Tag Archive: Swarm


When I beat Gears of War 3 a couple of days after it came out five years ago, a thought dawned on me: Gears of War has some interesting parallels to another series I adore: Star Wars. Just like Star Wars, the original trilogy is amazing, with the second game being the best (just like Empire Strikes Back) because of its victory at the end coming only after numerous sacrifices. Since then, Judgment was released, and it wasn’t as bad a prequel as what Star Wars received, but it was definitely forgettable and weak by comparison to the main trilogy. And now we have Gears 4—which, in many ways, is similar to Episode VII. It retreads a lot of old ground, but it does so in a way that fans of the series should love, while setting up repercussions and implications for future games, paving the way for even better stories to come.

Gears of War 4 takes place 25 years after the Imulsion Countermeasure. Sera has slowly begun to rebuild with the Locust being wiped out, but as humanity’s numbers stand at less than a million, the COG have taken it upon themselves to wall off huge segments of the population while they continues to bounce back. Not everyone agrees with the COG way of life, though, and they live outside the walls as aptly named “Outsiders”. Such is the life JD Fenix, war hero Marcus Fenix’s son, has chosen for himself. Of course, when JD and his friends Del and Kait stumble upon a conflict between the COG and an unknown group of bodysnatchers, we shouldn’t be surprised that a Fenix suddenly finds himself caught in the middle of a much larger plot that could have humanity on the brink of extinction once again.

Gears 4’s campaign will be nothing new to series veterans. With finding just over half of the story’s collectibles, I beat all five acts on Hardcore in 9-10 hours. While actively trying to avoid spoiling anything, let me say the story succeeded in getting me to care about all the new characters it introduces in that time, making the emotional ups and downs Gears games always have that much more poignant. It also carefully used familiar faces from the original trilogy, who are all much older (but not necessarily wiser) now, fleshing out and grounding me in a world very different from the one I became accustomed to in the original games. Admittedly, the pacing hits a couple of snags along the way, and there’s a few plot holes that a Corpser could crawl through, but a lot of the missing information feels deliberate—especially as certain revelations by game’s end open up entirely new possibilities for future entries in the series.

While some of Gears 4’s characters have been around before, its enemies are totally new. The Swarm may have some units that look similar to those seen with the Locust, but Carriers (with their one-hit kill strength), Pouncers (with their incredible range), and Snatchers (enemies able to cut off areas of the field with their acid spray) each bring something fresh to the series, requiring a drastic shift in tactics when they enter the fray. The same can be said for the DeeBee robots; trackers might remind you of Tickers, and the soldiers can be broken down similarly to the Swarm and Locust, but the flying, shielded Guardian DeeBee or the rocket launcher helicopter drones change any fight they are a part of.

In terms of gameplay, Gears 4’s campaign might be the best yet. Never have we had such a diversity of action sequences in a Gears game before, and it helped keep me going during those moments when the plot pacing started to slow a bit too much. Unlike Kryll or Razorhail from previous games, Windflares—Sera’s newest natural disaster phenomenon courtesy of fallout from the Imulsion Countermeasure and that are basically giant fire and lightning tornados—are a constant threat almost every time the game steps outdoors. They make even moving around the field a struggle, but finding different ways to overcome my slowed mobility was exciting. Interacting with the environment and shooting collapsible construction set ups, watching as brick and mortar or giant piping came crashing down on the Swarm—sending them all up into the Windflare’s maelstrom in a mix of blood and metal—never got old. And, dancing around the Windflares’ chain lightning always kept me on my toes.

Besides these larger set pieces providing variety, there’s also the brand new CQC mechanics introduced. By positioning yourself behind cover opposite from an enemy, if the cover is small enough to reach over, you can now perform a “yank-and-shank”. Honestly, it drastically changed how I approached several game situations. For example, if a Swarm or DeeBee robot was entrenched behind cover and I couldn’t get a good shot easily, I’d break into a roadie run almost every time, reach over with the X button, and quickly mash the Y button to get a combat knife execution. Or, if I wanted to keep my momentum up, I’d swiftly jump over the cover with a kick, and mash Y again to do a similar execution. It seems like such a minor thing, but it helped with the pace of combat tremendously, and can be just as effective in multiplayer as in single player. Just be careful, however, as the moves can be countered with a well-timed melee attack or shotgun blast, giving the move a risk-reward flavor to it that makes it all the more satisfying when pulled off successfully.

