By Patrick Tedder
Gears of War has always been a series in which subtly is not a strong point. It’s a game about bulky dudes kicking ass in an effort to save the planet. If this sounds like another game I reviewed this year, Doom, you wouldn’t be far off. Thankfully, for the sake of nuance and creativity, the game isn’t a clone. It may have some of the same attitude, but it plays completely differently.
Gears of War has always been about finding cover in intense fire fights. Instead of charging into fights thoughtlessly, you take down enemies by assessing your surroundings and flanking. Failure to do so can result in being flanked and a very frustrating experience, especially on harder difficulties.
Being the 4th game in the series (5th if you include the spin-off Judgement), the developers have had some experience under their belts perfecting this cover and gun game play. Sure enough, controls and game play are near flawless, but they’re also pretty much more of the same.
That’s the issue I have with the latest blockbuster installment. Yes, this game is on a next-gen console, and yes, the graphics and sound and all technical components fire on all cylinders. But on more than one occasion, I couldn’t help comparing any handful of moments to others in previous times in the series. Sure, it’s the best iteration, but that kind of makes it a greatest hits of everything that’s happened.
This isn’t helped with the story. To start, you play flashback memories that cleverly teach you the controls and bring you up to speed, but once again remind you of the journey up until this point. Shortly after, you’re playing as J.D. Fenix, Marcus Fenix’s less gruff son, and you’re accompanied by his “outsider” friends, making their way by stealing critical parts and resources that are needed for their villages.
J.D. has a light personality, cracking jokes instead of grunting like his dad did. Levity, making for change of pace, he’s also a pretty generic and terribly white character. It consistently frustrated me that I had to play as him when I had a cool chick on my team as well as a fun African American dude who seemed like he could raise some hell. You can be dropped in their shoes when playing co-op, but if you go through the missions alone, there’s no option to get your diversity on.
AND, worse yet, regardless of who you play as, everyone feels the exact same. That’s lame, and it’s lazy.
There’s even the matter of main characters from the original series popping back up. Even the mystery behind who the new enemy is comes to a pretty ho-hum reveal. It’s like The Force Awakens … telling you a somewhat new story, but to really launch the new story, you’re going to have to trudge through a lot of throwbacks.
There’s something else I began to notice, this being the fourth installment of the series. You’ll play through gorgeous levels and come to a path where it’s obvious that you’ll need to take cover. Sure enough, cue the music and the enemies show up. Beat them down and a guitar riff sends you into quiet once again. It becomes easy to recognize levels less as story points and more as puzzles, complemented by story.
Still, for all of my griping, it’s the best at what the series is and practically no other gaming franchise can seemingly duplicate. There are fantastic moments and as simple as the premise can be, I like the Gear’s
universe. Just because we’re dealing with more of the same, doesn’t make it bad, just a little disappointing.
This hasn’t even touched upon multiplayer, a mode I’m rather terrible at, but it has its own charm. The Gear’s players are bulky and most matches I’ve played thus far end up as shotgun duels. It’s not my favorite multiplayer game, but again, it’s unique and fun in its own right.
Horde 4.0 is an upgraded mode that is almost worth the price of admission itself. The premise is simple. You’re thrown into an arena with waves of bad guys coming at you. Can you survive until round 50? It’s fantastic fun and to get the most bang for your buck needs to be played with friends or cool folks online.
There you have it. Microsoft’s huge exclusive franchise keeps the ball rolling, sticking to tried and true methods that work. It’s a no brainer to pick up and I’m excited to see what the series goes from here.