How you respond to Gears of War 4 will depend on your affection for the entire original Gears trilogy: This new game offers a stunning graphical upgrade, but it is highly derivative of the previous games, and is tediously repetitive.
Note: Gears of War 4 is an Xbox Play Anywhere title, so it works on both Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. I’ve tried it on both, but this review focuses on the Xbox One version. Also, it focuses solely on the single player experience.
The original Gears of War was one of the Xbox 360’s early exclusive hits, though I felt let down by its overly-gray color palette and “loaded diaper” multiplayer game play, where your on-screen charges lumbered close to the ground as if weighed down. Subsequent games in the series, including an improved version of the original for the PC, and Gears of War 2 and Gears of War 3 somewhat fixed both issues, however, with more colorful graphics and more verticality.
But the Gears series also suffered from a bad case of repetitiveness. It’s impossible to play these rail-based games and not know, immediately, when you enter a room that a fire fight is about to break out. It’s just wash, rinse, repeat, over and over and over. Gears 4 does nothing to fix this, and while the immediate effect is almost nostalgic, it gets overly-familiar—and old—quite quickly.
That said, the one thing I always liked about Gears was the single-player story line, which offered a compelling sci-fi view of a future world in which mankind is threatened with destruction by an alien underground race. Gears 4, again, offers more of the same, and the story suffers from the decisive conclusion of the original story: How do you once again threaten mankind with destruction when the evil alien race was so soundly defeated?
I won’t give it all away. But the solution that The Coalition—a Microsoft Studios offshot that now controls the Gears franchise—comes up with is incredibly unsatisfying. Again, at first, it seems fresh: The action takes place outside, in a refreshingly colorful place that is no longer destroyed by war. You fight robots, instead of the same old aliens from before. Maybe this is a new Gears.
Very quickly, the robots are pushed aside for a new set of aliens that are quite suspiciously exactly like the old set of aliens from the original trilogy. There are the same types of monsters, with the same capabilities and weapons. The Locust come back as the Swarm. Emergence holes return as nests, and you close them with frag grenades as before. It’s the same old, same old from a play perspective, and like “Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens,” it’s better looking than the original, but you feel like you’ve seen this one before. Because you have.
And my are there are some truly tedious sequences in the game. Early on, thrill as you carry a crate across a large area. Sit, mouth agape, as you once again protect a thing or an area during predictable waves of attacks. It’s a rails shooter that makes no pretense of pretending that you can explore the seemingly big world around you. You go from point A to point B, and you shoot back at things that attack you. When all the monsters are defeated, you move on.
There are driving sequences and interminable areas in which you fight through in one direction and then fight through again as you walk back through the exact same place. There are those silly Gears bits where you have to choose to go left or right (the high road or the low road) as if either choice means anything. (These bits are designed for co-op play, of course. But the variety is limited.)
Your character is … who gives a crap. He’s the teen-lit son of Marcus Feenix, the protagonist from the previous games. Gruff ol’ Marcus makes a showing mid-way through the game and is then—spoiler alert—swallowed up by a monster and carried around like a bad lunch for the next few hours. It’s a less than fitting story line for the guy who saved the planet two decades earlier. And it calls to the mind the inexplicable behavior of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, the heroes of the original Star Wars trilogy, in The Force Awakens. (Let me get this one straight: Solo loses his ship, abandons his wife, and gives up on his kid. And Skywalker fails at making a new generation of Jedi and then … quits? Way to dump on my childhood, Mr. Abrams.)
Anyway, Who Gives a Crap and his two friends—Idiot One Liner and Token Female—from some teen CW drama walk around and banter just like Marcus and his friends did in the earlier trilogy. And while I want to applaud the addition of a woman to the lineup, I’ll just point out that this gender correction already happened in a previous Gears game. And that she brings literally nothing of interest to the table. Sorry, ladies.
These three clowns stroll around a world that is literally populated with stray guns, explosives, and ammo, just like in the original trilogy. In fact, that’s the most unrealistic part of the game. Which, when you think about it, is pretty hilarious.
As I write this, I’m on the final of five acts, but given my experience withe first 85 percent of the game, I feel comfortable stating that it will not redeem itself magically by the end. That said, I’ll finish it. Because I have to, not because I want to.
Put simply, Gears of War 4 is so tedious and repetitive that it’s like a job. Which I have to hope wasn’t the goal. Despite the lush graphics and presentation, it is not recommended, certainly not at the normal $60 price point.
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