Gears of War 4 is not playable on the E3 show floor. Instead, The Coalition has set up a cinematic experience showcasing a different mission to the one shown off during Microsoft’s presentation.
The hands-off demo started with JD, Del, and Cait sprinting inside some rundown building seemingly being chased by some serious threat. The trio was seeking out their fellow COG member Oscar, who had been kidnapped by the new enemy, the Swarm. These were not the composed group of burly men seen in previous entries in the series, these were less experienced and fearful of whatever they had just seen. As the squad moved their way through the building, the lighting and graphical effects of Gears of War 4 came into their own, with dust particles or spores catching the light as they slowly floated to the ground.
The demo was being played by two players, one on PC in 4K, and another playing on the Xbox One S, with both versions looking incredibly pretty. Co-op between the two looked seamless, as if both players were playing on the same platform; it’s a promising sign for Xbox’s play anywhere initiative. Navigating their way out of the building, we were then shown Gears of War 4’s combat.
The team meets the new enemies, and they have some disturbing new features. Shriekers, an enemy type very reminiscent of the Locust Wretches may not be very strong, but their movement makes them unpredictable and difficult to hit. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem in a standard Gears game, but here, glowing pods are scattered along the path to your objective. These pods are essentially incubators for spawning new enemies, meaning if you shoot them, you’re gonna have one more bad guy to take down. It’s an interesting new mechanic that introduces the need to be far more accurate with your shots or suffer the consequences.
Once the enemies were taken care of, the team progressed into another building before crashing through the floor. The team has just as much chemistry and witty banter when talking to one another as Delta Squad. At one point, JD asks if it’s all clear, he gets the thumbs up and approaches a door only to be grabbed by an enemy through the gap. “We need to redefine our definition of clear,” he says in a way that sounds strikingly similar to his father. “Oh, now we have door snot,” says a disgruntled Cait (voiced by Laura Bailey) as they lay their sights upon a doorway covered in strings of some disturbing goo.
As the team made their way outside, we did get a look at the return of the Mulcher in Gears of War 4, as JD propped it up on some cover and stopped an onslaught of Shriekers in their tracks as they hobbled down off the roof of a building. Heading down a narrow path, the team heads inside a church-like building only to be greeted with an enemy clambering into a pit in the floor. This was no emergence hole, although it did look strikingly similar. Instead, these nests had a much more problematic effect. The Shrieker that entered the nest emerged a much stronger and more intelligent enemy, taking cover and firing off rounds of its Hammerburst just as a human would.
As the demo came to a close, we got a closer look at another enemy type armed with a tail of quills that could be fired at serious speed. These new enemies leaped from car wreck to car wreck, trying to get up close and personal to JD and crew so they could pin them down and end the fight. As one made such a leap, Del was positioned underneath, raising his chainsaw and slicing through the beast. It was just as badass and Gears of War as it sounds.
Gears of War 4 is quietly reserved; it doesn’t go out screaming and shooting, chasing after its predecessors. JD and his squad have retained some familiarity with their more senior counterparts, but their lack of experience is evident. I left the hands-off demo wanting to find out more about the squad. What each of their stories is and the relationship that they’ve formed as a team provides motives for why they’re fighting. While we’ll have to wait until October to find out the answers to these questions, one thing was evident, Gears of War 4 is just as gritty, gory, and badass as its predecessors.