I don’t want to alarm you, but despite quite clearly having the numeral “4” on the end of the title, Gears of War 4 is actually the fifth game in the respectable Gears of War franchise. And when I say “respectable” I’m not even being my usual, sarcastic, devilishly-handsome self. The first game was critically beloved, a commercial success by every possible metric, exceedingly well-designed, and became a rubric for cover-based third-person shooting to such an extent that the industry’s continued – and continuing – milking of the series’ saggy teats has led most people to retroactively taint the Gears games themselves. A shame, really, because they’re all pretty great. Except this one, as it happens. This one is merely fine, just in quite a tired, predictable, faintly desperate way.
Oh, no. We’re not doing the Halo thing, are we?
Not quite, although the business parallels are undeniably similar. Epic Games didn’t want to make Gears of War games anymore, much like how Bungie didn’t want to make Halo games anymore, and so in both instances Microsoft invented a developer with the specific mandate of making more games in those respective franchises. In Halo’s case, the property was handed over to 343 Industries, a phenomenally inept pack of corporate stooges who bastardized Halo’s core gameplay, plot and characters, and slapped them back together in a Call of Duty clone wearing Master Chief’s helmet.
Gears of War 4 has, admittedly, fared slightly better. Its developers, The Coalition, at least had the good sense to leave the fundamentals of a Gears experience largely unchanged. The problem is that they left them so unchanged that the whole thing feels like a knockoff, second-hand Gears experience without any of the creative verve that gave the original trilogy its unique appeal.