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It has been a while since we last witnessed an authentic Gears of War experience; the third instalment tied the story off in a nice little bow with a bittersweet ending. Though time can play with imaginations and stories can be furthered, then came along the Xbox One and the opportunity to remove the idea from the imagination and place it into our hands.
The 5 year wait between instalments was well spent in the studios of The Coalition, the team adopted and took on the great undertaking of the franchise. The struggles of taking a veteran IP and flagship title of the Xbox brand and making it more than paying homage and simply being an imitation. The game appears to be deconstructed before being built again from the ground up. The core gameplay, controller mechanics, level design, musical score and co-operative experience feel pure and not just a copy and paste experience.
The story in gears of War 4 (you probably know by now) is about JD Fenix, a runaway soldier from the new COG army. JD and his compatriot Del live with the outcasts and the people who turn their back on the fundamentals of the new COG way of life.
When things start to get strange and people are abducted, the COG comes after JD and Del with their new team member Kait. The COG now favour their DB robots to common soldiers, this gives you the cannon fodder for the first few chapters. Once the source of the abductions comes to light the new team seek out the wisdom and stubbornness of series veteran Marcus Fenix (JD’s dad if you didn’t know).
The story in the game is not exactly ground breaking, though the story it sets out to tell it does end up delivering very well. There are a couple of cheesy moments, such as, a motor bike section of the game allows you to take down a military aircraft using nothing more than a machine gun and a shotgun (and pistol if you prefer). For the most of the game it is fun and once you are past the initial slog of the first 2 acts the game springs to life and feels much more true to the source material.
After the campaign the main focus point in gears has to be the online aspects to the games offerings, the competitive and co-operative aspects. There are quite a few game modes to play competitively online, my personal favourite has to be the Dodgeball game mode. This game puts 5 against 5 and when you die you are out, unless someone on your teams kills a member of the enemy team and then a member of your team comes back into play. There has been many a game where I have seen teams come back from 5 against 1 to win the game, it is a fun and furious game mode indeed.
Horde 3.0 is one of the stand out features of this game, players can operate in teams of 5 to fight off wave after wave until the 50th wave. The variation on Horde from the previous outings let players drop the fabricator in any location on the map and then fortifications and weapon turrets can be placed anywhere on the map. In previous games you were tied to a certain location where you could only build in certain areas and then expand if you could afford.
The currency for horde mode is different this time as well, instead of credits players pick up power for the fabricator. All players contribute cash to the same power bank and the currency is shared amongst all players once deposited.
If you combine the number of maps with the sheer volume of difficulty settings for Horde mode then it is easily a standalone game in its own right. This is a staple of the Gears of War franchise and the additions and changes to 3.0 have not disappointed and certainly made the game mode different while keeping the core principles in place.
The Coalition has managed to take a staple of the Xbox brand and do something extremely strange. Gears of War 4 feels extremely true to the source material and a true legacy to the series and yet at the same time has a tinge of revamp and infancy, like the game has found a new set of legs and could well and truly take us on a marathon once again.
The online features make for excellent additions to brilliant narrative driven game, players will find much replay value across all aspects of this game. One mention about online competitive play is that if you are new to the series please be ready for shotguns to become the bane of your existence.
Overall a brilliant return to form for the series and nice to know the team in charge are extremely capable hands. The game is a first party title from Microsoft studios that shows that the Xbox brand can deliver a 3rd person cover based shooter and deliver a hard hitting story at the same time. I would like to see more expansion from 1st party games since the loss of Lionhead studios, hopefully the Coalition can be a flagship studio.