Ris­ing like a Fenix from the ashes

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Reviews -

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Pub­lisher Mi­crosoft stu­dios

Hand­ing con­trol of an es­tab­lished fran­chise to a new de­vel­oper is a risky busi­ness. Af­ter all, it was Epic Games that cre­ated Mar­cus Fenix and the Lo­cust Horde, partly as a playable ad­vert for its Un­real En­gine. Could an­other stu­dio hope to cap­ture the same blend of snappy shoot­ing, mus­cu­lar machismo and crisp cover-han­dling that de­fined the se­ries? The Coali­tion’s re­sponse is an en­thu­si­as­tic “yes”, and even though Gears Of War 4 cen­tres around an en­tirely new cast of char­ac­ters, it feels im­me­di­ately and grat­i­fy­ingly fa­mil­iar.

The open­ing act sees you at odds with the same Coali­tion of Or­dered Gov­ern­ments (COG) that Fenix and San­ti­ago once served. The COG has gone all dystopian, en­forc­ing a manda­tory re­pro­duc­tion pol­icy.

That’s where Mar­cus’s son, JD Fenix, comes in, flee­ing the COG along with child­hood friend Del. The open­ing act sees them raid­ing a de­serted COG set­tle­ment.

It’s only once you’re out of the city that Gears Of War 4 kicks off in earnest. A new and very slimy threat emerges, and quickly turns out to be even more sim­i­lar to the Lo­cust than the au­to­mated ad­ver­saries in­tro­duced in the first act. In dire need of as­sis­tance, you make a mad dash to JD’s fam­ily es­tate in search of the mus­cle­bound cur­mud­geon that is Mar­cus Fenix. It’s at this point Gears Of War 4 tran­si­tions from vis­ually im­pres­sive to sim­ply spec­tac­u­lar. The third act in par­tic­u­lar fea­tures some of the most breath­tak­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal art in the medium.

This is a supremely com­pe­tent game, but not al­ways a con­fi­dent one. There’s a level of re­spect for the orig­i­nal tril­ogy that bor­ders on def­er­ence. The spec­tre of the Lo­cust War looms, both in the sense of the nar­ra­tive shadow it casts and the de­vel­oper’s re­luc­tance to stray too far from es­tab­lished en­emy types. For all its suc­cesses in terms of pac­ing, artistry and game feel, this cam­paign all too of­ten comes across as a lit­tle bit safe. Gears Of War 4 is metic­u­lously crafted, but what it lacks, un­for­tu­nately, is that spark of in­spi­ra­tion. Mar­cus Fenix may have passed the torch on to JD, but the ques­tion is whether or not the son will ever be able to fully es­cape the anx­i­ety of his fa­ther’s in­flu­ence. James Nouch

Feels im­me­di­ately and grat­i­fy­ingly fa­mil­iar

Main­tain­ing a run­ning joke, a fourth Carmine brother kicks the bucket. He turns up in act one, chap­ter four, in a guard tower.

Shots in the dark.

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