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Gears Of War 4

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: The Coalition
Release Date: Oct. 11, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


Xbox One Preview - 'Gears of War 4'

by Brian Dumlao on April 19, 2016 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Gears of War blends the best of tactical action games with the best of survival horror titles, thrusting gamers into the harrowing story of humankind's battle for survival against the Locust Horde.

Pre-order Gears of War 4

After three entries by the main team and one stint with Epic Games' studio People Can Fly, the Gears of War series is at an interesting point in its life. Most of the fan base considers Gears of War: Judgment to be the weak point in the franchise, and despite handling Ultimate Edition last year, The Coalition has yet to prove if it's fit to handle a new entry in the series. Players wonder if the team led by one of the members of Epic Games can find that spark once again and produce multiplayer magic. While the general population will know the answer to that starting on April 25, people who played last year's remastering of the first game were invited to check out the Gears of War 4 multiplayer beta a week early.

The beta currently has three modes. Team Deathmatch has your team of five trying to deplete the enemy's respawn pool of 15 before finally eliminating them one by one. There's also a variant, where five online players team up against five bots at a high difficulty. While those are familiar modes to any shooter fan, it is Dodgeball that is the beta's highlight. Here, everyone gets one life, and while you would think that it would mean very quick games, the opposite can occur. Should a person score a kill and stay alive for five seconds, one of his teammates can be brought back into the fight. This creates come-from-behind situations, or it can lead to stalemates if teams are evenly matched and trade kills. Either way, it makes for an exciting mode, and people in the beta are already flocking toward it.

The beta also sports three maps that feel pretty similar. The main difference is that they represent environments that are more civilized, since rubble and ruin are kept to a minimum. The layouts vary a good deal, with lots of ramps and slight elevations, loads of cover to hide behind, and choke points here and there. There are a few spots with more powerful weapons, but since every area open from multiple directions, every location is a prime ambush spot.

The XP system has been greatly modified. Ribbons can be obtained for accomplishing certain things, like being the last man standing on your team or getting the most assists. You also have a chance to use objective cards to get even more XP, provided you fulfill the requirements by the end of a match. As in Halo 5, the cards are consumable if you accomplish the given task. With the plan of providing more cards as you level up, reaching level 20 to score bonuses for the full game doesn't seem that difficult to do.

Combat remains familiar due to the weapons and moves at your disposal. Movement remains somewhat smooth when running between cover spots, and the one-button approach makes those transitions easy to accomplish. The regular assortment of frag and smoke grenades are here, as are submachine guns like the Lancer, which provide good cover fire and opportunities to get assist points. The rocket launchers, sniper rifles and torque bows are equally deadly.

Then there's the shotgun.

One of the franchise's main sticking points for the multiplayer is how overpowering the shotgun can be. At point-blank range, it can eviscerate enemies with one shot, and subsequent games have taken strides to combat that by increasing the viability of other weapons or decreasing the damage done by the scattershot weapon. Gears of War 4 seems to have taken a different approach. Everyone has a shotgun by default, and if the play style of the demo participants is any indication, most people will get close to enemies for quick kills with the shotgun. A small population opts for the bows and sniper rifles. By comparison, only one person dared to use the chainsaw or the Lancer, and a handful went back to old moves, like using a meat shield or initiating a curb stomp.

That push toward close combat is facilitated by some of the new moves and weapons. If you're running at a waist-high barrier, you can initiate a vault kick that knocks a person out of cover, giving you or your teammate a chance to take them out in their briefly stunned state. The yank move does the same thing if you're behind cover and your opponent is doing the same opposite you. Unlike the kick, this immediately initiates a face stab unless a teammate takes them out before the animation completes. On the weapons side, you have a Dropshot, which is like a missile but behaves differently. You fire the shot normally, but you hold down the trigger to make the projectile fly further. Once you let go, the ordnance drops and explodes when it hits the ground or a nearby body. The new moves and weapons are good additions to the arsenal, but if the play sessions have proven anything, it's that the old moves are still good enough to get in some kills.

The aspect that people will notice the most is the matchmaking. After five games played in a game type, you're given a medal ranking for the game type, and the game is supposed to match you against those of a similar rank. However, as a lowly bronze player, I was constantly matched against others who were at a much higher rank than me, so I didn't have the chance to play with peers of an equal skill level. Hopefully, The Coalition can correct this vital matchmaking issue prior to launch.

At the moment, the multiplayer in Gears of War 4 feels like an amplified version of the third game, albeit with a weapon set that feels like an improved version of the original. New weapons like the Dropshot can get people out from behind cover, and new moves like the vaulting kick and yank are designed to make the combat more intimate. It remains a game where point-blank shotgun blasts are king, trumped only by more powerful weapons if you can find them on the field. In that respect, Gears of War 4 is off to a good start, and it will be interesting to see what the majority of players will think once the beta opens to the public next week.

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