The Coalition is Revving Up for the Revival
Microsoft and newly-formed developer, The Coalition have been boasting about Gears of War 4 running on Unreal Engine 4 (UE4), and rightly so. The low-res textures and terrible pop-in that were commonplace in previous iterations of the series have all but vanished. Standing among the rubble, we get a surprisingly gorgeous game, with more color and detail than any other in the series. Gears 4 appears to be showcasing what’s possible on UE4, be it a dark and rainy shipyard, a hydro-electric facility, or the impressively smooth animations that bring the new characters and enemies to life.
Aside from new visuals, the basic mechanics and traversal is practically identical to Gears of War 3. As to be expected, the characters have a sense of weight about them. Although they’re not the massive pounds of beefy archetypes from previous entries, you still receive that comfy familiarity of slamming into cover. It wouldn’t be a Gears game without cover, which appears to be more refined and somehow has become even more of a vital integration to game play. New mechanics like Vault have been added, allowing you to leap onto higher platforms without breaking out of the roadie run animation. It’s strange to say, but verticality has become an important tool to be used on the battlefield.
For the most part, weapons feel the same. Lancers and Gnashers accompany the basic load out, making it difficult for me to see any newcomers having a chance against the shotgun-toting veterans that have honed their craft over the last ten years. The Active Reload is back, but has been slightly tweaked to allow you to use it on a full clip for the extra damage. A smaller bar resides just to the right of the ammunition indicator. When this bar fills up, an Active Reload can be attempted for that weapon. There’s a new addition in the Dropshot, which allows you to fire explosive mines across the map. At first it was difficult to understand, but after some experimenting, I realized that holding the right trigger propelled the mine for a distance until the right trigger was released, the mine would then fall to the ground and explode. Much like the Digger from Gears 3, this weapon makes sitting in cover more of a hazard than a safety net.
Getting into matches was mostly seamless, but at times took quite awhile. However, that’s to be expected from a Beta. Multiplayer is now hosted through Microsoft’s own Azure servers instead of the peer-to-peer connectivity from the previous games. A new option allows you to tweak matchmaking specific regions such as Europe and Asia, but that didn’t seem to change much if anything. I did experience a few occasions where latency was so bad that the game was virtually unplayable, but after a day or two everything appeared to stabilize.
The biggest addition and most fun I had with the Gears of War 4 Beta was the new multiplayer mode, Dodgeball. The new mode is a variant of traditional Team Deathmatch, you and your team mates are granted a respawn after every enemy killed. The first team to three rounds, wins the match. This led to rounds ending within seconds, or lasting as long as it takes. At one point, I was the only player left in my squad and managed to get a kill, run off and have another player from my team respawn. We both managed to kill a few opponents, which gave us a full squad, but the survivor on the enemy team successfully picked us off one by one and rebuilt his squad for the win. It’s an exhilarating game of back and forth, with multiple clutch moments left completely in your hands. This and regular Team Deathmatch aside, the Beta also included a Co-Op Team Deathmatch mode which pits a squad of five real players against incredibly difficult AI controlled bots. Familiar to the previous games, the AI was extremely spotty and unfairly overpowered, but I can see the mode being useful to newcomers who need to get use to the furious pace of multiplayer.
The Gears of War 4 Beta comes to an end on May 1st. While it’s apparent The Coalition doesn’t want to stray too far from the trite and true formula that makes Gears the Microsoft powerhouse that it is, I’m not entirely convinced that its safe approach to gameplay is what the series needs. Sadly the result appears to be a cliche experience which does little to cater to anyone who isn’t already a fan of the series. It’s possible that the developer is saving any extreme innovations for the games release on October 11th, but as it stands there are only minute changes to distinguish Gears 4 from the other numbered entries. I for one am at a crossroads. I know I will enjoy the game because I had a ton of fun with the Beta. It’s a faster and more refined experience, but anyone who wasn’t already devoted to the series can easily shrug this one off, and will probably get shotgunned out of even attempting more than a few matches of competitive multiplayer.
Are you a Gears Head and excited for the next entry in the series? Did you get a chance to try out the Beta? If so, what did you think? Let us know in the comments below.