Speaking of multiplayer, much like how the campaign didn’t re-invent the wheel, but instead refined and improved in several key areas, the multiplayer suite for Gears 4 did much the same thing. Added to the multiplayer playlist alongside the Ranked and Social options is now a Competitive selection. If you’re thinking of wanting to possibly make a run at being a professional Gears player, that’s the tab you’re going to want to head for due to very specific weapon tuning there, bringing an even heavier focus on skill than other modes where a power weapon in the right hands can change the tides more quickly.

In terms of what you’ll be playing in multiplayer, there are still classic modes like Team Deathmatch and Warzone to choose from, but there are also three new offerings called Escalation, Arms Race, and Dodgeball. Dodgeball has that one-life-to-live stipulation you’ll see in Execution or Warzone, with the added caveat that if someone on a team gets a kill, one of their dead teammates gets to respawn. It leads to a very interesting back and forth, as a single person can single-handedly turn the tides of a battle back in their team’s favor.

KaitVsDBs1160

Meanwhile, Arms Race feels like it channels the spirit of Call of Duty’s Gun Game, just with a team-oriented twist. Each team is equipped with a weapon, and when that team reaches three kills as a collective, their weapon changes to something else in the Gears of War armory, with the team to move through all the guns first winning. The problem I had with this mode (in my limited time playing it) was it felt like if a team got a big lead, it was very difficult to come back from—unlike Dodgeball and other modes. With only three kills needed, if there’s a weak link on either team, they can be exploited very easily to advance through the weapons.

Escalation is exclusive to the Competitive playlist and is the next evolution of Annex. Players must try to win rounds by either capturing all three points on a map, or by holding two points for the longest amount of time. Respawn time is increased with each successive round, and more power weapons enter the fray as time goes on (with each team only starting with Lancers and Gnashers). Escalation is nothing short of intense, but also a huge time commitment. If players are thinking about Gears esports, though, this will be a must play.

If playing with others and not against them is your cup of tea, then Gears 4 still has you covered there. Two-player online and local co-op is available for the story, and stepping away from the four-player co-op campaign of the past not only makes it easier to play with just your best buddy, but also gave the team more flexibility in terms of the storytelling and what characters are with your group and when. There’s also Co-op versus mode that pits you and some friends against bots, which is a great way to learn the multiplayer maps and test out new strategies. And, of course, Horde mode also returns, putting you once again in a team of up to five people against 50 CPU-controlled waves of Swarm and DeeBees.

There’s a lot more to Horde 3.0 this go around than just new enemies and maps, though, starting with a new device introduced in the campaign called the Fabricator. Essentially a glorified 3D-printer, if the Fabricator has power, it can make almost anything: guns, fortifications, turrets, etc. While this mechanic is used in several campaign sections, it really shines in Horde 3.0, and serves as the focal point of wherever you decide to make your stand against the oncoming waves. Defeating enemies in Horde mode will reward you with the power you need to make the Fabricator work, and therefore stand a better chance against each subsequent wave. The Fabricator will also revive a player mid-wave—for a price—if a buddy can grab your COG tags.

Horde 3.0 - Turret

While tying something from the story into Horde mode and vice versa was a great idea, not everything added to Horde 3.0 makes sense to me: specifically, the inclusion of a class-based system. There are five classes to choose from in Horde mode, and while multiple players can choose one class, it clearly makes more sense for everyone to take a defined role. Each class has specific bonuses and weapons tied to them, and can earn greater bonuses the more you level up a class. For instance, the Engineer gets bonuses to constructing fortifications, while the Soldier gets better guns and more ammo. My issue with this is that the system feels limiting in a lot of ways. While Horde has always been about working as a team, this feels like it forces you into a role with very little wiggle room. It also means you’ll have to rely on certain roles depending on the situation—and if one person dies, your team might have a harder time coming back than they already would with a man down.

I should also take this time to point out that I put several hours into both multiplayer and Horde, but of course, the Gears 4 servers were in a pre-launch state. While there were a couple of lag hiccups, nothing too major occurred during my time online with the game. Considering there was probably never more than a few dozen people on at once, though, it’s hard to judge how things will shake out once the servers are properly bombarded by thousands of people trying to get on at the same time.

Customization was another huge focus for Gears 4, and in many regards it works great. A new card system shows off dozens of skins for your characters and weapons available at the game’s launch for you to acquire. There are also Bounty cards in both Horde and Multiplayer, where you can try to meet certain requirements on a card for XP boosts. I love the idea of adding personal objectives to your online experience, and you can get the cards by buying special crates with coins you earn in-game or with real world money. Although I feel you can more easily grind here than in other titles when it comes to getting what you want, I’d be remiss to not mention the microtransactions. Of course, spending money doesn’t guarantee you’ll get what you’re after, just that you’ll get more crates. You can also craft certain cards with scrap, which you earn when destroying duplicate cards. So, there are definitely options that get you around dropping more money down and praying the crates give you what you want.

