering it.
The only real issue was found in the multiplayer’s customisation options, which are unlocked through Crates that can be purchased with micro transactions or with in-game currency earned through matches.
It’s a system similar to the one found in Halo 5’s REQ packs, but unlike 343’s game which readily hands out points needed to unlock said packs, the in-game currency in Gears 4 is a little harder to come by. Even after putting in a decent performance there’s very little reward, and it feels like you are being shepherded towards spending real cash on Crates if you don’t want to be stuck with the vanilla character and weapon skins.
The Coalition have said they are considering tweaking how Crates are earned, but at the time of writing the system feels a bit broken.
Other than this minor issue and as far as series debuts go, Gears of War 4 is a solid first effort from The Coalition. They’ve righted the perceived wrongs of Judgment, while adding in a few changes of their own that complement the series’ tried and trusted formula rather than altering it too much, ensuring that the game feels both familiar and fresh.