The Shotgun Ballet of Gears of War 4

I was nearly 16 when the first Gears of War came out on the Xbox three hundred and sixty. Like just about everyone else, I was amazed by how good those chunky men looked chainsawing those chunky alien men. But at the time Halo 2 was almost single-handedly responsible for me having any friends. A year later, Modern Warfare would debut and keep me firmly in the first-person camp for years to come.

Fast forward to Christmas 2016. A friend I don't see nearly as much as I would like received a shiny new Xbox One S. We wanted to find a game to play together. He got the Seriously... achievement in the original Gears. Gears 4 was basically half off. This could have only ended one way.

My initial assumption was that this would be a Horde and Campaign exclusive affair. I thought I remembered what competitive multiplayer was like in Gears. Sprint to the power weapons and probably get exploded like a Cherry Jell-O pinata on the way. That's what I was prepared for when I decided to dip a toe into Versus mode.

That's exactly what happened. But some other things happened too. Good things.

The first thing that struck me was the framerate. It is a strange but admirable commitment that The Coalition made to ensure that only Versus mode runs at 60 fps on the Xbox One. It makes a huge difference when you're roadie running to the next piece of cover or whipping around to pop another player's head open.

Speaking of movement, it's the thing I forgot mattered so much in Gears multiplayer. Titanfall 2 dominated the movement conversation last year, but Gears deserves credit. Hitting the A button at just the right time makes you slide 10 feet across the ground without moving your feet and slam into a wall. It's ridiculous, satisfying, and key to doing well. I mean look at this:

The third-person perspective and down-but-not-out mechanic also makes you want to stick with your team. In fact, it does a better job at this than other games that just straight up award you XP for helping out your teammates. I don't want to be alone when someone runs up with a Gnasher to try and ventilate my backside, so I stay with the group. In a game where players so heavily rely on the shotgun, groups fare much better in ambushes.

Oh, about that shotgun. I fully expected its near complete dominance be a downside, but I found it weirdly refreshing. The shooter trend for the last few years has been more weapons and character classes with wildly different abilities. Gears adds a few new power weapons but the core is still the Gnasher and Lancer. In some ways that actually makes it more approachable than other modern shooters. You don't spend a bunch of time in menus agonizing over loadouts or running around practicing your Ultimate on bots. You spawn, you sprint, and you trip the light fantastic, boomstick by your side.