Gears of War 4 in the test - the perfect generation change
The story begins 25 years after the end of the predecessor: The Locust are defeated thanks to an imulsion destroyer, the people of the planet Sera can finally live in peace again. But the new KOR (Coalition of Ordinary Governments) is developing into a totalitarian power apparatus that rules over the cities surrounded by storm walls . Cracks in the planet's surface cause monster storms that destroy everything that crosses their path.
But these are not the people's only worries: Disgusted by the direction the new government is taking, small groups are splitting off. These so-called outsiders live in the wasteland ravaged by the imulsion weapon and storms that was once the surface of Sera. The Outsiders get urgently needed resources on raids in KOR settlements.
During one of these raids we meet the new heroes James Dominic Fenix and his friends Del Walker and Kait Diaz. JD is Marcus Fenix's rebellious offspring who has become estranged from his famous father, the hero of the Locust Wars. Together with Del, he deserted from the KOR troops and joined a group of Outsiders led by Kait's mother Reyna.
The team wants to penetrate to the core of a newly created KOR settlement in order to steal the factory there. This is an important box for the Outsider, with which defense systems and other components can be manufactured. But although the construction site is deserted, the troop is opposed by a security team.
Tin cans as opponents?
The »DeeBees« are mechanical soldiers of the KOR and the first opportunity to put our martial arts to the test. While we (optionally also in co-op for two players) walk across the huge construction site in the direction of the city center, we gradually get to do with ever stronger variants of the robots. In this way we learn to use the tactics that the well-known Duck & Cover game mechanics offer us to our advantage and to systematically tap our opponents for weak points.
After just a few skirmishes, Gears veterans are completely back: The typical cover blast is like cycling - once mastered, you never forget it. In plain language: We are entering a new section and we immediately notice possibilities for cover such as boxes or walls, which we use to defend ourselves against the oncoming opponents who also take cover.
The control with mouse and keyboard works well, especially precise aiming works better than with the gamepad. If you want to experience the typical Gears gaming feel from the console, you can of course also use the controller.
From here on, it's either time and again to take your head out of cover to catch careless opponents, or to try to dash from protection to protection option in order to flank the opponent. A new feature is a hand-to-hand combat maneuver in which we pull an opponent towards us over cover in order to ram our knife into his body and kill him on the spot.
This works extremely well thanks to the easy-to-use controls, we quickly feel at home again, use old tricks - for example, grenades to drive opponents out of cover and dispatch them. Lovely!
However, Gears veterans are missing something up to now: The splashing blood and wading through split Locust bodies is simply part of the series. And Gears of War 4 just doesn't want to deliver properly by focusing on mechanical opponents within the first chapters.
But this lack of Gears brutality is outweighed by something else: For the first time, the developers within the series do not present us with testosterone-oozing military bromance about steroid-fed macho soldiers , but we are dealing with (relatively) normal characters.
If you take a closer look at the main hero JD, you will notice a certain similarity to Uncharted's Nathan Drake. JD could be the younger, inflated brother of the PlayStation hero. And somewhat surprisingly, the tone of the game also develops a lot in a direction that is more similar to Naughty Dog's loosely fluffy Uncharted adventures than to the dark, cynical Gears predecessors.
The charming and teasing conversations of the three heroes make us smile again and again, and even laugh out loud. We feel a similar dynamic with JD, Kait and Del as we do between Nate, Elena and Sully. A credible friendship. A novelty for the series.
Fresh hordes of monsters
But back to the supposedly missing blood. This problem is solved with the sudden appearance of the "swarm", disgusting monsters that vaguely remind of the defeated Locust (somehow the USK approval from 18 years must be justified, after all, robot opponents are not enough).
What's up with these new opponents? Why do they kidnap people? We shouldn't care about that at first, because the swarming monsters do two things right in particular: They bleed and can be sawed in two with the Lancer. Hooray! Now we feel really at home again. The swarm is divided into several manifestations .
First of all, there are the "juvies" that slip out of fleshy cocoons - sometimes even when we use one of the structures as cover. They rush towards us screeching and seem dangerous at first, but they are perfect chainsaw food and hardly a threat.
It is different with the drones . They are reminiscent of Locust foot troops and are armed: Drones can appear armed with Hammerburst, Lancer, Longshot or Torque Bow and thus vary in their function from foot soldiers to snipers.
Scions , on the other hand, are gigantic mountains of muscles that prefer to appear with heavy weapons, absorb our bullets like an insatiable sponge and, to top it off, increase the morale and thus the fighting power of nearby drones.
There are also extremely disgusting varieties that are either out to slurp us in and kidnap (Game Over!) Or jump on us to tear off our heads with countless tentacles (Game Over!). Thanks to the new robots and swarm monsters, Gears of War 4 has significantly more enemy variance than its predecessor, which makes the battles for cover more varied and dynamic, especially since a large part of the cover options can be destroyed.