Gears of War 4 looked at what the series did in the original trilogy and decided to give its fans more on every front. In most cases, this was a resounding success, providing a complete experience that perfectly channels the spirit of the originals. New characters, mechanics, and plot twists distance it enough to make us appreciate the homage it pays even more, though, while giving us new lore and a new adventure to enjoy. If you enjoyed the original trilogy as much as I did, Gears of War 4 is the continuation we’ve all been waiting for.

JDvsDBs1160

Publisher: Microsoft Studios • Developer: The Coalition • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 10.11.16
9.0
Gears of War 4 looked at the series’ core formula and figured that if it wasn’t broken, don’t fix it. Most of the additions The Coalition put onto that core simply helped enhance and refine something that was already great. A couple of missteps were made, but this is still a great overall entry in the franchise.
The Good Handles just as good as the old games, while the new “yank-and-shank” and other fresh CQC mechanics add a lot to combat. Local co-op!
The Bad Class system in Horde mode.
The Ugly I think Marcus Fenix is my spirit animal. R.I.P. Marcus’s tomatoes.
Gears of War 4 is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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With the release of Gears of War 4 right around the corner, I had a chance to talk with Chuck Osieja, creative director at The Coalition, to get a little more insight into this newest chapter in the franchise.

EGM: Did you ever entertain the thought of having Gears of War 4 pick up more closely after the end of Gears of War 3?

Chuck Osieja: Sure. We explored a wide range of ideas of where in the timeline we wanted to set the game. The Gears of War universe has such a rich history, and such a great cast of characters with interesting personalities, that we were really unlimited to where we could go with a new story. The question really became “how do we create something new and interesting that still feels grounded in the Gears universe and is familiar to fans of the franchise?”

After a lot of discussion, we all got really excited by the concept of exploring what Sera would be like after 25 years of peace. What does the world look like now? How does it recover from years of war and destruction? How does it rebuild when most of the population has been wiped out? What does a new generation of characters look like, and how do they deal with a new deadly threat when they’ve never faced conflict in their lifetime?  Telling the story of JD Fenix and his relationship with his father Marcus is one of the central narrative themes of Gears 4, and to be able to explore that and take this franchise in a new direction was something we found very intriguing and inspiring.

EGM: Can you tell us about The Swarm?

Osieja: Fans are going to love the Swarm. They are a brand new enemy in the Gears of War world and they bring a whole new feeling to the combat. The variety in the Swarm is like nothing players have seen in Gears before. They come in a wide variety of styles, and each brings a unique threat to each combat encounter.

There will naturally be some comparison between the Locust and Swarm—this occurs mainly in the “mirror” enemies, though. These are enemies that act like the player, or mirror their abilities. This makes up the foundational layer of enemies in a cover-based combat experience. Then you start to branch off into more unique units and abilities. This is where the similarities between the two ends, and the Swarm become very unique and distinctive.

The way they act, strategize, and fight in encounters adds a whole new dimension to the game. A big emphasis for some of the Swarm was to design enemy characters that really leverage cooperative gameplay. Gears has always been at its best when you play with someone else, and we wanted to really emphasize teamwork between players when fighting the Swarm.

Juvie Closeup

EGM: Will wind flares be a recurring obstacle for JD and his crew, as opposed to Razorhail or the Kryll, which were limited to small sections of their respective games? How else might weather affect gameplay?

Osieja: Wind flares can impact game play throughout the Campaign. Rod has always talked about how Gears turns everything to “eleven.” We don’t have bats, we have murderous Kryll; we don’t have hail, we have Razorhail. So, when it came to designing something like the wind flares, we knew we needed to really turn up the intensity, and create something worthy of the Gears franchise. Wind flares are a system in the game, not a scripted event, so they can happen anywhere–and at varying intensity–so you really have to pay attention to the environment as well as the encounters.

Wind flares are almost like a “tidal wave” of wind that crashes onto the battlefield, affecting everything in its path. It can impact character movement, and it can actually lift cover out of the encounter, or send new cover crashing onto the battlefield. Clever players can dislodge loose cover with their bullets, causing the wind to send obstacles hurtling into—and crushing—entrenched enemies. The intensity of the wind does effect some of your weapons, with the air currents changing the flight path of grenades, Boomshots, Buzzkills, and Dropshots, so a little extra precision is needed when using them in a full force gale.

