I didn’t become personally acquainted with the Gears of War franchise until late last year when I purchased an Xbox One along with a copy of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. Even though this game was nearly ten years old at the time, I had more fun playing it than I did with most of 2015’s releases. I eventually played through Gears of War 2 and 3 and thoroughly enjoyed those as well (though I will admit that the first game is my favorite out of the original trilogy). I arrived late to the party, but I was now a big fan of the series. Like many others out there, I eagerly anticipated the release of Gears of War 4.The game released yesterday (though some did get early access to it last Friday) and I managed to play through most of it. I already knew I was going to like Gears of War 4, but after playing all the way up to the beginning of the final act, I can now safely say that it is not only a strong entry in the franchise but easily the best Xbox game released this generation. Fans of Microsoft’s gaming division have had it relatively rough this generation, but they now have something to truly boast about. Gears of War 4 is a spectacular game that does the Xbox brand proud.Gears of War 4 takes place 25 years after Gears of War 3. Because of that, The Coalition had the chance to restart the series for a brand-new generation. We’re treated to an exciting prologue that lets players briefly play through two important historical events in the Gears universe. Right from the outset this title distinguishes itself from the others since none of them ever had an introduction like this. With that said, all of the mechanics we’ve come to know remained the same, just refined. The intro was letting us know that, while things are different, this was still very much a Gears of War game.The Gears of War series is generally regarded as being all about non-stop, over-the-top action. What people don’t often talk about is how the first game had a strong horror component. The original contained moments that were genuinely terrifying. This horror vibe is something Gears of War 4 resurrects. I won’t give anything away, but there is a thin but palpable undercurrent of terror that runs through the game. Even the environments’ admittedly narrower paths make one feel uncomfortable and scared of what may jump out from behind the corners.The Gears series always had big beefy men shooting equally big and beefy monsters. While Gears 4 still retains a lot of adrenaline-fueled action, the characters aren’t as stereotypically macho as the ones from the previous entries. Instead of feeling like Predator or Aliens, Gears of War 4 is a lot like a Buddy Cop film due to all of the witty banter and jokes from the main cast. While it is certainly serious, the tone is decidedly more lighthearted than other installments. I appreciated that Gears 4 wasn’t overtly dark and allowed itself to be funny when it was necessary.As far as gameplay goes, the biggest change comes from the dynamic environment. In Gears 4, the world is constantly under the threat of massive storms that make the tornadoes from Twister seem tame. While these storms and the accompanying lightning that comes with them can certainly harm or kill you, you can use the bad weather to your advantage. For example, the support that holds massive pipes in place can be shot off, causing the winds to send these pipes rolling over enemies. Besides serving a strategic function, the dynamic weather is just plain fun. I never got tired of shooting enemies dead and then seeing their lifeless bodies be violently carried away by the winds.I didn’t get to try out the series’ famous Horde mode since I focused my efforts on the campaign, but I still got to try out some of this mode’s new features. There are a few portions in the story where you have to secure your immediate surroundings from enemies. This is done thanks to a device called the Fabricator which can produce barriers, decoys, and turrets to help you defend your position. I felt that these sections halted the progress of the story, but from a pure gameplay standpoint, it was a lot of fun to hold back all of these nasty monsters with defenses I set up. I’m sure if I were doing these portions with friends it would be a pure blast. After I finish the story, I am most definitely going back to play Horde 3.0 with my buddies.Gears of War 4 is available on Xbox One, but it is also on PC. In fact, purchasing it digitally on one platform will give you access to it on the other thanks to Xbox Play Anywhere. I played the game on my computer which I recently upgraded with a GTX 1080 graphics card. The card is no lightweight, and I was able to run the game on Ultra settings at 60 frames per second with no issues. Gears 4 looks incredible on Xbox One but on PC it is quite a sight to behold. There were plenty of times where I just had to stop to let my eyes feast on the gorgeous visuals. The colors are vibrant; the textures were smooth, and the lighting and particle effects greatly enhanced the atmosphere. This game was meticulously optimized to run on PC, and it shows. Gears of War 4 is without a doubt one of the best-looking games out right now.I should be finished with the game by tomorrow, but I’m already preparing for my second playthrough and beyond. The Gears franchise has some of the most satisfying cover-based shooting mechanics out there, and Gears of War 4 fulfills a very specific need in that regard. From a gameplay standpoint, this game isn’t radically different from previous entries, but it doesn’t have to be. This is a title that is simply a blast to play and isn’t mired in a lot of the superfluous baggage that other games get bogged down with. Gears of War 4 knows exactly what type of game it is and isn’t trying to be anything more than a fun, bad-ass third person shooter.