What is Gears of War 4?
Gears of War 4 is a cover-based shooter which puts you in the shoes of James Fenix, son of Gears of War legend Marcus Fenix. Together with the wise cracking Del and fiery Kait, James is part of a group known as the outsiders - a gang of rebels who live outside the planet Sera's giant, walled cities. Outsiders by name and by nature, the only contact they ever have with the rest of the populace is when they're running a raid on one of the cities, to take what they need to survive.
However, one night, everything goes horribly wrong. Under cover of darkness, the camp is attacked by a group of monsters, and Kait's parents are taken. Working together with a number of familiar faces from Gears of War past, it's up to you to figure out just what it was that attacked the camp that night, before attempting to hunt them down, and rescue Kait's parents, in a plot that'll keep you on the edge of your seat. While this is the fourth game in the Gears of War series, there's no real need to have played the previous three games to understand what's going on here - you'll quickly pick things up for yourself as you go along.
How do you play Gears of War 4?
As a cover-based shooter, Gears of War 4 plays very differently to other, more run and gun style games. Rather than tearing in all guns blazing, the key here is to move from cover to cover, ducking behind bits of rubble, fences, and anything solid enough to take more than a few hits. While you may be built like a Greek God, you're still as vulnerable as everyone else is to bullets - and so you'll need to regularly duck behind cover, popping up to take a few pot shots every now and then. Luckily, getting into cover is as easy as standing in the vague vicinity of something solid, and pressing A, at which point you'll instantly dive into place behind it.
Intended to be played as a team, and with the story having full support for two player co-op, either in split-screen or online, you'll have to work together with your companions (whether AI or otherwise) to take down the game's baddies, known as the swarm. While some enemies can be easily defeated on your own, others will require you to work as a team, whether it's having one player act as a distraction while another player scoots in close to get a better shot in, or simply saving each other's life when the time comes.
Nothing sums this up better than the snatcher - one of Gears of War 4's most terrifying enemies. Should you fall in combat usually, you can be revived should a team mate get to you in time - but if a snatcher's around, things take on a much more deadly pace. If snatcher gets to you, its belly will open, and it'll swallow you whole, before trying to make its getaway. Should it manage it, it'll be game over, and you'll be heading back to the last checkpoint. Luckily, your team can stop it by shooting its fluorescent orange stomach - but they'll need to be fast.
Along with the campaign, every multiplayer mode in Gears of War 4 has split-screen support, letting you take a friend online with you to take on the world. The game has two main multiplayer modes - Horde, which lets up to five players face off against wave after wave of enemies, and the standard multiplayer mode, which supports up to ten players in deathmatch-style encounters. Both support both online play, and split-screen.
How easy is Gears of War 4 to pick up and play?
In terms of accessibility, Gears of War 4 is a complex game that requires a lot of situational awareness. As you can't take too much in the way of direct hits, you'll need to be careful to stay in cover as much as possible - which is sometimes easier said than done. If you don't stay fully aware of what's going on around you, you may end up ducking behind something that doesn't really provide all that much cover, leaving yourself exposed to a flanking enemy. As you can only take a handful of shots before being knocked out (and needing revival), getting into cover in the wrong place is effectively signing your own death warrant, and is easy to do. The game's enemies also aren't afraid of getting up close and personal with you, should the opportunity arise.
Unlike other shooters, where you pick up ammunition automatically by running over weapons, in Gears of War 4, you have to actively choose to pick up the ammo, which can sometimes lead to you running out if you haven't been actively seeking out dropped weapons for their ammo mid-fight.
Luckily, you'll always play with a full team of companions, whether they're human or computer controlled - and even when you're playing on your own, they can certainly come in handy. So skilled are your computer controlled chums that you can sometimes leave them to take on whole groups of enemies on their own - and they'll manage it.
There's a selection of four difficulty levels on offer here too, ranging from Casual through to the infamous Insane mode, letting you adjust the game to suit. On Casual, your health will be boosted, while enemies will be weaker and less accurate with their weaponry, giving you a better chance of survival.
The game also uses a regular checkpoint system, which means you'll never lose too much in the way of progress should you fall in combat. As mentioned earlier, if you ever do get knocked down in combat, you can be revived if a team mate gets to you in time.
Gears of War 4 features gratuitous violence and profanity throughout. On the language front, almost literally every encounter with an enemy will be greeted with a shout of "oh s**t" from one of your party, while b**tard and f*ck are also heard at times, although the latter is only used rarely.
Gore, meanwhile, is extreme and frequent, at least partially thanks to the game's weapons. One of your main guns is essentially a machine gun with a chainsaw attached to it, so trying to melee attack someone with it will let you cut them in half. Enemies that are knocked down can be executed, and the game will show your character jamming the chainsaw into the enemy's mid section, with thick blood flying out. While a headshot with a sniper rifle will cause your enemy's head to explode, other weapons simply tear your foes to shreds in the most literal sense of the word - miniguns tend to simply dismember your opponents, with each bullet removing a limb or chunk of flesh.
There are three mature content filters included with Gears of War 4, designed to let you tone things down. The "mature content filter" disables any bad language in the game, instead either blanking it out entirely, or adding radio static over the top of it, so "oh sh*t" becomes "oh sh-[convenient static]". However, not all bad language is filtered out, and the odd utterance of sh*t gets through.More experimentally, the game also features a "profanity filter", which attempts to automatically block any swearing heard over the game's online voice chat. As the game has a strong emphasis on teamwork when playing online, the developers believe voice chat will be necessary, and so added this in an attempt to add some control to what real people say.Finally, there's also a "gore filter". When turned on, shooting an enemy will no longer generate a spatter of blood, and meleeing them with the lancer's chainsaw will simply send up sparks rather than pints of crimson. However, the gore filter seems to mostly be designed for online play, and even with the filter turned on, there's still substantial gore in the game's story mode. Any dead bodies you find as part of the storyline will still be surrounded by blood, and there are some rather gory scenes that aren't filtered out - one sees you enter a room where a large firefight has obviously taken place, with blood smeared all over the walls, floor and ceiling. Gore and violence in cutscenes is also still present - a large enemy near the start of the game literally explodes once defeated, sending blood flying into the air, and you'll still see this regardless of whether the gore filter is turned on or off.
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Format Reviewed: PC