When a Wind flare peaks, it unleashes the “Storm wall” which contains lightning flurries. Think a forest of lightning, which pack a powerhouse of electricity as they touch down, and then wander aimlessly across the battlefield crackling with intensity. Lightning flurries are unpredictable, and can easily take out unsuspecting enemies—or you—if you aren’t careful.

EGM: Are there any major differences between playing the campaign co-op versus solo? Are there branching paths like in previous games?

Osieja: Cooperative play has always been a focus of Gears of War, and it is again in Gears 4. Like previous Gears games, there are branching paths throughout the campaign. The player will be able to select which route they want to take. The paths are designed to create different experiences based on the choice of path, but they are all designed to be cooperative. This means that, even though you will have your own unique encounters, you’ll also need to work with the players on the other path—sometimes providing support or executing specific tasks—to successfully complete the branch.

Siege Beast

EGM: What has the addition of the combat knife and new close-quarters combat kills done for the flow of gameplay?

Osieja: Introducing Close Cover Combat moves to Gears of War 4 has introduced a new layer of strategic play and unpredictability. It encourages players to stay mobile, making for faster and more spirited play, as well as changing the dynamic when players find themselves on the opposite side of the same piece of cover. Close Cover Combat maneuvers can be used to counteract anyone who relies too much on cover, by vaulting over cover, or yanking an enemy to your side of cover, stunning them, and opening them up to a combat knife execution.

One of the crucial aspects of the Close Cover Combat was making sure it was a fair mechanic in Multiplayer matches. When you execute a Close Cover Combat move, there is a brief moment where the intended victim is prompted to “counter” the move, completely turning the tables on the attacker and opening them up for a combat knife execution. As you take on the harder difficulty levels in Campaign, Horde, and Versus modes, you’ll see the AI attempting Close Cover Combat moves as well.

EGM: What can you tell us about Gears 4‘s Horde mode?

Osieja: Horde is one of the modes I’m most excited about. Gears of War invented Horde game play, and now we’re taking it to a whole new level in Gears 4. The new Horde 3.0 is really about empowering players to choose the way they want to play and discovering emergent strategies over the course of a session. By putting choice in the player’s hands, you can now completely choose how you want to build, and how you want to solve the problem of each of the 50 waves of enemies. We are unshackling the player to allow them to approach the waves however they want. Horde 3.0 is the ultimate team experience, and players who coordinate and work together will be the most successful. I’m really excited to watch the videos of how players conquer Horde, because the way you can set up your defenses and outfit your character is nearly limitless.

Execution

EGM: Can you tell us more about the bounty-card system being introduced to multiplayer? How do you expect it will affect how people will play?

Osieja: In competitive play, Gear Cards will have no effect on gameplay balance, as they offer cosmetic items such as weapon and character skins. Bounty cards allow players to set a personal challenge in the match based around a specific task. Successfully completing the Bounty in game gives the player the XP reward that is listed on the card. Don’t worry though, you only consume the card when you successfully complete the bounty.

Bounty cards come in a wide variety of types, and can be specific to a particular character, completing a number or specific type of kill, or it can be based on particular game mode. Bounty cards come in a variety of rarities as well, with the more rare cards giving a larger XP bonus when you complete them—which in turn enables you to level your character that much quicker.

EGM: Gears has always had a strong competitive community. What measures are you taking to help support Gears 4’s eSports potential?

Osieja: Earlier this month, we announced the Gears Pro Circuit for Gears of War 4, in partnership with MLG and Gfinity, with a starting $1,000,000 in cash prizes. Amplifying the success we had with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, the Gears of War 4 Pro Circuit will invite players from around the world to earn Gears Pro Points to qualify for the international open events, and we’re keen to kick things off this November in Columbus, OH.

In terms of development around Gears of War 4, we’re focused on building Gears of War 4 Versus Multiplayer from the ground up with eSports as a foundation, with modes like Escalation and specific maps that are designed with competitive play in mind.

We’re also adding features to make broadcasting of matches more interesting and dynamic, with two dedicated spectator slots. There are new overlays for spectating that give a more in-depth view of the action, including what weapons all players are using at any moment during a match. There are also a variety of camera positions that can be quickly switched to, while spectating, to see elevated views of the battles and watch strategies play out from a new perspective.

We look forward to sharing even more details and announcements about Gears of War 4 eSports in the coming months!

Kait Knife Battle