We live in the age of massive franchise reboots. Star Wars. Star Trek. Jurassic Park. Godzilla. The Smurfs? And in each case, the creators have had to come up with adventurous ways to maintain the energy and oomph of the original while delicately reimagining beloved characters and storylines. I mean, we can’t have a grizzled and gray Han Solo elbowing a doddering Chewy forever, right?
And so it is with Gears of War. Here we have a sci-fi video game shooter series that traditionally featured impossibly muscled soldiers in incredibly heavy armor who ripped and roared through hordes of increasingly gushing beasties to save the world.
So how do you wrench the action away from a massive thumper like the stalwart human hero Marcus Fenix? Why, you showcase his son, of course.
Gears of War 4 picks up some 25 years after humanity’s triumph over those nasty alien invaders collectively known as the Locust. But now the human Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) has pretty much gone full totalitarian. And a handful of rugged folks are trying to make a go of it outside of COG’s iron-fisted rule.
One of those is J.D. Fenix. He and best bud Del have decided that it’s high time to get away from COG’s hardline policies. So they desert and take up with a group known as the Outsiders. Of course, it doesn’t hurt, from J.D.’s perspective, that the female leader of this rogue group also has an extremely attractive daughter named Kait.
As J.D. and Del are settling in, with the pretty-but-tough Kait in tow, they have to deal with armored mechs the COG has sent to fetch them. And so this newfound trio of friends sets about raiding COG encampments and blasting away at robotic foes.
At first glance, that storyline might make you think Gears of War 4 has a “softer” approach to narrative and warfare up its full-metal sleeves. After all, the weaponry here is lighter, the in-battle dialogue is quip-filled and less profane, and the battle garb looks as if it weighs pounds versus tons. Meanwhile, the game up to this point features battles with bots that don’t spurt anything other than a bit of oil and smoke. This new direction would seem to hold a lot of promise for those looking for Gears action without Gears goop.
But get your head straight, soldier. That’s not how this world’s warring works.
After the introductory chapters, the real threat emerges. Everyone thought those alien thingees were all dead and gone, but noooo. Turns out a nasty new strain of Locust beasties has been incubating and reconstituting itself, unbeknownst to anyone. A raiding party that J.D. dubs the Swarm swoops in on the Outsider camp, killing many of them and snatching up the group’s leader, Reyna, as well as many other humans. And since Kait will hear of doing nothing but rescuing her mom, J.D. and Del immediately jump in to help.
The rescue-minded mates soon find throbbing, ulcerous incubation pods filled with human organs and entrails—along with gestating alien creatures feeding on this fetid fuel—and they realize they need a bit more help. So it’s time to call J.D.’s dad in. He’s older now. Maybe a tad rusty. But once Marcus Fenix straps on a few hundred pounds of armor and picks up his Lanser, well …
… get ready to get your grisly on.
From there, things definitely harken back to the Gears of yore. There may not be squads of uber-thick troopers wading into battle—things are much more guerilla fighter-like this go ’round—but the weapons are very much the same, and the enemies are a step or two quicker and nastier.
The Lanser still comes equipped with its signature whirling buzz saw, a spinning blade that can rip a foe in half in an intestine-rending second. And various other sniper rifles, shotguns and automatic weapons are always available to gorily obliterate and dismember whatever noxious and gnarly, glistening reddish-white or albino xenomorph that scrambles your way.
The result? Foes erupt in chunks of meat. Flamethrowers crisp flesh. Lasers rain down molten death. Mucus, pus and oceans of blood coat the screen as these tentacled, screeching obscenities keep coming and coming.
That last sentence was something of a pun, too, since verbal obscenities gush forth here with similar frequency. Language problems range from the profaning of God’s name to every other hard-edged crudity you wouldn’t want ringing out in your family room.
Now, as usually happens, some will ask if it’s possible to filter any of that content out. And the answer is, yes. You can dial back the spurt and splatter graphics onscreen via the game’s built-in content filters. But the fact is, this game’s graphics are definitely the most advanced and realistic-looking in the series. So even filtering the worst of these graphic images out really doesn’t accomplish all that much.
As for the stream of f-and s-words are concerned, well … let’s allow the gamemakers to speak themselves regarding their filtering choices. Rod Fergusson, head of Gears of War 4 developer The Coalition, said this in an interview with Game Informer:
“Gore is important for obvious reasons and swearing too. I think the tricky part for us is, and it’s been one of the funny things about the mature language flag, is that there’s no standard, so we’ve had to set the bar. … Generally what we tend to do is take the hardest of the hard off because we just didn’t want to over-bleepify our game. I tend to look at radio and go a little bit further than that, so generally anything around the word f–k tends to stay turned off. I tend to keep the s–ts, I tend to keep the b–ch, I tend to keep the g—–mits just because it speaks to the characters and the thing they’re in. We just sort of focus on the hardest of the hard. So when you turn the mature language off, you’re basically not going to hear the word f–k anymore.”
So there you have it, the Gears of War hand-off to the next generation. Of course, from a Plugged In perspective, the next generation ultimately isn’t much different from the last one.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.