Gears of War 4 Review

I’ve been a fan of Gears of War for a long time. I love the gameplay, the characters, I love the story, the world’s aesthetic, everything. I was unable to play Gears of War 4 until just recently, and I have to say it was a blast. If you’re looking for a fun game, pick up Gears 4 for sure.

Why do I like it so much? Aha, now I get to do my nerdy rambling in response to a question you probably didn’t ask and wouldn’t for any reason whatsoever!

Gears Gameplay

I’m not a multiplayer kind of woman, but I can see why the online play has become its own thing with each iteration. I’m a campaigner, so to speak, and my enjoyment of the game is entirely based on that. I am bad at most video games. I acknowledge that. One of the ways I do so is by not attempting multiplayer unless it’s a particularly boozy night.

Gears of War has the best third person shooter gameplay I have ever played hands down. None of the Mass Effect games (the only thing I can think to compare it to) have the same punch to their combat, relying quite heavily on enemies having very unique gimmicks you have to strategize for. Gears tends to throw enemies that have very few particularly gimmicky things at you, outside of boss fights. There’s some berserker skills a few types pull on you, but largely the difference is weapons and grenades and the occasional bullet sponge. The cover system has that pleasant sort of impact, with some nice twists to it that keep it from getting too boring.

It’s wise to remember, in any Gears game, you essentially fight in an arena. These arenas can have varying elevation and assorted lanes to make for flanking. In the first game, my brother and I could spot when a fight was coming just based on the layout. This continued throughout the first trilogy, though they tried to be more subtle. Gears 4 pulls it off reasonably better, though they cheat a bit by having you backtrack through the same arena for a mission sometimes.

I enjoy the active reload system, for some reason. It add something. That something is essentially the most basic minigame possible you could play during a firefight, but it’s fun. The way grenades work is interesting and different, more like something out of a sports game than a shooter.

One of the things I like best about the Gears series, however, is how the levels mix it up. ‘Find cover, provide covering fire, flank’ gets boring on its own, no matter how well executes it is. But Gears changes it up very well. In the first game, new elements get introduced via the kryll (I have fond memories of the indestructible oven…) and the Lambent wretches, as two examples. The second introduces a more dynamic battlefield, with the environment changing around you as you fight. The third has the Lambent, doing Lambent things, then suddenly you get the Locust, who do fight differently. Then there are vehicle levels, which can be awesome or not so much. And bosses, beyond that.
Gears 4 continues it. It’s a game that loves its set pieces. Outrun the windstorm from hell. Pretend to be playing a platforming while dodging laser lighting. Give on rails shooting a try. Wave-based point defense. Vehicle levels. Dynamic battlefields with moving or hazardously explosive cover (in a random and unconventional way). Basically a puzzle level. Bosses. The mechs. The base gameplay is fun, but it could get boring. The game changes things in a variety of ways. I really enjoy it. I think this one does it best.

The Gears Aesthetic

Gears is, as all the other titles have been, beautiful.

But the characters look so stupid, you say! It’s a common complaint, part of why Gears gets derided as a “dudebro testosterone fest”. Okay then. I’ve spent a lot of time in what I guess is dudebro land and it’s alright. I always found the character design to be on the comic-book sort of design that I never minded, but Gears 3 and 4 brought it back to realism a bit.

The environment, on the other hand, has always been well done. A long time ago, in a manual or article or something, I saw some developer saying that the world of Gears is based off the idea of destroyed beauty, which you see often in pictures from WWI and WWII. That remains true, though some levels in Gears 4 head in a more industrial direction, the abandoned remnants of a sophisticated and prosperous civilization.

Also of note is how the levels can display their own stories. Marcus mentions the Battle of Tollen Dam, but it really hits as you continue through the level. The War Journal collectibles add a bit of flavor, but the environments themselves would be enough. I think the little details you find at Settlement 5 reveal a lot about the current COG, none of it…cozy.

The budget that went into the graphics really shows. It’s been a while since I played a proper Triple A game and you can see where the money goes.

Yes, Gears has a Story

Gears has as much story as Halo. I own and love all the books. If the comics were less ugly, I might own, them, too. I don’t know why people have issue with the story in any of the Gears games, never have. There’s possible plot holes and silly moments, bad lines and what is in fact perfectly military silliness, but I have seen much worse from TV series that have their praises sung to the heavens.

I have a lot to say on this, but I shall not put it in this sort of review post. I will say Gears has the most realistic, in terms of human reactions, rendition of a post-apocalyptic world I have ever seen.

…I will say some other things. The COG has clearly moved into totally socialist mode, despotic as they come; “Only through order can we find unity” is on the manhole covers. Adam Fenix has a terrible track record for solving this one big problem! Gears is a nice niche of sci-fi, industrial, earth-bound, and rather matter-of-fact. Yes, everything on this planet does want to kill you, as evidenced not only by the long-term issue of Immulsion (apparently unsolvable), but also the likes of windflares, razor hail, and kryll.

Now that’s said, I love the characters form Gers and always have. They’re great. They remind me of people I have met in the Army, some of them good friends. The emotional beats are wonderful. I care about these people, which is one of the most important parts of any kind of entertainment.

An aside: my research shows that Cliff Blezinski is a lunatic. He included ‘relevant’ takes on issues in Gears 2, like everything with Maria being about Terri Schiavo and the Locust torture really being about Gitmo. Okay then, buddy.

Buy This Game!

I regret I could not play this on my recent deployment. It is as fun as Halo Reach. I would recommend the Gears series in general, to include the books. It goes on sale on Xbox Live periodically, which is why I picked it up so quickly after getting settled in yet another apartment. I’m not sure it’s worth $60 if you’re budgeting carefully, which is a sign that Triple A games are having problems, but I’ve spent thirty bucks on stupider things.

Published by kathrynzurmehly

I am, among many other things, an Army vet and a freelance writer.

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