The Unreal Engine 4 is a massive technical leap over the Unreal Engine 3. Material pipeline workflows are available right in the core of the engine’s editor, improved animation tree blending, physical based material lighting, Blueprints and Global Illumination all make the Unreal Engine 4 a masterpiece when it comes to being a developmental tool. However, that doesn’t always mean that every game made with the engine is an actual improvement over games made with the Unreal Engine 3. A perfect example of this is Gears of War, the original, versus Gears of War 4, the newest entry in the series.
IGN did a video breakdown of the two games, which are a decade apart in terms of release. They compare the Xbox 360 version of the original Gears of War and not the PC version, so the textures are muddier and the resolution is lower. The Gears of War 4 version they’re running is from the Xbox One. You can check out the short comparison below.
There are a couple of things that people noticed between the two games. First, if you look at the 1:17 mark in the video above, you’ll notice that the chainsaw deaths in the first game were extremely gruesome. The shadowy palette fused with the grim-dark hues made the blood look disturbing in the first game, something they altered in the later titles. You’ll also notice that the Locust Horde jittered and spasmed while being cut in half, resulting in their upper half falling to pieces in a giant, physics-based meaty chunk. The chainsaw deaths are a lot cleaner, brighter and less spastic in Gears of War 4, making it more palatable for younger gamers and millennials.
Another obvious change is the departure from that grim-dark thematic presentation that they had in the first two games (especially the first Gears of War). The Gothic coloring and concrete palette gave the entire vibe of the first game this kind of desolate, lonely, horror movie theme to it. It worked well given that despite Delta Squad being a bunch of big, burly, tough guys in cool armor with chainsaw machine guns, they were actually being hunted by an even bigger, tougher, more violent menace known as General Raam. Killing the leader of Delta Squad in that fiery showdown is how Marcus Fenix eventually took charge of the group about a third of the way into the game.
Gears of War 4 completely abandons the grim-dark vibes for a lot of comedic banter between the three young, Saturday morning wonder friends. This is reflected in the very bright colors, absence of crushed blacks and a diverse palette that spans the gamut of a violence-soaked rainbow.
Dare I say it, that visceral feeling of a losing war and gory combat from the original game is completely absent in Gears of War 4.
Also, the video at the top belies users with a disingenuous display of the Hammer of Dawn fight involving the Seeder. I’m guessing IGN wanted to try to make Gears of War 4 look better than it really is, because when you attack the Seeder in the original Gears of War it bursts out of the ground, crawling around before dying.
Ironically enough, IGN has the original video in their own archive as proof that the Seeder doesn’t just sit there and scrunch up the way they made it look in their comparison video against Gears of War 4. Check out the footage below of the original Xbox 360 game to see how the Seeder really dies at the 1:20 mark.
For shame, IGN… for shame.
I knew that clip they showed at the beginning of their original comparison was wrong because that was one of the few segments from the original game that really stood out for me, given how disturbing they made the Seeder look and how dynamic the animations and physics were for a game made a decade ago on a $10 million budget.
Graphically, Gears of War 4 is obviously a product of its time. It features higher native resolution out of the box and higher fidelity assets, but as far as thematic elements are concerned, and as far as color usage, tonal mapping and presentation are concerned, the whole thing is a showcase of regression from the horror-action themes that Cliffy B., and the rest of the team at Epic Games introduced a decade ago.
Gears of War originally created separation from other third-person shooters because it was a grim-dark, Gothic, horror-shooter. The newest game is just a standard third-person shooter designed for millennials. There are a few good segments in the fourth game, like the motorcycle sequence or the elevator ride out of the mine shaft, but majority of the game is a retread of old-concepts in a new skin, and thematically it’s just a big step back from what Epic Games achieved back in 2006.