I vividly remember my excitement when I heard the news that Gears of War was coming back. After being pleasantly surprised with Halo 4 a few years before, I was very much hoping for a similarly enjoyable resurrection of one of Xbox’s flagship franchises.
Its release also coincided with my first ever trip to the huge games showcase of EGX. The game had such a huge presence (with queues to match) and always instantly reminds me of my child like glee not only at playing it, but also being in a space with thousands of other passionate gamers. Very much my happy place.
Gears of War 4 is the sequel to the original trilogy, set 25 years after a devastating weapon was fired to destroy all emulsion on Sera, including wiping out the Lambent and the Locust in the process. JD Fenix and his squadmates Kait and Del are the new protagonists, and if you recognise that surname it’s because he is indeed Marcus’ son.
After a long period of peace and rebuilding amid the backdrop of frequent windflares and wild, dangerous areas outside of the main cities, our new heroes are suddenly attacked by a monstrous new enemy. I was certainly left asking how the locust had returned, because that’s what it seemed like was happening at the beginning of the game.
I was utterly gripped by the story and completed the game in one, long sitting. The fact that Gears of War 4 had the power to completely absorb me like a game did ten years before when I was a teenager was something I found mighty impressive. Part of why it worked so well was how the old and new elements of the Gears universe interlinked, and full clarity around recent events wasn’t revealed until you had played a significant amount of the game.
There were some cracking voice actors involved in the project too which added further polish. Voice actress veteran Laura Bailey took up the role of Kait who proved to be an incredibly important character, not just in this game but also in those to come. Her uncle Oscar was voiced by Jimmy Smits along with John DiMaggio returning as Marcus Fenix.
As before, local and online co-op play returned for the main story which looked better than ever in next gen, 60fps visuals thanks to the power of the Xbox One X. Fundamentally the gameplay from the previous games remained, albeit with a few tweaks and additions here and there.
The aforementioned windflares offered the opportunity to mix things up (it was one of these sequences that was on offer to play at EGX). The fallout of wiping out your enemies in the past meant these were a permanent fixture in Sera’s weather cycle in Gears of War 4. When they kicked in, ranged weapons and projectiles would be rendered virtually useless by the wind, as well as all sorts of hazards that would often end up on a collision course with your face. These cinematic, tense passages of play added yet more danger to an already threatening environment. It’s clear that the epic events of the past had far reaching and brutal consequences to the planet, and this is one of the effective ways in which Gears of War 4 told a new story but honours the past.
You would also stumble across some areas that were littered with pods, which could be popped to clear the way. However, some would contain enemies that you would probably rather avoid, especially as they had the potential to pop all the other pods in the room in a seriously problematic chain reaction. They aren’t called Screamers for nothing.
This time around you were equipped with a combat knife, and through the close cover combat enhancement could spar with other players resulting in takedowns. The most diverse set of executions yet featured in Gears of War 4, and depended on the angle at which you approached your opponent from.
Most of the enemies in Gears of War 4 were new to the series, but carried strong connections to the past. Many weapons returned however, along with a few that we hadn’t seen before, such as the Overkill Shotgun and Buzzkill (which was great fun to use, if not a little risky).
Horde mode was back too (version 3.0 to be precise) building on the popular tower defence style way to play, where you desperately attempted to fight off waves of enemies whilst at the same time upgrading and improving your character. Online PvP multiplayer also returned with familiar modes, along with some new ones such as “Dodgeball”.
Cross-play (or Play Anywhere) allowed players on PC and Xbox to team up or face off against each other in the numerous game modes in Gears of War 4. Optional microtransactions also made an appearance in the form of Gear Packs, but thankfully these only had cosmetic effects and it was entirely possible to fully enjoy the game without ever purchasing one.
Gears of War 4 may not be the best game in the franchise, but it did have the most difficult job of all – bringing back a fan favourite series after a largely excellent run is never easy, and it’s something that has rarely been done as well as it was here with Gears 4.
If you loved Gears of War 4 as much as me, drop into the comments to let the world know about it. If you haven’t, get over to the Xbox Store right now and play it on Xbox One or Xbox Series X|S right now. With it on Xbox Game Pass, there’s no excuse.