From what we’ve seen of Gears Of War 4 so far, it looks to play pretty much as you’d expect. This is the form of cover-based shooting the original – while not quite inventing – perfected, and the flawless transition from ranged firefights to close-up melee action has survived the transition to Xbox One without losing a step. What more could we see from the action, though? Honestly, it’s doubtful the formula will be tinkered with too much – this is the first game from the Coalition and one of Microsoft’s big bets for Xbox One, and as such Gears Of War 4 won’t risk mixing things up too much. Expect a few surprises, sure, but if you’re thinking this will be fundamentally different to what’s come before, you’re going to be let down.The setting of Gears 4 does give us some clues that there have been subtle changes, mind, with an atmosphere that borders on survival horror rather than the straightforward action of previous Gears. While still clearly set in a region that’s seen its share of conflicts, there’s an ambience about Gears Of War 4 that conjures up unease – and it doesn’t help when our new protagonists are talking about turning from the ‘hunters to the hunted’… A trope of a phrase it might be, but it helps to set the scene: this isn’t the all-out war we saw previously in the Gears games, this is something different, smaller, but possibly even more threatening.Speaking of our characters, we haven’t seen a sign of a returning cast just yet – but we have seen some action from JD and Kait, our male and female (respectively) heroes. While the two show up on their sortie kitted out in the sort of COG armour made famous by the troops of previous games, this by no means indicates the two are actual Gears in the traditional sense. The main reason for this – spoiler alert – is that the COG no longer exists as of the end of Gears 3. This opens some exciting possibilities as to who our heroes are, though, and their motivations – beyond just being a meatheaded soldier sent to obey orders or die. Just from one trailer alone we’ve seen JD and Kait to be cautious, concerned with what they’re facing and not quite as gung-ho as the past motley crew was. The potential for more human main characters in a Gears game might not be something anyone expected, but it’s certainly present from what’s been shown so far.Similarly – and again, spoilers – the fact there is no longer any Locust, Lambent or even Imulsion on the planet of Sera means we have a whole new array of enemies to battle (at least, we will as long as we’re still on Sera). What we’ve seen so far is highly unlikely to be the game’s main threat – if it did things wouldn’t be that exciting, or even satisfying – but the wolf-like pouncer does look to be a new kind of threat in the Gears world. Something that turns the hunters into the hunted.Probably the biggest indicator of change, though, is the lack of Imulsion – the glowing goop that powered the world. With its destruction, as a part of the Locust and Lambent’s fall in Gears 5, Sera has surely been plunged into a dark age – a world post-technology, where people have access to the tech of the previous era, but no way of using half of it. This gives way to a (post-)post-apocalyptic scenario of survivors and jerry-rigged tech, rather than the focused fighting machine of a civilisation we saw in the past.While we might speculate as much as we can on the potential for changes in the Gears formula, there’s definitely one way in which it’s very much the same: the weapons. While we’ve only had three confirmed so far – the Lancer, Gnasher shotgun and Snub pistol – it shows that we’re likely to be getting all the old favourites back. Will there be a Hammer of Dawn? We’d hope so, but if this is indeed a post-technology world, how would the Hammer even function? Regardless, there appears to be nothing missing in this world that would prevent a chainsaw bayonet from functioning as it should. The more things change, the more they stay the same…But then there is the most obvious difference: Gears Of War 4 looks phenomenal. As the first Gears title made in full for Xbox One we would hope it’d have looks that shine as brightly as the first game did on 360, and it does seem we won’t be let down in that respect. But it goes beyond just the shiny bits, gorgeous lighting and numerous particle effects – it goes to the characters’ dynamic reactions, like JD trying not to get blood all over his face mid-firefight, or to the torch shorting out and handily being replaced with bioluminescent goo.It goes to the huge, devastating storm outside that whips tree branches in such a convincing, worrying fashion; it goes to the crumbling of a building struck by lightning that makes half the audience duck as it falls. Gears has always been a good-looking series, getting the most out of the 360, but it’s also always been the little touches – the atmospheric and believable aspects that keep the over-the-top, comic book action in some way relatable. With what we’ve seen – and, by the looks of things, the Coalition now being focused entirely on the Gears franchise – we think it’s safe to say that Gears Of War 4 will continue this fine tradition of drawing players in more than they ever think it possible to. Remember when – spoiler again! – Dom died? How Gears Of War 3 actually made you feel emotions? This is a series that gets overlooked for its impact on players – maybe Gears 4 will finally change that.Gears Of War 4 doesn’t have a set release date, though the Coalition is aiming for a release at some point in 2016. We wouldn’t be surprised if that were to jump to early 2017, judging by how little we’ve seen of the game just over a year before its potential release date. Whatever the case, this is Microsoft showing it hasn’t forgotten what made the Xbox 360 great – Gears Of War 4 joins Halo 5 and many others as signs that the future of Xbox One is very bright indeed. Metaphorically, at least, because speaking literally it looks like Gears Of War 4 will be a very dark game.