COLOGNE, Germany—Changing the formula of a respected, successful franchise is a risky business, and first impressions of Gears of War 4′s DeeBees highlight the problem. This new robotic race of enemies, seemingly named by the director of a children’s television show, flank and shoot like the Locust we’re used to, but the aesthetic difference is difficult to warm to. Shooting and killing sentient boxes of circuit boards and wires doesn’t provide that same sense of guttural, crass satisfaction that comes with blasting a hole through the head of a Locust (which appear in other parts of the game), or ripping a chainsaw through its torso. Call me an animal, but that’s what I want from Gears of War, the quintessential third-person cover-based shooter. Dismembering an android incarnation of The Rock doesn’t provide that same splat and release.
Having seen just 20 or so minutes of them in action, maybe that’s an unfair judgement. After all, DeeBees come in various forms, so there’s the potential for them to change tactics and develop their own unique personality amongst their fleshier brethren. Bipedal DeeBees, for instance, forego the use of cover, instead relying on their armour to deflect your rounds, while the power of their weapons deters you from poking your head out of cover to get a shot off. They can jump low when navigating over cover, and if they get close they turn suicide bomber and explode.
The smaller of the two walkers I saw tended to attack only in packs, their role seemingly focused on herding you into tight spots from which their larger siblings could deal the real damage and force you into a compromising position. It’s these larger examples, which pack more potent weapons, that blow up in your face. If you’re too close to them when they jump over cover you become stunned for a moment, which is enough time for them to blow up and take you out. Additionally, flying drones and fast, ground-based mechanised balls that roll up to you and, again, explode in your face, act as support robots and distractions.