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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Gears of War 4.

TranscriptEdit

You know what's funny? Sticking fish fingers up your nose and blowing raspberries to the Captain Pugwash theme tune.

 But you know what's funny about Gears of War? It's a series with a fairly respectable heritage about it, an early Xbox 360 game attached to the venerable Cliff Bleszinski, with focus on a grand architectural aesthetic and a solid core gameplay style that has had a lasting influence on shooter design to this day, and yet, when you actually sit down and PLAY one of them you swiftly remember: "Oh that's right, these games are for absolute cretins." Every aspect of a Gears of War game, from the way characters waddle about the battlefield making a sound like they're carrying rucksacks full of saucepans, to the incessant asinine dialogue, to the fact that you could cut two minutes out of literally any Gears of War game and I doubt I could tell for the life of me which of the four it came from although I'd bet confidently on those two minutes consisting of hanging around a bunch of chest high walls shooting at dudes that look like the Sugar Puffs monster, make playing a Gears of War game feel like trying to explain something to an incredibly slow-witted man who will get angry and sit on your head every time you say a word he doesn't understand. 

 Gears of War 4 continues the story of a brave group of plot writers as they struggle to continue a plot that was supposed to have been decisively tied up at the end of Gears of War 3. The Locust have been gone for about thirty years and the human race have had time to get into some nice traditional internal squabbles between those who want to live in walled cities where robots cater to their every whim and those ostensibly much smarter and more relatable people who want to live in wooden huts and shit in the woods. Although in fairness the only city we get to see inside of seemed to be entirely deserted except for robots and Sarah Palin. 

 Shortly this uneasy peace is shattered when a new threat arises, and by 'new threat' I mean precisely the same threat as always. The Locust come back. That's about all the explanation we get. The Locust can just all come back to life apparently if they detect perfect environmental conditions for sequel. This established, one wonders why the characters are even bothering to fight them. The enemy is immortal, guys, I think this planet is officially a lost cause. Maybe we could find another one that doesn't have city-destroying super storms every half hour. Speaking of, if these storms are a regular thing then why does one completely destroy Marcus Fenix's house the moment we show up? Surely it would have to have weathered at least a few of those before we arrived. 

 Oh whoops, that was a bit of a spoiler, wasn't it, because when the game starts we're playing as an all new fresh-faced Scooby gang of infuriating youngsters whose quips make me want to grind a broken highball glass in their eye, so we might take from this that the series is at least trying to make a fresh start, even if the combat's the same and every character still looks like they're wearing a neck brace under their flesh. But then two chapters in Marcus Fenix shows up and the plot proceeds to revolve around him for the remainder of the run time. 

 Maybe a Gears of War sequel being a sequel to Gears of War isn't exactly an automatic strike against, but even in his prime Marcus Fenix was a boring grunty miseryguts with one end broken off his emotional spectrum so God knows why you'd think he'd liven up the new cast now that he's undergone no development except he's rocking a grey beard and a catheter bag. Then, towards the end all the other old characters show up to save the day as well because fuck it, let's turn this into a later Next Generation Star Trek film where the entire cast obviously have their girdles laced up so tight they're going cross-eyed. "Pandering" is a good word. "So stuck up it's own arse it's wearing its own large intestine like a wizard hat" is a good several words. 

 There's even a scene where the characters put on classic armour from the old games in a room like a fucking Apple store as the music swells and it's like the scene where Batman puts his stockings on at the start of the third act, and I had a little laugh because there was one piece of women's armour for the token lady in the party and it was about one tenth of the size of the men's chest plates, it was like a meerkat infiltrated a gorilla sanctuary. 

 So all in all Gears of War 4 feels largely unchanged from the established formula and the series remains about as resistant to evolution as a school board in the deep south, although they do mix up the gameplay a grand total of about three times in the course of the campaign to play a bit of tower defense. You have to protect a central area from three waves of baddies and you're given a little spending money to place turrets and suchlike. Unfortunately in single player at least the game gives you barely enough each round to buy one turret and maybe a Twix on the way home, and the turrets are made from oily rags and Ryvita so these sections very swiftly turn into yet another identical bloody shootout. 

 I mentioned asinine dialogue up there, and you know what, I get the feeling Gears of War 4 was a gig that the voice actors either absolutely loved or utterly dreaded. Because on the one hand, all they had to do was show up at the studio and say the following three lines: "That's the last of them", "Let's keep moving" and "Oh this isn't good" and bingo, that was 90% of the story dialogue done. Then it was just mid-combat one-liners to worry about and all they had to do for that was candidly record the voice actors squeezing their pimples. "Got one! Scratch one grub!" etc. But on the other hand, it's got to be a chore for any serious actor to try to inject life and personality where none exists. I think I see why they gradually brought all the old characters back and turned it into Aliens Versus Last of the Summer Wine - because after two chapters of just the new kids on the block it was painfully clear that things weren't working out. 

 With our hero generic white dude with unflappable hairdo and chin like a fucking Transformers lunchbox, his black best friend and token lady to rest his mouth on when they're done dribbling banalities at each other. One of them is the smart technical one, one of them is the ditzy one, and one of them is the one taking things seriously. Unfortunately I guess there was a falling out in the writers room and they couldn't agree on which was which, so as a compromise the game spins a fucking wheel at the start of every dialogue and randomly reassigns the roles. 

 So once again I reach the end of a Gears of War game and find myself hard pressed to recount any highlights because I spent most of it lulled into a trance. I know there was a bit in an industrial area and a bit in some caves and a bit in a town with once proud architecture now besmirched by the unfeeling hand of conflict, but that could be any Gears of War game, or indeed, most games.

  You know, I pause for a moment in any given shootout and I look at the sheer detail in the surrounding environment right down to the cobblestones in the floor, and I have to wonder, how does the artist who painted that cobblestone feel about all their hard work being part of something that passes through the mind so utterly inconsequentially? As the target audience trudges on to find another thing to shoot, ignoring a brief character moment to shove another handful of cheesy snacks down their orange-stained windpipes? I wonder if they ever dream of doing more artistically fulfilling work, like directing facial cumshots.

AddendaEdit

  • Prefers the chunk style: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Blimey did you see Riker and Troi in Star Trek Nemesis I felt like their wedding night would require scaffolding
  • Oh this isn't good let's keep moving
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells

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