Gears of War 4
The Coalition/Microsoft Studios
I’m a huge fan of cover-based shooters. So much so, that if a shooting game (whether first or third person) doesn’t feature one, I’m usually not going to play it for long. Maybe it’s because I was actually in the military and enjoy experiencing the digital take on real-life combat tactics, or maybe it just looks cool, while slowing the normally frantic pace of modern day shoot ‘em ups down a tad, while adding an additional tactical layer to the proceedings.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001) was the first game to truly implement the cover system game mechanic, but 2006’s now classic Gears of War really encapsulated what the cover system should be all about, at least in my mind. Not only could you fire blindly or toss errant grenades at enemies from behind hard cover, such as crates or low walls, but you could enjoy all of these fun hijinks along with a buddy.
The first Gears of War game was a true buddy game, reminiscent of the buddy cop movies that enjoyed their heyday in the 80s and 90s. There was just something special about being able to be back-to-back with your battle buddy, while taking down legions of enemies together—it built a special kind of comradery where you had to rely on each other in order to survive. It also forced both good communication and teamwork in order to have the best odds.
The Gears of War saga hit its zenith in its third installment, 2011’s Gears of War 3, which I thought would be the final game of an assumed trilogy. It neatly wrapped up narrative arcs and unfinished story threads, and the good guys eventually won against their nefarious alien enemies, the Locusts. Well, somewhere within the last five years, Microsoft Studios acknowledged the potential of the Gear of War franchise and acquired the idling IP, a smart move indeed. And, for the most part, they’ve built upon most of its core concepts.
Gears of War 4 is set twenty-five years after the conclusion of Gears of War 3. Marcus Fenix, the series’ main protagonist and primary grunter (as well as all around badass), has quietly faded into a well-earned retirement. In a rather dystopian narrative twist, planet Sera’s only form of government, the Coalition of Ordered Governments AKA COG, you know—the same COG that Marcus and his band of soldiers worked for—has turned into the iron-fisted totalitarian regime that the series hinted at in previous games.
GOW 4’s Orwellian narrative twist serves the franchise well, as the former underdogs and rebels have now become the evil and maniacal oppressors. I mean, there really wasn’t anywhere else you could take the series, besides maybe changing the scene to another planet or something.
In GOW 4, you step into the boots of JD Fenix, Marcus’s son. But don’t think that JD is just another carbon copy cutout of his father. JD has a more humorous demeanor, frequently using mirth in order to counter the grim, sometimes seemingly insurmountable odds that he faces.
Along with his comrade Del, JD abandons his post, having become disillusioned by the now malevolent COG. The two deserters team up with a group of insurgents called the Outsiders, and soon they are waging war against their tyrannical former bosses. The COG has constructed a vast mechanized force of robots to oversee (i.e. terrorize) the populace, as well as make sure that everything is orderly and proper (i.e. kill anyone who steps out of line or speaks up).
About midway through the game (spoiler alert!) a new threat emerges. The Swarm, as they’re referred to, are the new aliens-on-the-block who wish to invade planet Sera and crush it under their…well…slimy, three-pronged feet. If you thought that the Locusts from the previous entries were ugly, these new antagonists have set the bar much higher with regards to the hideousness department. And before you go saying “Oh man—are these just Locusts re-skins?” After completing the campaign, and having playing through just about everything that the game has to offer, I can emphatically say no.
After spending a little over six hours in order to wrap up the campaign, I felt as though there were more than enough differences to make the Swarm a unique enough enemy. For instance, at some point you’ll come up against what’s called a Snatcher, which can—you guessed it—snatch up players, and wholly ingest them. That’s right, you can get eaten by this gigantic alien and get to see the insides of its stomach. Well, that is until your comrades perforate it with enough bullet holes for you to get popped back out again in a grotesque splatter-fest of blood and other bodily fluids. True to form, the full campaign can also be played through with the aid of a buddy or solo. Personally, I think that playing the campaign in its co-op mode is the way that GOW 4 (just like its predecessors) is really meant to be played.
When you’ve completed the campaign, GOW’s competitive multiplayer mode can challenge you further. If you’ve played any of the previous GOW game’s multiplayer offerings, you know what to expect—lots of sneaking around and sniping. Essentially being brutally killed before you even know what hit you. However, my personal favorite is the new Horde mode. In Horde, up to five players take various roles in order to fend off wave after waves of enemies.
You can play as any of four classes. The Sniper class allows you to support your squad from long range with high damage attacks, Heavies deal lots of area of effect damage and are ideal for taking out larger targets, Soldiers are your perennial jack-of-all-trades class, and the Engineer can repair things as well as deploy equipment such as turrets and shields. In all, the four classes play well off one another when played properly (i.e. with lots of communication and teamwork).
GOW 4 is certainly a beautiful game to look at. I played it on a high end gaming laptop and showed it off to some friends. Let’s just say that there were mouths agape and eyes wide—GOW 4 has one slick presentation. The highly detailed character models, weapon and environmental textures, and even the weather effects, are all extremely well done, and something the developer’s graphics department should be proud of. What’s more is that the game is so well optimized, that all of the eye candy on display moves along at a highly liquid pace—my frame rate never dropped below 60 FPS on a GTX 980 graphics card.
In all, Gears of War 4 is an outstanding return to, and continuation of, the Gears of War saga. Just when I didn’t think that there was anywhere to take the storyline, The Coalition surprised me with an intriguing new narrative, with new characters, new challenges, and some brilliant surprises along the way. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing where the series goes next.