Again, The Coalition built a solid foundation with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. Aside from a smattering of shady bugs, the beta and final product were roughly identical. Why The Coalition saw the need to start fresh for Gears of War 4 eludes me. I know porting a game from Unreal Engine 3 to Unreal Engine 4 breaks AI behaviors, but Gears of War 4 still rehashes its ideas – most of them inferior – from the second and third.
I see one new weapon (the Dropshot’s essentially a reverse Digger), ugly character skins, and maps that share similar layouts and firearm placements. The Torque Bow appears on the high ground, the Dropshot spawns below. And you better admire the look of shipping containers; it seems the COG bought them on clearance.
Harbor, Foundation, and Dam. I had to double-check the names of each map in light of how mediocre, how depressingly alike they are. Force water to flow over the railings of the dam and erode cover. Let the storms flood the lower section of Harbor. Make your settings unique. Give them an identity, but playtest those environmental hazards. As things stand, nothing about the current map roster sticks out from previous classics.
The imperfections spring to mind instead, like the Lancer’s chainsaw. The chainsaw requires a couple seconds to rev up by default, though opposing players raised theirs in a blink, before I could retaliate. Shooting someone during the revving process will cancel out the animation and lower the attachment, but I captured several videos of my rivals ignoring the Gnasher round I unloaded into their skulls, then severing my character into bits. Thank you, “Xbox, record that” command.
Errors also obstruct matchmaking. Gears of War 4 institutes a skill-based system that pairs you with people of a similar rank. In execution, the process seemed faulty, depositing me on teams with rookies that had not placed in a division yet, whereas our enemies consisted of silver tiers (average to above-average players).
In those instances, my allies had no chance when our opponents began wall-bouncing. For the uninitiated, bounding from cover to cover rapidly – typically to throw off attackers – constitutes wall-bouncing. You can fire in the middle of the motion, too, making capable wall-bouncers the bane of many newcomers.
Gears of War 2 then introduced an additional feature that the community called wall-canceling. Before sliding against cover, pulling back on the analog stick interrupts the movement; it stops characters dead, and you can abuse it. If you ratchet up your aiming sensitivity, the velocity at which you careen skirt the map and competitors leads to an unbeatable outcome.
To correct wall-canceling in Gears of War 4, The Coalition devised a countdown that prohibits players from bouncing too quickly; between bounces, you must wait a moment before hurling yourself against cover again. At several thousandths of a second, however, the waiting period is too short. It takes longer than that to squeeze a shot off.
Oh, it gets worse. Characters receive a brief speed boost after they roadie run out of cover, so wall-bouncers gain another potential advantage. In the first Gears of War, sliding towards the wrong piece of architecture brought consequences, like bullets to the head. You made a choice and committed, but the best players could fight their way out of those situations. Wall-canceling just adds an unnecessary wrinkle to multiplayer, whose prevalence could alienate Gears of War 4’s novice audience.
If there’s one feature I’m happy that The Coalition amended, it’s stopping power. The Lancer inflicts adequate damage when players get the jump on someone, but bullets don’t slow those targets to a dawdle while they retreat. Stopping power – unparalleled as it was during Gears of War 3 – has no business in competitive Gears. A fifth of a mag should not incapacitate people before they recognize they’re in trouble. You want to discuss camping in video games? Lancer and Hammerburst engagements dominated Gears of War 3 online.
Gears of War 4 increases character mobility, namely with a running mantle that vaults you over chest-high surfaces faster. Mantling allows challengers to make hasty exits from an unwinnable scenario, or dispense a stunning boot to the face of anyone crouching on the other side. Even better, you can grab enemies from the opposite side of a barricade, yanking them out into the open for a brief knife execution. Of course, failing to ensnare somebody leaves your character grasping at air and exposed for far too long.
Is there room for improvement? Always. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Coalition addressed half the issues I mentioned already. But I don’t want Gears of War 4 to go the route where a few outspoken people dictate things like stopping power, all because characters have larger health pools than most shooters offer. Gears of War noticed a surge in popularity after 3. While the franchise now answers to a new developer, Gears of War 4 deserves a finer fate than empty multiplayer servers only weeks after launch.