In many ways, Gears of War 4 knows exactly what makes the series great to begin with, and capitalizes on those strengths in myriad areas. In other respects, however, the sequel feels like a misstep as the Gears franchise continues on its storied path. The result is a fractured mix of inspiration, exhilaration, and irritation.
The storyline follows JD Fenix, son of series regular Marcus Fenix, as he battles a new subterranean threat and the Coalition of Ordered Governments, an organization that has taken a sinister turn since the original Gears of War trilogy. The younger Fenix travels with new characters Kait and Del, both of whom reveal backgrounds and familial ties as the plot progresses.
Unfortunately, much of this narrative feels forced or predictable. The Gears franchise has always hidden a quality story beneath its macho jargon and shallow jokes, but new studio The Coalition doesn’t find much depth in its storytelling: the humor is irritating, romances emerge on an insincere whim, and I never felt as if the characters actually cared about each other. Dialogue serves mainly as exposition, without the nuances that could otherwise flesh out complex relationships among the cast. Vistas are gorgeous and character designs portray a ragged society eeking out a living in a post-Gears of War 3 world, but there’s not much emotional substance among the wreckage.
What’s more, the actual gameplay suffers from pacing and redundancy problems throughout the campaign. The first two hours are the most abrasive, throwing multitudes of simple enemies at JD and his gang as they chew through the waves with conventional weapons in boring situations. It takes several chapters until firefights evolve past simple point-and-shoot scenarios.