Friday, 2 December 2016

Four gear manual chainsaw

Gears Of War 4

Platform tested: Xbox One

Excitement grew as the release date for the next installment of Gears of War grew closer. Microsoft's new and dedicated Gears-only developer The Coalition gave us a fantastic remake of the first game last year, something new to feed hungry fans like me while waiting for the fourth game. The result was an incredibly well crafted remake and inspired the developers to return to the darker and more creepy atmosphere of the first game. The larger scales of GeOW 2 and 3 are still present in GeOW4, albeit more subtle as the game focuses on a closer, more intimate depiction of the four main characters. This game is more about isolation, survival and loneliness. This shift back to the first games style is a very welcome one and a much wanted approach.

GeOW4 is the first Gears and the first huge budget title to feature the incredible Unreal Engine 4. While the Unreal 3 engine dominated many last generation games, there were literally tons of titles using it, UE4 has had a slow start this generation. PC gamers and Xbox One owners alike can finally get a taste of the new engine, even in coop playing together cross-platform! Lets take a closer look at the difficult task of continuing a highly regarded and loved series which rounded itself up last gen. It's a tricky one to follow both story related and technically.

The story is set 25 years later from the the ending of GeOW3, following the son of Marcus and Anya; J.D. Fenix. While the introduction gives us a glimpse of how the humans defeated the Locust in huge battles, the actual game tones down this sense of scale. It's about going back to basics with small group of two to four Gears soldiers, stranded in enemy territory and just surviving at incredible odds. It's darker, and a more brutal approach injecting a much loved atmospheric vibe. You'll find yourself in terrible weather conditions on a brutal and more hostile planet than before. Throughout the game you have to battle not just enemies, but also weather conditions and harsh environments.

Design wise the game focuses a lot on natural locations such as woodlands, mountains, fields and caves. It's a beautiful way of showing UE4's huge diversity, but also showcase some of the most incredible lighting, particle and environmental detail I have seen in games. At times the game looks like a playable tech demo to the eyes! There's also castles, ruins and post-war inspired buildings to traverse. They all lend this beautiful Gears design perfectly and show the developers have carefully designed the game to keep a Gears of War uniqueness to it's visuals. The darker areas also build tension in a better way, making you feel more vulnerable and scared as you are constantly attacked by vicious enemies.

Gameplay is pretty much exactly as it has been before, with a focus on trench type of warfare. Often ending in standstills behind cover as you try picking out each enemy before daring to move forward. New types of enemies give series veterans new challenges and new weapons give fresh way to dispose of them. I really enjoyed the way you can manipulate a lot of the environment surrounding you, especially when you're in wind storms; loosening some heavy objects so they blow over and crush the enemy is not just fun to watch, but an incredibly satisfying gameplay mechanic! There are some subtle new and more smooth movement options to climb over covers, pulling enemies over them are introduced for example, merely perfecting a well tested and genre leading third person gameplay.

Long-time multiplayer Gears fans will be pleased to know that GeOW4 has a ton on offer. All the popular modes are back and just like the Gears 1: Ultimate Edition last year, the multiplayer runs at 60fps versus the singleplayer 30fps on Xbox One. A clever choice as gamers require better framerate performance for multiplayer. I only tested leveling up a bit in King of the Hill, my personal favourite MP mode, and found it just as good as GeOW3. The much loved Horde mode, where you and three other friends are under constant attack from waves of enemies is back, with an even larger fleshed out base building options and equipment. 

The only gripe I had with MP was the lack of true player customization and the fact that you either need to buy gear packs or play for endless hours to have even a chance at requiring certain outfits or weapons skins. It feels like a sell out in these microtransaction focused days. I wish they'd done this in another way.

My love for the series has always been with the singleplayer though, and GeOW left me wanting even more! It's perhaps a tad short but the return to a darker and more creepy Gears left me happy nonetheless. The variation from action orientated levels to darker atmospheric ones were nice changes of pace throughout the game. I really enjoyed that they implemented horde mode during the campaign too, letting you build up defences as you're relentlessly attacked by tons of enemies. It teaches you how to use it in a discreet and incorporated manner woven inside the main campaign.

The main characters are great too, the banter between J.D and his dad is funny and the new female lead, Kait, has a strong personality and looks the kick-ass part as a COG soldier. I also liked J.D.'s friend Delmont, which in a way replaces the much loved Marcus and Dom childhood friendship. All in all, the diversity of characters is fantastic, and the story surrounding them even more so. GeOW4 nicely switches from fun and light-hearted dialogue to some very dark and saddening ones, much the same convincing way the previous games managed to do.

I found GeOW4 to be all what I wished a new start to Gears could be. To follow perhaps one of the best series last generation and continue it's trilogy of amazing games was always going to be a difficult task. GeOW4 does a solid and great job at it though, and does not in any way feel less of a game in comparison. More just like a normal continuation of the series.

In fact it actually keeps itself a little too much to fundamentals of the series and one could accuse it of taking little chances of any sort. For me though, I really liked the throwback to a darker, more up close and personal combat Gears  I loved the natural environments with the weather conditions and all the atmospheric places it visited along the way. A fairly short, but beautiful beginning to hopefully a new trilogy of incredible Gears of War games.



    + Plus points

    • A darker and more creepy throwback to the original Gears.
    • Stunning visuals with an incredible amount of technical showcase effects.
    • Strong story and characters

    - Minus points

    • A tad short singleplayer.
    • Brings nothing fundamentally new to the table.
    • Micro transactions and lacklustre unlocks in multiplayer.

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