The Gears of War games are one of the most defining game series to grace the Xbox 360. Finally, gamers are getting a chance to continue the epic story on the Xbox One; Taking full advantage of Direct X12, Unreal Engine 4 and every bit of power The Coalition can squeeze out of Microsoft’s console, is the latest installment in the series worth a spot in your collection?
This is the first full game in the series that has not been developed by Epic Games (Gears of War Ultimate Edition was a remaster, remember?) but under the direction of Rod Fergusson, the original producer of the first in the series. The Coalition has been working with one of the original visionaries of the series which is very apparent. They have done an amazing job at bringing the game back to its roots, all while making it feel new and fresh.
The game takes place 25 years after Gears of War 3, the Locust and the Lambent have been wiped out due to the use of the Imulsion Countermeasure weapon, but the use of the weapon also knocked out the use of fossil fuels which has forced humanity to adapt to alternate ways of survival. This has also created many windstorms or “Windflares” that ravage the planet and make for some rather difficult situations but any good soldier will learn to adapt and take advantage of these situations. Weather patterns can change from light breezes to heavy wind storms that can affect combat. Cover can be destroyed and blown away. This can be used to clear out an area of enemies or it can backfire and actually hurt you or worse, incapacitate you or a teammate.
Running at 30fps and 1080p for the single player campaign, it is exactly what you would expect from a Gears game. The same cover mechanics, weapon switching and reloading system are all there. These are staples of the series and you can rest easy knowing it hasn’t changed. Each area has various paths you can use to flank enemies, an abundant amount of cover to move around behind and although every combat situation is essentially the same, there is enough variation between areas that everything feels different and it never gets boring. Some cover is destructible which means you’re going to have to eventually move from your position to another, but it also means that combat will change every time you replay the campaign. It’s not all run and gun though. Some situations you’ll find yourself building base defenses and fighting off waves of enemies. This requires some quick planning because you only have a few minutes to get things ready before you’re in combat again.
Graphics are absolutely beautiful and audio is perfectly mixed. Everything is extremely detailed and there is nothing that seems out of place. Character models stick with the “oversized” body types of past games, but it seems to adjusted a bit to make characters look a little more realistic. As in previous games in the series, loading screens are “hidden” behind cut scenes. This allows for a seamless transition between fighting hordes of enemies and watching the story unfold. In fact, other than some of the longer scenes, I couldn’t even tell when there was an area loading. More games need to take note. If something this beautiful and detailed can load whole game segments during a 15-second transitional cut scene, there’s no reason why other games can’t do it.
The world is scattered with hidden collectibles that although don’t really give much background on what happened in the last 25 years, they do get you to explore the world and get some further insight on how things were.
The music fits perfectly with every situation. It adds to the tension of battle or emphasizes the importance of a conversation. Sound effects never seem out of place and if you have a good 5.1 audio set up (or are even playing with headphones on) you can really tell where something is coming from just from listening. There is a decent amount of story and character development that happens during combat situations or exploring levels, but you aren’t required to stand around a character while they talk, if you move too far away all dialogue switches to their comm system so you don’t miss a thing being said. When a windflare starts up you really feel like you’re in the middle of something dangerous. Screeching winds, flying debris, gunfire and explosions make for some really epic battles.
The Coalition has added a few new weapons and gameplay mechanics to battle that really add to the overall feel and flow of combat. Players can now pull an enemy from over cover and execute them with a combat knife. There’s something so satisfying about this that you’ll be positioning yourself just to perform the action over and over. New weapons include the Dropshot, which fires explosive drills, and the Buzzkill, which fires sawblades that ricochet around the battlefield. Other than that every weapon you know and love from the series is there at your disposal.
Couch co-op has made a return so you can invite a buddy over and work through the campaign together, or you can start an online co-op match if your friends live a little farther away. It’s nice that The Coalition has been able to keep this feature as it has been a major selling point for some gamers. What is even more impressive is that there is no visual impact on playing with two people on one console.
As for multiplayer the game runs at 60fps and 1080p (Why they didn’t set the campaign to 60fps we don’t know) and there are the modes everyone expects, Versus, as well as the introduction of Horde 3.0. Versus Multiplayer is the classic matchmaking with skill ranks, which improves multiplayer games by matching up similarly skilled players together. This gives beginner players time to learn the ropes and not have to worry about being dominated by veteran players. There are new game modes such as Dodgeball, Arms Race, and Escalation which provides different ways for players to play versus with a different set of rules for each mode. Horde 3.0 marks the return of the popular survival mode. Five players are put up against endless waves of enemies and introduce a new class- bases system that lets gamers choose from five different roles – Solder, Sniper, Scout, Heavy, and Engineer. This allows for a large range strategy and will require a lot of teamwork.
With monthly content being released in the year following release (with the purchase of the season pass) there is more than enough to keep games coming back for more. Whether it be trying to find all the collectibles in the campaign with a friend or trying to reach the number one spot on the leader boards, there is something for everyone here.
The Coalition has done a great job with the series and has really shown what the Xbox One is capable of.