In what was the only hands-on demo opportunity for Gears of War 4 at E3 2016, it was hard to know what to expect going in. Developer The Coalition seems very much cut from the same cloth as prior Gears dev Epic Games, especially with Rod Fergusson leading the charge, but this is a new phase for the franchise. Gears of War 4, for all intents and purposes, is the kickoff point for a new series, which follows Marcus Fenix’s J.D. as he and fellow Outsiders battle a growing threat.
But while the characters may be new, the feel of Gears of War 4 is no doubt familiar. Some might even say that the game plays and looks too much like its predecessors, which can be taken many different ways.
On the one hand, Gears of War 4 is like getting reacquainted with an old friend. Blasting enemies to bits with the shotgun, triggering that perfect active reload, and chewing through alien flesh with the Lancer’s chainsaw is as satisfying as it ever was. Similarly, The Coalition has stuck to a familiar color palette for Gears 4, emphasizing darker tones in marketing materials thus far. Our hands-on demo was set during a rescue sequence that took J.D., Kait, and Del through a cemetery that was full of detail but grim in design.
Along similar lines, the new Swarm enemies have a similar makeup to the Locust. There are thinner, weaker Swarm enemy types that rush the player for melee damage and are really just shotgun fodder, and larger, human-like Swarm that can wield the same weapons that the player can. They are tactical in that the enemies take cover and will try to revive fallen teammates, but outside of their design (and some might say that’s not even too much of a stretch) the Swarm are basically the Locust 2.0.
The demo did conclude with a mini-boss battle between Swarm creatures that were four-legged insectoids, so it isn’t just a copy and paste job in the bullet fodder department. But squint a little bit while shooting through the basic enemy encounters and it won’t feel much different from taking on Locust.
Now that is by no means a bad thing, but is certainly an important element to highlight for returning fans. Those who expect Gears of War 4 to innovate may find that sequel is sticking to the formula as best it can, likely in order to preserve the status quo. However, with a new studio and on a new platform, the fact that Coalition can nail every aspect of the Gears milieu so well is impressive. The studio clearly includes devoted Gears fans and they want to satisfy as many similar-minded people as they can.
Obviously there will be a lot more to show of Gears of War 4, but the demo on-hand from Microsoft was the video game equivalent of riding a bicycle. Granted that bicycle has a slick chrome paint job – running especially well on the new Xbox One S – and some bells and whistles, but acclimating to this world is easy. Yes, there will be surprises, as evidenced by the “electrifying” demo shown at Microsoft’s E3 2016 Press Conference, but come this fall Gears fans should be off to the races in no time.
Gears of War 4 releases October 11, 2016 for Xbox One and Windows 10.