Gears Of War 4 PC, Xbox One
The best and most transformative addition to the Gears arsenal isn’t actually a weapon. The Fabricator is essentially a portable 3D printer. Carried by two or dragged by one, it uses the energy harvested from defeated enemies to produce a range of fortifications. These include spike strips, shock sentries, turrets and even a weapons locker, ideal for storing more powerful ordnance and refilling their clips so they’re ready in a pinch when things get hairy. These base-defence elements reinvigorate the reliably robust Horde mode, providing more room for tactical play; a simple example would be placing decoys to funnel waves towards choke points. The Coalition has given Horde top billing at the heart of an admirably expansive suite of multiplayer modes, and it’s easy to see why: this is the series at its chunky, gratifying best. Gears has always had brains to go along with its muscle, and it’s here that it most effectively demonstrates those smarts.
It’s not the only successful riff on an existing formula. Escalation is a calculated tilt at the esports market: it challenges teams to capture rings to build points, with a winner instantly declared should one team control all three. With one ring adjacent to the opposing spawn point, that’s harder than it sounds, but it does enable the odd 11th-hour comeback, handily solving the problem of the outcome being a foregone conclusion. There’s tension, too, in the steadily increasing respawn times between each round; when death can remove a player for upwards of 20 seconds, it’s more likely you’ll see the scales tipped firmly in the opposite direction. And there are plenty of reversals in the terrific Dodgeball, where each kill revives a dead teammate. Arms Race, on the other hand, feels like a gimmick too far, a riff on Gun Game that automatically gives everyone a new weapon every three team kills. It’s not uncommon to line up a shot from distance, only to find you’re suddenly holding a shotgun.
Ah, yes, the Gnasher. It still dominates the online game, though we found it to be comically unreliable, with point-blank shots that barely broke the stride of some opponents while instantly turning others into piles of fleshy gibs. The Hammerburst rifle is still undervalued by many players, when it’s a far better alternative than the Lancer – presumably thanks to its lack of chainsaw. Of the new guns, the Overkill (a burstfire shotgun) is a treat when it’s available, which isn’t often; the Enforcer is a compact SMG that compensates for its lack of range with its rapid rate of fire; and the EMBAR is a Longshot with a charge delay and probably the chief cause of groaning during Arms Race battles.
A co-op Versus mode pits you and your friends against teams of AI bots, helping to address the series’ perceived unfriendliness to newcomers, as well as being useful in acclimatising to the maps. Team Deathmatch and King Of The Hill are back, too, alongside the one- life-only Warzone and kill-the-leader Guardian modes. But then you’re reminded that being spoilt for choice isn’t always a good thing. With players spread across so many modes, matchmaking times across the board are too long; though we often found the warnings of threeminute waits were overly cautious, at times it’s entirely accurate and occasionally optimistic. The Social Playlist option seems a more reliable fallback when you lose patience, though by offering a selection of modes and maps for players to vote on between each round it can leave you stuck in a game type you’d never normally pick. Meanwhile, the addition of bounty cards is a mixed blessing. In theory, it’s a good idea, rewarding you with experience or credits for completing individual objectives. But it becomes a problem during Horde games with strangers, who have a tendency to drop out once they’ve done enough to earn their bounty. The multiplayer mode’s 60fps framerate drops to 30 for the campaign, which begins strongly, with a fine scene-setting prologue featuring three playable vignettes that give us the CliffsNotes of the story so far. Then we’re introduced to a robot army that provides your opposition for the first couple of acts, though encounters here lack the excellent feedback and tactical dismemberment of Binary Domain. That they furnish you with two of the game’s best weapons is some comfort, and when a new alien threat eventually emerges the game belatedly finds its feet. Though most of the enemy types have recognisable analogues to Locust units, the projectile-vomiting Carriers and the aptly named Pouncers force you into the open a little more often. The same goes for the sporadic – and thrillingly violent – lightning storms and the more frequently destructible scenery. But it’s not exactly Vanquish: in the main, Gears 4’ s encounters match the same stop-and-pop rhythm of its predecessors, but offer little more beyond some striking new visuals.
For some, that will more than suffice, and while the plot amounts to little more than two successive rescue missions, there’s a likeable chemistry between the three young leads, even if lead protagonist JD ‘son of Marcus’ Fenix comes off as a poor man’s Nathan Drake. There’s a wonderful earthiness to the world, too: it’s a game of grease, grit and grue, not afraid to get its hands dirty or its face bloody. Beautiful isn’t the word, but its technical excellence shouldn’t be underestimated; the sheer force of the presentation holds your attention when the action starts to feel too one-paced.
As new starts go, then, this lays some solid groundwork for the series’ future. But the thickset Fenix Jr staring out from the main menu rather typifies this new Gears: the face might be new, but the features are familiar. And while its bulk is impressive, it lacks a distinctive personality of its own.
The sheer force of the presentation holds your attention when the action starts to feel too one-paced