Gears of War 4’s Co-op Campaign Borrows the Best of Earlier Entries

During this morning’s Microsoft press conference, The Coalition studio head Rod Fergusson gave us our first extended look at Gears of War 4‘s cooperative campaign, demoing a story mission set during a spectacular storm.

As winds ripped across the top of a crumbling dam, the game’s three protagonists–Del Walker, Kait Diaz, and Marcus Fenix’s son J.D.–muscled their way through a heavy door and into the chaos. Though the environment seemed to shift around them as the storm destroyed various objects, pieces of Gears’ signature chest-high cover still peppered the area.

In keeping with the core combat of the series’ earliest games, J.D. maneuvered carefully through the environment, slamming heavily into each new piece of cover before popping up to gun down another Swarm drone with his classic Lancer. Later in the demo, we also saw Kait launch a corpse using Gears of War 4’s new Dropshot mining-tool-turned-firearm and J.D. mow down a hallway full of agile drones using the Buzzkill’s ricocheting saw blades.

This linear, cover-based shooting accounted for most of the demo’s gameplay, but we also got to see a few distinctive set piece moments. At one point, J.D. took out a turret by sniping explosives launched from what appeared to be some kind of Swarm tank. Of course, these explosives had to be individually launched by Kait, which indicates certain gameplay moments might allow players to work together in ways that extend beyond shooting and reviving.

At another point, J.D. shot a bundle of sewer pipes dangled from a crane, causing the pipes to crash down on an unsuspecting drone. With any luck, dynamic, triggerable environmental hazards like this will consistently add a little cinematic flare to the moment to moment shooting.

The demo culminated in massive lightning storm, which actually played out like a traversal puzzle. As corpses and cars whipped past his head, J.D. had to strategically sprint through the area, avoiding persistent bolts of lightning as they blazed in deadly vertical columns across the ground. He did eventually make it through, only to be greeted by hulking boss character once he and Kait pried open the next heavy door.

Sadly, we didn’t get to see the ensuing boss battle, but we did get a couple of tantalizing story teasers. First, Kait delivered an R-rated message to the Swarm (apparently speaking to one of them means speaking to the entire horde thanks to their hive mind) in which she promised to rescue her mother from their evil clutches. Next, we saw a brief glimpse of a bearded, white-haired Marcus Fenix, who welcomed J.D. home with an air of doom and gloom. It did not seem to be a happy reunion.

Interestingly, however, the near-constant banter among the game’s trio of heroes proved consistently light. Kait and J.D. even delivered a couple classic James Bond death puns as they slayed some Swarm. The substantial amount of ambient dialogue was definitely a bit unusual for a Gears game, but this dynamic not only suits the characters, it also imbues the game as a whole with far more personality than we’ve seen in previous franchise entries. Don’t worry, though: the world itself looked as foreboding and dangerous as ever.

With today’s announcement of Windows 10 crossplay and confirmation of a brand-new horde mode–not mention the previously discussed multiplayer component–Gears of War 4 certainly seems to be a true successor to the original trilogy and a return to form following the less beloved Gears of War: Judgment. The game’s October release date can’t come soon enough.

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