With the excitement of Gears of War 4 finally coming our way on October 11th, I thought today I’d do something a little different from my usual film reviews and instead discuss my love for this fantastic games series. Warning – I’m not a massive hardcore gamer by any means and this style of writing is entirely new to me, but there’s a first time for everything, I suppose. LOOK MA, NO FACE!

Gears of War (2006)

So let’s just start off by saying this game was released in 2006, however I didn’t get my hands on it until about a year later when I was borrowing my brother’s Xbox 360. Initially this video game didn’t interest me in the slightest – it was only until the story developed some more that I found myself totally absorbed and the rest, I suppose you could say, is history. In the story mode of Gears of War you control a character called Marcus Fenix, a squad leader of the COG (Coalition of Order Governments if you want to get all fancy about it.) that has been locked up during war for a considered traitorous act. He escapes from prison thanks to an old friend and goes on with the help of the Delta Squad to attempt to stop the attack of the Locust Horde – mankind’s newest threat – vile creatures that have risen from the planet’s core to slaughter the human race. An optional second player can opt into the game, controlling the character and Marcus’ friend Dominic Santiago. As the game goes on, The COG obtain a lightmass/emulsion bomb that has the ability to blow up the Locust’s tunnels before Planet Sera goes succumbs to their control.

While the plot is pretty standard, it’s the gameplay that’s the true winner here. With a whole range of weapons to choose from, even being able to pick up specially made Locust weapons, the multitude at your disposal means for a different fatality almost every time. While there are various kinds of pistols, grenades and shotguns, it’s the truly original Lancer gun that’s the most well-known weapon. A bigger gun with a chainsaw bayonet for close up combat means you’re able to swing the blade into the enemy and watch as their torn apart with blood splattering at your TV screen. You cannot deny how fun that is. With GoW being a third-person shooter, you really must make use of any available cover in order to survive the game, especially in the more tricky levels – insane really can drive you insane, I can assure you of this. Staying in cover isn’t a problem as you’re able to take your time or you can blind-fire your way through, however the lack of accuracy may take a lot longer than needed. Active reloading (a personal favourite quality of the game) is available for you to master, which ultimately allows quicker reloading of weapons and more powerful shots.

The graphics of the game consistently remain moody and dark throughout, leaving you with some genuinely frightening scenes to fight your way  through, with a lot of added gore and violence. The visuals of the ruined cities and buildings give it that true post-apocalyptic feel. Various different villains are encountered during acts – some being pretty damn scary (swarms of Kryll, I’m looking at you) and others generally being a right pain in the arse (wretches, I’m definitely looking at you). Sound effects are spot on from extremely loud gunfire to hearing the sinister whispers of Locust nearby, creating an atmospheric and unsettling vibe. Multiplayer matches against other players makes for more hours of gameplay with various maps and location settings to choose from.

Gears of War 2 (2008)

Two years after the first installment, Gears of War revved back onto our screens with twice the action, twice the plot and twice the character development, with an added bonus of new faces thrown into the works. After a questionable victory in the last game, the COG team have taken a breather. However, not before long the undefeated Locust rear their ugly heads with a vengeance on humanity. A lot of the early story centers around character Dom, amidst waves of fighting and it promises some truly emotional cut-scenes to boot.

GoW 2 is arguably the best in the series – a video game sequel that succeeds in making you care more for the characters and the story. Despite the first in the series having impressive graphics and gameplay, the overall emotional investment was pretty absent at times – something that isn’t a problem here. Visually the game features a lot more detail that are displayed much more realistically. This game still plays like the first, except there is a much wider choice of weapons and new features, including chainsaw duels and various modes of executing enemies that have been downed. Another handy feature is the ability to crawl to a team mate for help when you’ve been downed, instead of watching yourself uselessly bleed out if they cannot find you. Creatures and characters look more life like than ever in extremely high definition, and the blood/violence factor has definitely been increased. Topped with  the atmosphere and the marvelous sound, the feel of being in an epic war against savage enemies is much more apparent.

