Gears Of War 4 PC, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper The Coali­tion Pub­lisher Mi­crosoft Stu­dios For­mat PC, Xbox One (tested) Re­lease Out now

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

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