Gears of War 4Price:
PC, Xbox One
I expected Gears of War 4 to be a lot of things. I expected it to be another third-person cover shooter. I expected it to be visually stunning. I expected to carve a bloody swathe through endless waves of Locust. I expected chainsaw bayonets. I expected the main character’s neck to be thicker than a granite milkshake. I expected it to feature more testosterone-fuelled chest beating than a gorilla with his nipples on fire.
What I didn’t expect it to be was fun.
Let me clarify exactly what I mean here. I don’t mean 'fun to play'. Gears of War has always been decent at what it does, and although I would argue it’s never been an exceptional action game, the roadie-running, cover-shooting, chainsaw-bayoneting madness of it all has always held the capacity to entertain. No, I mean fun within the context of its own fiction. This is a series which heretofore has taken itself extremely seriously, to the point where its own severity comes full circle, and utterly deadpan exclamations of, 'It’s a giant worm!' become absurdly hilarious. It’s a series that is as ridiculous as it is miserable.
Gears of War 4, however, changes that. What new developer The Coaliton has done is taken the essence of Gears of War and strained it through an Uncharted filter, resulting in a game that is more colourful both aesthetically and narratively, while also oiling the cogs in the ageing combat system, and offering a very tentative sprinkling of new ideas. While the result isn’t a great game – the design direction results in other problems that we’ll come to soon enough – it’s undoubtedly the most I’ve ever enjoyed Gears of War.
The campaign, which as always can be played solo or cooperatively, takes place many years after the war with the Locus Horde came to an end. It opens with a playable summary of the conflict that provides enough context to make Gears of War 4 capable of standing on its own (which is handy if you’re playing on PC and therefore missed the previous two games). The Locust are dust, and what’s left of humanity has been busy trying to rebuild society.
But this is in itself has resulted in another struggle, where the rigid military administration set up by the COG regularly butts heads with rebellious outsider settlements. Tensions have been bubbling beneath the surface for a long time, and we assume the role of Marcus Fenix’s son JD just as they are about to boil over.
It’s a genuinely interesting premise, asking a question that games so very rarely ask. 'What happens when the war is over?' And, at first, Gears of War 4 looks like it might provide an equally interesting answer. JD and his team of outsider soldiers embark on a raiding mission at a half-built COG settlement to steal a 'Fabricator' machine so they can provide power to their post-technology settlement. In this, Gears of War 4 presents us with two very different approaches to rebuilding a society post-war. We have the oppressive COG, whose drive to save humanity comes at the cost of the individual, and the outsiders, whose freedom relies on stealing from others, and whose unity only stretches as far as the walls of their own settlement.