The newly added multiplayer modes add massively to the replay value, giving you many more hours. My personal favourite is a unique and exciting new mode called Horde. This is a fun but challenging team-orientated feature where wave after wave of computer controlled enemies come forth for you and other players to battle. Again co-op campaign is available for Gears of War 2, however the feature is still limited to only two players like in the first game. Match-made online games are still playable in this game, but it’s the aforementioned Horde that wins. Gears 2 definitely delivers. For a sequel it absolutely doesn’t let you down, making itself known as an almost flawless and atmospheric shooter.

Gears of War 3 (2011)

While Gears of War 3 has its definite faults, you can’t deny that it didn’t succeed in wrapping up the trilogy nicely – it has both a compelling campaign story and impressive multiplayer aspect that has certainly improved over the years. After the story ended in Gears 2, things are looking rather bleak. However, after Marcus Fenix receives a cryptic message from his father (who has been believed to be dead this whole time and now might actually be alive). Of course, this mysterious message may possibly have the answers to vanquish the breed of mutant monsters. It’s up to the Delta Squad to make this happen on yet another mission, with tasks including finding Marcus’ father, destroying the Locust and saving the near shattered planet once and for all.

The character leads have come a long way from the wisecracking one liners that are massively quotable. Gears of War 3 is definitely the most emotional story than the past games and Epic Games succeed in wrapping up the story in a neat package that answers a lot of questions before it ends. A minor complaint would be the anti-climatic ending of the story, however this doesn’t leave too much of a dent overall. Again the visuals within the game look incredible and the volumes of the game explode in the sound department.

For the first time in the series a 4 player co-op online mode has been introduced here, also with 2 player split screen offline. Horde 2.0 adds more depth to the previous games version with players earning money to purchases items such as weapons, decoys, bases and barricades against the waves of Locust. Endless amounts of battles here add a lot of replay hours to the game which is always a strong advantage to have. Other online modes include Arcade Mode – an addition that will add a fun level of competitiveness amongst friends. Newly added Beast Mode allows players to fight on the Locust side of the Horde. Also a smoother and more responsive addition of multiplayer is available that has a bigger variety of characters to choose from and unlock, as well as gun skins, ribbons and badges.

Gears of War: Judgment (2013)

So then we have a Gears of War prequel game. One part of the game follows character Baird shortly after E-Day and the other part follows the adventures of Baird and Cole during Gears of War 3. This feels more like DLC to a previous game, or more specifically, an arcade game rather than a regular drawn out story. The arcade like feel seems more prominent at the end of each section as a score is added up for your efforts and you’re given stars. Judgment is simply too different.

Let me just begin by stating Gears of War is my favourite video game series by a long shot. After preparing for a long afternoon of getting through this game the first time playing, it just seemed incredibly short. Personally I can’t say anything for the multiplayer side of the game as I only got through the campaign. The first time playing it felt very odd – especially as a newly introduced control scheme was exceedingly frustrating to adjust to. I wasn’t a fan of going to pull a standard Gears move, pressing a button and remembering all the controls have now been switched around – sometimes meaning you end up blowing yourself up with a grenade. Declassified Mission options add a little more fun to the game as they make levels more of a challenge to complete. Admittedly I revisited the campaign mode recently and although it was more enjoyable the second time around, it doesn’t seem to hold as well as its predecessors – coming across as more of an expansion pack than a stand alone game.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition (2015)

Don’t worry, I’m almost done now. Last year Gears of War: Ultimate Edition was released. To put it simply this is the classic Gears of War, now remastered for the Xbox One, looking better than ever. All of the brutality and violence from the very first original return, with the graphics looking absolutely astounding and the sound upgraded. I can imagine going back to play the 2006 version now after seeing this beautiful edition would show an absolute ton of flaws meaning you’ll want to stick to the more polished version. Bonuses to this remaster include an additional chapter of the original campaign, digital downloads of the sequels and of course new maps for online mode.

With the Gears of War 4 beta release kicking off next week and only available for players who play Gears of War: UE on Xbox One and Windows 10, this is well worth the purchase. Gears 4 is just around the corner so it’s an exciting time for fans of the games and with limited information about the new edition slowly trickling out onto the internet, I’m really eager to see if this will live up to the high expectations.