Gears of War has been a franchise integral to the brand of Xbox since the release of the first game in 2006. At the time of release the shooter genre was a very different beast than it is now. There was a time when “run & gun” was the most common way to play a shooter. When you came across a boss, just throw in a little strafe-dodging into your arsenal and you’d be guaranteed a victory. Then designers began to toy with the idea of a more realistic shooter, and games like Deus Ex and Rainbow Six came out. Games that treated damage seriously, and asked players to utilize caution and use cover. There was just one problem. Taking cover from enemy fire was (and still is for many shooters) an awkward process of trying to crouch, using an oft-forgotten button press, and position yourself behind an item in the environment without any way to know exactly how much of you might be sticking out of each side. This all changed with Gears of war, which was the first mainstream game to allow you to snap into cover, and lean over it to sustain fire on an enemy. They were not only innovators, but they came out of the gate swinging with solid streamlined gameplay and a polished control scheme.
This is a trend that seems to continue on into Gears of War 4, which finished its beta just weeks ago. If you played the Gears of War Ultimate Edition remaster on the Xbox One you got early access to the demo game with two game modes, three maps, and one new weapon. They stuck close to the gameplay that has stayed the same since the first game, bringing in all the execution improvements brought on with the other games. It’s nice to go into a game, having played the other ones, and feel right at home. With my first life, I was already killing people and taking hostages as human shields. There are new additions to the cover mechanics in the form of moves you can do to catch someone on the other side of your cover completely unawares. Best news of all, perhaps, is how this game seems to throw out a lot of the wrong directions the franchise took in its offshoot Gears of War: Judgement.
If I had any criticisms of my time with the game, was how similar the three maps were. When a match would end, and I’d be asked to vote on the next map, every time I’d be completely unsure which map I was only just playing on. They were like different layout variations of the same basic themes, just a lot of pipes and rails and grey blah. I made a similar criticism of the Doom beta and can only hope both games offer greater variety in the final games. Also every map seems to offer the exact same weapon variations. It was nice to get a lot of use out of the new weapon, the dropshot, but didn’t help the maps feel different from each other when they all had similar weapon placements in contextually the same places.
Also it was strange not being able to choose your character in Gears of War multiplayer for the first time. Hopefully this too is merely a malady of the beta that will be cured in the final game. The characters also seemed rather generic, so much so that before I read up on the known bits of the story I theorized to others online that perhaps the characters were products of a custom character creator. I now know better, but think the game will have to rely heavily on the story campaign to personify its characters.
All in all, the Gears of War 4 beta made me excited for the final game, a game that’s still seemingly half a year away. It can be expected that the developer will have learned a lot from this beta and the opinions it has raised. The final product we see next fall should be something that feels even more solid than the impressive showing we were given with this beta. One final observation, I’m not sure if I’m just far better at this game than I remember, but it seemed easier, or at least more forgiving, to get kills this time around. My girlfriend said the same thing. It seemed as long as you pointed your shotgun in the right direction and pulled the trigger the game will just be like “I’ll give that one to ya” and the kill is glorious. Whether or not this is an improvement in hit detection, or a sign of some extra lenient handicaps, is a question beyond my pay grade. The gnasher felt good though, and getting into shotgun battles was as satisfying in this game as ever before. I look forward to spending the next number of months until release catching up on all the previous games in the franchise. Expect my Gears of War Ultimate Edition review soon. Long live Gears of War.
Photos by: Sabrina Mendez