How do you revive a property as venerable as Gears of War, having prised it from the grip of the original developer and thrust it into the palms of a fledgling team? For starters, you act indie.
Editor's note: This is an early impressions piece based on a playthrough of Gears of War 4's campaign. Our full review will be published early next week once we've had experience of the full game on live servers.
The views may be pleasantly apocalyptic, and the second act may feature a motorbike duel with a robot B52, but it's the little things that really sell me on Gears of War 4 - the surprisingly delicate way it both harkens back to and departs from Epic's original cover-shooters. The fact that Swarm footsoldiers rush you when they're close to death, for example, where their Locust predecessors would often dig in till the bitter end. The presence of branching path sections that ask teams of two to support one another across a gulf, a classic Gears device enlivened by the addition of flying enemies and eccentric new flavours of sniper rifle.
Microsoft's E3 media briefing was strong, I thought, although its impact was dulled by a pretty spectacular set of leaks that not only revealed the existence of the Xbox One S and Scorpio ahead of time, but the running order of the show.
The Lancer is one of the most recognisable video game weapons ever designed - an improbable hybrid worthy of Jekyll and Hyde, which sums up at a glance Gears of War's oddly persuasive mixture of styles and tones. It is barbaric yet precise, a clownish torture device that doubles as an unpretentious assault rifle with a generous magazine. It's also the meat on the hook of a terrible trap.
The Xbox One multiplayer beta for Gears of War 4 rolls out this week, offering a playable sampler of a major Microsoft title not due for release for another six months. We were given the opportunity to jump in early over the weekend, and we were eager to see what new studio The Coalition has achieved so far. The ambition here is certainly lofty: while single-player campaign is confirmed as a 30fps affair, the studio is aiming for 1080p60 with its multiplayer mode - with Unreal Engine 4 providing the technological underpinnings.
Gears of War and Unreal Engine have been a ubiquitous pairing since the franchise launched on Xbox 360 in November 2006, with the success of that title leading to the Epic middleware powering hundreds of games in the last-gen era. Indeed, even now, ten years after its debut, it continues to power many hits like Batman Arkham Knight and Rocket League.
However, Unreal Engine 4 is a different story: as companies transitioned over to the new consoles, changing business strategies, competing middleware and new in-house technologies have limited its appearance on new consoles. As a result, aside from a handful of indie titles and the occasional heavy hitter like Street Fighter 5 or the upcoming Paragon, we haven't really seen any AAA shooters designed using Epic's technology. That is, until Gears of War 4.
At a recent event I had a chance to play Gears of War 4 multiplayer on Xbox One (Microsoft has yet to announce a PC version but it seems like a safe bet), and it's pretty good. It's familiar in that it feels very much like Gears of War multiplayer - Gears of War 3 multiplayer, that is, as opposed to Gears of War: Judgment's - but there are a few tweaks to the gameplay that stand out, and one new weapon that's sure to go down well.
There's a scene in Generation Kill, the HBO miniseries that follows an embedded reporter as he travels with the Marine Corps' 1st Reconnaissance Battalion during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in which Sergeant Brad 'Iceman' Colbert can be seen running around a field with his arms outstretched, pretending to be an aeroplane. After watching this display of benign madness, or freedom for a few moments, one of Colbert's comrades turns to the reporter (based on real life journalist Evan Wright) and asks: "What, did you like, give him some Rolling Stone drugs or something?"
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