I can’t deny it, I am very surprised at how much I like Gears of War 4. After Gears 3, I felt like I was done with the series, and didn’t even bother with Judgement. It isn’t so much that Gears of War 4 is different, or better than its predecessors, it’s that it’s enough of a progression to feel fresh, especially to someone who hasn’t played a Gears game in five years. To get more detail on how much I liked the first three acts, you can read my single-player impressions here. I go into more detail about the characters in my previous article than I do in this review.

Okay, so, how is this game good exactly? Read on!

Those Environmental Effects Sure Are Impressive!

A few years ago, there seemed to be a trend amongst gamers to downplay the graphics’ impact on our experience. Some even went as far as to insult others who seemed to value graphics too much to their liking. However, it feels like this trend has died down in the past couple of years. It’s a good thing, because I  agree that graphics are a huge part of the immersion potential of games; the more amazing the graphics and effects, the more immersion potential, and Gears of War 4 sure takes advantage of that.

The game is an absolute monster in the visual department. As I’ve said in my impressions, the environmental effects have to be seen to be believed. Some of the coolest battles in the game happen in the midst of massive storms, with objects and monsters flying all over the place. This is yet another demonstration of how much more the new consoles (and computers) can do versus the old ones.

But Wait, Where Did My Trees Go?

However, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed that the game’s beautiful, lush, sunny forest vistas were only in the first two acts. Instead, we get the usual Gears of War color palette: browns and blacks. It makes sense considering where the story goes. Early on, you are in a world that has been untouched by war for some time, and then, well… War happens, so things aren’t so rosy anymore. It’s just that all of a sudden, the game looks and feels just like the previous Gears games, which I don’t necessarily see as a positive thing. I guess I would have preferred to play Gears of War 4: The Call of Nature? Gears of War 4: No War, Only Love? Maybe that was a bit unrealistic of me.

Gears of War 4 starts out sunny and green, but it does go back to its darker roots.

Gears of War 4 starts out sunny and green, but it does go back to its darker roots. (source)

If you have the PC for it, the game definitely looks better on a computer than it does on the Xbox One. Even my mid-range computer gave me a visual experience that seemed better than on my Xbox, and with the campaign running at 60 FPS to boot (the campaign mode runs at 30 on console, although the multiplayer runs at 60). This is another Microsoft ‘Play-Anywhere’ title, so if you buy it on Xbox One digitally, you automatically get a copy for Windows 10 too, and vice versa. This is a tremendously good move on Microsoft’s part.

These Are Not The Characters We’re Used To

In past Gears games, you always played grizzled war veterans, people who went to hell and back. In the Gears world, going to war automatically used to make you a tough muscle bound beast, spouting macho one-liners to whomever was around to hear them. But that was then, and this is now; the characters in Gears of War 4 feel very different than they used to. The main character, JD, is a smartass. Although I’m not usally the biggest fan of funny guys in serious games, JD’s comments really made me laugh. Stuff like escaping a storm only to end up trapped, with JD saying “Out of the storm, and into the swarm”, was solid comedic timing to me.

The banter between the characters is also well written, much more so than I remember from past games. They are also soldiers yet they still manage to see the world in a positive light. Kind of refreshing.

Kait, one of the best new additions to the Gears of War squad.

Kait, one of the best new additions to the Gears of War squad. (source)

I Sure Didn’t Expect to Be Interested in a Gears of War Storyline

I liked the game’s story. What? What did I say? I said that I liked the game’s story. Yeah, I know. Gears of War titles always had great atmospheres and some interesting and sometimes emotional cutscenes, but I was never really fond of their storylines. I sure as hell never would have considered grabbing a Gears of War novel before. But now… I’m kind of getting the itch. The game managed to keep me engaged throughout. The Gears of War 4 storyline is all about personal motivations and family, rather than about some grand overarching theme. You get the feeling that the sequels will deal more with that the heck is going on exactly in their world. This game was all about the characters, and it works.

And that ending? Probably one of the most intense I’ve ever seen, in any game. No way I could skip the next Gears title after seeing that.

Big Surprise: Gears of War 4 Feels Like Gears of War

On the gameplay side, this is Gears of War. The minor additions like allowing you to more easily jump over cover don’t really change the feel of the game, and neither do the new weapons. The new enemies are a nice touch, but are not prevalent enough to make a real difference. All in all, this definitely feels like Gears of War. Whether that is a good or a bad thing, that’s up to you to decide.

This feeling of sameness is even more apparent in the competitive multiplayer modes, which play pretty much exactly like I remembered. I don’t feel like I’ll be doing a lot of competing with the latest title; I’m old now, my competitive juices have run dry, and this seems like something I’ve played too much of already.

Multiplayer feels pretty much like it used to, except with added customization options (hello pretty rainbow guns!)

Multiplayer feels pretty much like it used to, except with added customization options – hello pretty rainbow guns! (In-game screenshot taken by author)

That being said, remember that Gears of War is one of the best series co-op series around. If you’re itching to grab a game that will fill that couch co-op need, you could do a lot worse than this. The entire campaign can be played through in local or online co-op (although limited to 2 players), and all of the other multiplayer modes can be played with parties of up to 5. Co-op at its best.

The Cards Don’t Affect The Multiplayer Much…

Gears of War 4, like a lot of games lately, uses a system of booster packs and cards in order to spice up its multiplayer modes. Before each match, you can select a card that will give you specific bonuses, usually in the form of experience bonuses when doing certain things, such as reviving a certain number of teammates, killing a certain amount of enemies, and the like. These cards don’t really seem to affect competitive modes much, which is a good thing. You wouldn’t want to unbalance them, after all.

Except in Horde 3.0, Where They Add a Ton of Options

One gameplay type where the card system shines however, is Horde 3.0. Horde is already the main multiplayer attraction of the Gears games as far as I’m concerned. Being able to equip new abilities through cards just takes the whole mode to another level. In this mode, cards can actually give you damage boosts to specific weapons, or enhance your class specific abilities, because yes, there are classes now in Horde 3.0. You can choose from one of five classes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The Scout, for example, gets double the amount of power, which is a resource that is dropped by slain enemies. Engineers have bonuses for creating and repairing fortifications, etc. These classes can also be leveled up. The higher their levels, the more cards you can equip on them, therefore increasing their abilities even further.

The card system for Horde 3.0. Fantastic.

The card system for Horde 3.0. Fantastic. (In-game screenshot taken by author)

And did I mention that the cards themselves can be upgraded? You can do so by using duplicates. You can also create other cards using the salvaged material. This makes the card system in Gears of War 4 similar to a collectible card game, like Hearthstone. It’s a solid system that will keep you coming back. My only hitch with it is how long it takes to level up your classes; it really feels like it takes forever. I don’t tend to play games as much as I used to, so sadly it looks like my classes are bound to stay within the lower levels. But if you’re in it for the long haul, you’ll have a lot to do.

Really, This Is a Pretty Good Game

I’m very happy with Gears of War 4. Amazing graphics and effects lead to some of the series best moments, Horde is back with a vengeance, and it’s multiplayer modes, while familiar, still feel great. I never thought I’d say this, but it seems like I’m back onboard the Gears train. If you’re interested in an action packed experience, look no further. As for me, I’ll be right back, heading out to grab some of the novels!


DISCLAIMER: Gears of War 4 review copy provided by Xbox Canada. The opinions expressed in the article above have not be affected by, dictated or edited in any way by the provider. For more information please see Girls on Games’ Code of Journalistic Ethics.