Gears of War 4 can be described as the comfort food of video games. It’s familiar, filling, and brings back some good memories.
The story of Gears 4 focuses on JD Fenix, the son of obscenity mumbler and grub killer extraordinaire, Marcus Fenix that starred in the first Gears trilogy. This new installment of Gears takes JD and his two BFFs, Kait and Del, through a shooting gallery full of expendable robots and fleshy meat sacks that are ripe for shredding. There are abductions to contend with, underground caverns to explore, and some absolutely intense windstorms that will make you “oooooh and ahhhhhh”.
My favorite aspect of the campaign was how new Gears developers, The Coalition, scaled it down. No longer is the planet of Sera engulfed in war between the COG and Horde. JD’s small group of friends are on the offensive against a mysterious threat that is kidnapping members of their outsider community (hint: underground monsters are the culprit). Think “Red Dawn” but replace Colorado teens with chainsaw wielding brutes and switch out communists with snarling lizard people.
However, while scaling down focuses the narrative, it also puts a lot of weight on the characters that don’t have the personalities to hold it up. JD is boring, Kait is one-dimensional, and Del is… there. I was constantly trying to run to the next action sequence to have the sound of a gunfight cover up any dialogue between these three.
One mechanic I want to see changed in the next Gears sequel is to have the choice of playing any of these characters. The action and story is all affecting them equally, so why not get to choose which flavorless, ho-hum gunslinger you get to pilot.
The saving grace of the campaign is as always, the action. While the controls are old for a standard third-person shooter, they are also responsive and tight. And the inexplicable gratification after every headshot, execution, and close quarters gnasher kill inspires a bloodlust to power through each level.
Now onto the part where most of us will be spending our time, competitive multiplayer. Gears of War 4 shines online. I normally don’t care about frames per second in games but the smooth 60fps of Gears online makes it run and look smooth as butter (the campaign and horde mode run at 30fps for reference). Gone are the times of rage quitting after several unfair, laggy looking deaths. I can honestly agree with almost every death I take and admit that I got outplayed or outskilled with little to no internet interference.
Also, all of the classic Gears modes are included i.e. Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Warzone, Horde, and new modes of Dodgeball and Arms Race are welcome additions. Dodgeball plays by the schoolyard rules of one kill against your opponents brings one of your dead teammates back into the fight and Arms Race requires each team to get three kills through a ladder progression of weapons akin to the Gun Game mode in Call of Duty.
And thanks to microtransactions located in the game’s storefront, all upcoming maps and game modes should be free to all players, which will hopefully keep the playerbase active and unseparated. The only downside to Gears of War 4’s multiplayer is the lack of a substantial progression system. Sure you rank up after every couple bloodbaths, but the only tangible reward are coins that get put towards opening packs that contain characters, weapon skins, and multiplayer bounties. If you are looking for that badass robot skin, or the bareass naked Swarm skin, expect to put some time into matchmaking. Thankfully, Gears 4’s addicting multiplayer will have you curbstomping late into the night.
Final Word: You can rev your chainsaw in a series standard campaign filled with subpar characters and excellent action, but expect to do a majority of your Gears 4 revving in hectic and crisp looking online matches.