With an engaging campaign, smart Horde mode additions, and a cast of characters that go beyond being the stereotypical "meatheads," Gears of War 4 is an impressive achievement. The Coalition has not only successfully transitioned the series from its previous stewards, but clearly took the time to improve upon the formula as well. This just might be my favorite game in the entire franchise.
Set twenty five years after the events of the last (numbered) game, Gears of War 4 opens with a tutorial that jumps through a few well-known events in the series’ past. This serves as an effective introduction for series newcomers, and allows for a little bit of fan service by including some otherwise impossible cameos. Afterwards, you’ll take control of the new generation: J.D., Kait, and Del. The campaign follows many of the beats you would expect from a Gears game, but there are some extremely impressive action set piece moments that brought the Uncharted series to mind. The first one involves a motorcycle chase through woods while being firebombed from above by a massive gunship, which, naturally, you’ll have to take down. I don’t want to spoil how it plays out, but let’s just say I literally pumped my fist afterwards.
I was also pleasantly surprised at just how much levity the characters inject throughout the game. These occasional light-hearted moments help to reinforce the overarching theme of the importance of family and help break up many of the otherwise serious story beats. J.D, Kait, and Del do a great job of selling their history, and the little things they tease each other about helped endear them to me. Of course, Marcus delivers the greatest laugh-out-loud line in the game, but why shouldn’t he? He’s paid his dues.
The moment-to-moment gameplay of Gears 4 hasn’t changed too substantially, so you’ll still be roadie running and snapping to cover as per usual. Turtling up is punished a little more than in past titles, as there are several ways both you and enemies can knock each other out of cover. First of all, you can straight up snatch someone out of it, setting up an execution. If that’s not your style, why not try doing a sweet hood-slide over the top and punt an enemy away from it? Later on, you’ll run into environments where you can destroy cover, or where the cover points constantly shift.
Instead of a single enemy force, Gears 4 features two: the robots of the Cog hunting you (known as DeeBees, which always sounded funny when said aloud), and the Swarm, who are totally not the Locust. Totally. Trust me. Eventually these factions fight each other (and you) at the same time, which leads for some interesting combat prioritization down the road. While the Swarm largely feel like fighting the Locust of old, the DeeBees are generally a lot simpler to fight - opting for an appropriately robotic slow march forward to keep pressure on you.
As with all previous games in the series, you can play the campaign in Gears 4 in either splitscreen or online co-op. Though the previous game allowed for four players to join the fun, you’re restricted to two players here. Gears has always been a great cooperative experience, and that still holds true with Gears of War 4.
Much like its predecessors, you’ll be glad to have a friend along as there are moments in the game that go a lot smoother with another human making decisions. Late in the campaign you’ll fight a boss that requires solving an extremely light puzzle. Rather than help you out, the AI instead chooses to ignore the objective, dragging the encounter out needlessly. Once Snatchers, an enemy who can down multiple players and “consume” one of them, get mixed into the combat, the AI also seems to make fairly bad decisions on how to handle them. With a friend, these sections become much more manageable.