Gears of War 4
(Microsoft Studios for Xbox One)
By Mike Delano
The original Gears of War spawned a slew of third-person cover-based shooters that were all heavily inspired by the 2006 classic. In the years following its release, everything from heavyweights like Uncharted and Vanquish to also-rans like Wanted: Weapons of Fate and Inversion copied Gears’ satisfying “stop ‘n’ pop” gunplay to varying degrees of success. One would think, considering how many imitators came out of the woodwork, that something would have come along in the last decade that improved upon the Gears formula. But if Gears of War 4 proves anything, it’s that there’s no substitute for the real thing.
Gears 4 takes place 25 years after the original trilogy and tells a mostly unremarkable story about J.D. Fenix (the son of series star Marcus Fenix), his two friends and their quest to reclaim the world from the now-oppressive COG regime. The light plot doesn’t have much to offer beyond some satisfying late-game reunions, but why we’re really here is the best-in-class third-person shooting, which delivers beyond expectations. The classic weapons still feel great: the chunky bullet stream of the Lancer (with its mounted chainsaw blade for close quarters); the Longshot sniper rifle and its watermelon-popping headshots; the nerve-shredding tension of the Torque Bow and its burrowing explosive rounds. And the game provides plenty of memorable playgrounds in which to use them, from a tower interior with huge, grinding machinery to overgrown farmlands where violent windstorms can rearrange the battlefield.
The campaign is the series’ best since Gears of War 2, with mostly great pacing and variety, including Horde Mode-style defense scenarios to break up the feeling of repetition that can set in when lurching between one shooting arena after another. And it’s a testament to the brilliant fundamentals established in the original game that this campaign works so well, since many of the new additions in Gears 4 don’t add anything of substance. Most of the new enemies aren’t too interesting (although the variety is welcome) and the new weapons aren’t as fun to use as the old ones. But the classic Gears gameplay, given a stunning new coat of paint and some great level design, turns out to be enough to save the day, even 10 years later. This trip down memory lane is well worth taking, but hopefully the next iteration of the series will be brave enough to move beyond former glories and really shake up the Gears formula for a new generation.