Conveniently, similar to the Lambent in Gears of War 3, the beasts have brightly shining weak points on their bodies, on which we should concentrate the fire in order to cause as much damage as possible. Each monster requires a special tactic, blunt pointing does not help.
Occasionally the new weapons such as buzzkill (fires saw blades) and dropshot (remote controlled explosive charge) do a good job with heavies and onrushing juvies. The further we get in the game and the more encounters we have with the beasts, the easier the fights are for us. This learning curve makes us pause triumphantly a few times later in the game and think about what a daring guy we have blossomed into, since these seemingly insurmountable monsters are now nothing more than Pipifax.
The perfect storm
Something that Gears of War 4 has also partially copied from Uncharted are particularly elaborate action set pieces that will be vividly remembered. One example is the motorcycle ride, during which we pound through woods and over crumbling rocks in Affenzahn. As if that weren't enough, we also want a ... oh, you should experience that for yourself.
These scenes are successful and welcome changes from the sometimes overhand cover-gun exchanges that are typical of the series. Whenever we think, "Phew, now it's getting a bit monotonous", the game comes with a cool cutscene, a crazy comical battle of words (for example the argument between Marcus and Del about whether it is bad luck to say "Everything free!" ) or a large-scale action sequence.
The sections in which we fight Sera's monster storms are also very refreshing and fantastically staged. Graphic effects such as dark clouds and striking lightning, objects blowing around and powerful surround sound make fighting in the wind a great experience. Depending on the strength of the storm, we can sometimes warp the fired bullets or the hand grenades.
Movements also become more difficult as the storm speed increases. But of course the problem affects not only us, but also our adversaries. And the storms not only bring problems, but also funny ways of creatively eliminating opponents . If you keep your eyes open, for example, you will discover wooden planks that hold back heavy metal scrap or wrecked cars - at least until we shoot them!
Before you know it, swarm opponents who think they are safe in their cover will be squashed from behind by unleashed objects that inexorably rumble across the screen. The shootings at wind force 20 are extremely fun and fortunately are not ridden to death, but used in a well-dosed manner. Even if we would have liked to take one or the other additional squall with us.
Another kind of variety is the integration of the Horde mode into the solo campaign: In a mini version of the popular co-op multiplayer mode, we have to fortify our position with fences and cannons in order to defend it for three rounds against onrushing, ever stronger hordes of enemies .
This is where the manufacturer comes back into play from the beginning: For each round we have an energy point budget that we invest in defense systems , which we then distribute across the terrain as we wish. For example, we can cordon off stairs at the lower end with barricades that the enemy cannot easily pass, while from the upper end they are covered with hot lead beans from a self-firing system.
Epic Games already pursued a similar concept of integrating multiplayer mechanics into the single player with its direct predecessor Gears of War: Judgment, but what went bad at the time, works great with Gears 4. Mainly because there are only a few places in the campaign, but appropriate in the story context, where we have to defend ourselves in this way.
For the horde!
The full-blown Horde mode (or Horde 3.0 ) of the multiplayer part is designed for up to five players, if necessary the remaining slots can also be filled with bots. Horde has been one of the favorite modes among Gears fans since it was invented in the second part of the series. And if you have tried it once, you will quickly see why that is the case.
Wave after wave of increasingly strong opponents must be defeated. This requires teamwork and resource management , because finished opponents leave behind energy currency that is credited to the team's manufacturer when it is collected. Instead of burning the coals quickly and haphazardly with cheap defensive systems, experienced players agree on what should be on the shopping list next.
After all, there are also incentives to end the Horde matches as successfully as possible: Experience points are available here, which allow our multiplayer character to rise in level. There are also bonuses in the form of credits that we need to unlock cards that give us new player models, weapon skins or bonus mutators. Alternatively, you can also use real money transactions , but if you play fairly regularly, you always have enough credits up your sleeve to buy tickets.
The bonuses acquired in this way are of course not limited to the Horde mode, but also work in normal Death Match. We can destroy superfluous cards in order to collect "scrap" which we can then use to make individual cards ourselves. As usual, the newest part of the Gears series also has a fair amount of multiplayer activity in store.
The solo campaign could almost be degraded to a nice addition. But even if you belong to the segment of the community who are primarily interested in multiplayer, you should give the campaign a fair chance. It is really worth it, especially since a pretty disgusting fireworks display is burned down, which, thanks to great lighting effects, comes to a grandiose shape, especially in the dark passages.
The only downer: You can tell the game's console origin despite numerous setting options. Occasionally washed-out and repetitive textures cloud the otherwise solid overall picture. Nevertheless: If the next sequels, which are already hinting at the (somewhat abrupt) end, go in an action-packed, brutal and at the same time light-footed and charming direction as Gears of War 4, we'd like to have a few more adventures with JD Fenix and Co. liked.