Gears of War 4: First Impressions

Version played – Xbox One

The only reason – literally the only reason – I bought Gears 4 was because it offers PC and Xbox One cross play. The goal was for a friend and me to go through the campaign together, perhaps do some multiplayer together. Going in, therefore, because I deliberately avoided previews and whatnot, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The most striking thing, for me personally, is how pretty the game looks. I’m only about 3 chapters into the game, but I can safely say that it looks dramatically different from – and significantly superior to – even the original Gears remaster. I went in fully expecting fifty shades of brown and was pleasantly surprised to see that the world looks like it’s actually moved forward from the war-torn mess that it was in the original trilogy towards something that feels significantly more alive and lived in.

The structure of the game itself makes that contrast particularly evident, via the Prologue. It’s a series of short flashbacks that drop you right into the thick of the action, with stuff blowing up everywhere, bullets flying by the billion, and so much chaos that it’s genuinely difficult to pay attention to shooting things – it’s just so much fun to stand around and watch the insanity. In those first few sections, Gears 4 feels like more of a warzone than anything in the original trilogy ever did and it sets the tone incredibly well for the rest of the game.

In stark contrast to the Prologue, the first three chapters of Act 1 are almost idyllic. They involve breaking into a Cog facility to steal something for some reason, and Gears 4 takes full advantage of that to build interesting looking environments.

The Cog factory itself is bright and clean, what I’d expect a futuristic city to look like – tall buildings, shiny metal, clear glass. There are enormous robots working in the facility, huge lumbering things that go about their own business of fixing/building things, entirely ignoring you running around them and shooting stuff up. The entire level looks new, and that alone makes Gears 4 feel fresh.

But that freshness extends only to the way the game looks. From what I’ve played of the first 3 chapters, the Gears formula remains largely unchanged – and I don’t know whether or not I ought to be critical of this fact. I honestly don’t know how much change is possible in a third-person cover-based shooter because mechanically, the principles remain take cover > shoot > reload > duck > repeat.

Occasionally, there’s a mounted turret to break up the monotony of things but turrets are hardly new to the series, let alone the genre. And Gears 4 has introduced a nice collection of new weapons, some of which are fun to look at, others of which are fun to use. There’s the Trishot, for example, a three-barrel chaingun type thing that you lug around, mount, and then let rip with.

On the other hand, there’s the Overkill, which is tragically misnamed. It’s a shotgun that fires two bursts, one when the trigger’s pulled and another when the trigger’s released. Problem is, against the enemies that dropped it, it felt like I was shooting confetti. I needed way too many bursts to kill one of the robotic enemies that show up way at the beginning of the game and, with ammo so scarce, it just wasn’t worth using.

Classic weapons like the Hammerburst and the Gnasher make a return and they’re as satisfying to use as ever. And so far, I’ve encountered two varieties of grenades – frag and shock – and they’re reasonably fun to use.

The things that I’ve been shooting at, however, have been markedly less interesting. Primarily robotic foes in the first three chapters, with humanoid ones that take cover and spray bullets intermittently and kamikazi-ball-things that roll up to you and detonate. If combat wasn’t consistently hectic, with enemies coming from multiple directions forcing repositioning and movement around the combat area, I imagine I would have gotten bored fairly quickly.

So, to sum this up …

Hectic, bloody, and beautiful. If there’s a better way to summarize my first few hours with Gears of War 4, I can’t think of it right now. But the time I’ve spent with it is far too little to provide anything resembling a definitive opinion of its quality yet, so I’ll reserve my buy-or-not recommendation. Thus far, it’s fun. And right now, fun is more than enough. Let’s see if, ten hours later, my opinion remains unchanged.

Trevor Coelho

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