With all the hype and hoopla surrounding betas these days, be they as marketing tools to sell games rather than contributing directly to development, it is funny to come across a beta which actually portrays the game in an early state. The Coalition’s Gears of War 4 multiplayer beta feels rough and unpolished in many ways, despite the fundamental basics feeling solid. The question is whether those basics are compelling enough, from both a design and fun standpoint, to really draw your average PvP shooter fan in.
"Gears of War has always felt more sluggish than your average third person shooter in multiplayer but Gears of War 4 feels more responsive."
Despite facing no issues with connectivity and matchmaking in the beta myself, there have been a number of complaints regarding technical issues. The closest one could come to an issue was being locked into a playlist once the matchmaking process began. An option to back out is appreciated but it just didn’t seem to work. On one occasion, the process, seemed like it stalled or froze before eventually finding a game. I’ve had my fair share of games started fresh and games joined in progress. The anti-quit option isn’t enabled for this beta so it will be interesting to see how The Coalition punishes those who quit out of matches.
Now, as for the beta itself, it’s highly reminiscent of the multiplayer in Gears of War: Ultimate Edition with regards to mechanics. Which is to say, if you’ve only played the Xbox One title, then everything will be inherently familiar to you. Movement is decidedly slower paced, even though you can sprint and dodge roll in four different directions. You can take cover on almost any environmental aspect and sometimes – but not as much as previous Gears titles – mantle over these. Aspects like the Active Reload ask you to time your reload button press to add a damage boost or reload your gun faster. Messing up the same increases the reload timer. A special note on that HUD radar – there isn’t one. This encourages observation when trying to decipher enemy movements and quick thinking when you’re pinned in by a successful flank.
Gears of War has always felt more sluggish than your average third person shooter in multiplayer but Gears of War 4 feels more responsive. Sprinting doesn’t huddle the camera nearly as close to the ground. Transitioning into and out of cover feels smoother, as does dodge rolling into adjacent cover. If you think the somewhat clunky cover system in Tom Clancy’s The Division is characteristic of all third person shooters, then Gears of War 4 will make you think again.
"Even with these weapons though, Gears of War 4‘s multiplayer favours shotguns above all. The overall map design feels significantly tighter than past games but still offers a decent size scale."
If you’re a veteran of Gears multiplayer, then there’s very little that feels new here. Gnasher shotguns still dominate matches as players eschew cover to simply run up and destroy your life. The range on the Gnasher is still an issue of contention, ably competing with Lancers at mid-range engagements. The Lancer meanwhile feels slightly more powerful than in Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, reliably taking down enemies from mid-to-long ranges if you connect enough bullets. The Hammerburst assault rifle offers a three burst shot with each trigger pull, its accuracy making up for the fire-rate.
Then there are the power weapons like the Torque Bow with its explosive bolts; the Boomshot with its explosive shells; and the Dropshot, perhaps one of the more innovative weapons the series has seen in years. It’s essentially a drill mine that floats over your enemy as long as you hold the trigger down – releasing it brings the mine down, exploding it. Perfect for taking down particularly annoying enemies embedded in cover or just performing a fancy execution here and there.
Even with these weapons though, Gears of War 4‘s multiplayer favours shotguns above all. The overall map design feels significantly tighter than past games but still offers a decent size scale. Maps like Harbour, Foundation and Dam feel like the perfect mix of industrial and natural aesthetics, the brighter colours of Gears 4 standing out in contrast to the bloody mayhem erupting. The maps are highly symmetrical but spawns can become an issue from time to time. Though the scale often feels a little constricted at times, with large groups of players often congregating in a single section to do battle, it never felt like there was no room to runaway or effectively engage your foe from a distance. The various maps may lack their own unique attractions (again, blame that symmetrical design) but they grow on you after a while, especially Dam with its enormous water flow in the background. One wishes that that could have been incorporated into the map somehow but one digresses.
"Gears of War 4‘s multiplayer serves as a decent diversion that will ensnare the Gears faithful more than anyone else."
There are three modes to choose from in the multiplayer beta – Team Deathmatch is your typical murdering experience with limited “lives” per team. Dodgeball is a tenser variation on this – teammates must score kills to earn respawns, thus turning the tides with each desperate kill – and then there’s Co-Op Deathmatch against AI opponents. There’s still no Horde mode to be seen and quite frankly, it’s baffling to think that if Horde mode was in Gears 4 that The Coalition wouldn’t want to test it out as soon as possible. As it stands, the battles with AI opponents were a decent diversion, if nothing especially interesting. For moving from the campaign to multiplayer, it works well enough. A new Bounty system also lets you earn XP boosts if you complete tasks like winning an online match or scoring a certain number of points during a second match.
The beta for Gears of War 4 multiplayer still has a ways to go in terms of features and some can only really be experienced post-launch (like the DLC maps that will go in and out of rotation or the Gear Crates). The basic fundamentals are, for better or worse, inherently Gears of War. Whether you stick to Lancing foes to pieces with the chainsaw bayonet or skillfully flank foes, moving from cover to cover, you’ll find something exciting to experience in the multiplayer. The problem is that even by Gears standards, none of it is terribly inventive (aside from the rules of Dodgeball). Matches can quickly devolve into Gnasher fests with enemies simply rushing and flanking with shotties. Such is the nature of the beast and even with the increased effectiveness of the Lancer, you’d think weapon balance would have caught up to the series by now. Also, for this being the first Gears of War title on Xbox One, the visuals in Gears of 4’s multiplayer look decent. There’s nothing inherently amazing about them aside from the aesthetic and design of the characters and environments. At least the blood and gore still looks good.
We’ll find out how the multiplayer eventually pans out with more maps, bounties, modes and the personalization on offer. Until then, Gears of War 4‘s multiplayer serves as a decent diversion that will ensnare the Gears faithful more than anyone else.