As part of its Free Play Days program, Microsoft is giving Xbox Live Gold members a nice perk this coming weekend: free access to Gears of War 4 (opens in new tab) from Thursday, January 31 at 12am PT to February 3 at 12pm PT. If you missed this 2016 sequel, this is the perfect chance to fight your way through the single-player campaign or test your mettle in its multiplayer before Monday rolls around.
The events of Gears of War 4's story are crucial to the upcoming Gears 5 (opens in new tab), which is set to launch later this year on Xbox One and PC, and is in the running for the most exciting new games of 2019 (opens in new tab). There's been a 25-year time skip following the events of Gears of War 3, and wiping out the Locusts didn't go as planned - instead of dying, they went into a hibernation and evolved into a new threat known as the Swarm. Gears 4 follows Marcus Fenix's son J.D., Delmont Walker, and Kait Diaz as they fight back against the Swarm (and plenty of hostile robots) on a series of emotional rescue missions. Kait will be the central character of Gears 5, so getting to know her in Gears of War 4 will go a long way towards making the story that much more salient.
Besides getting up to speed on the new Gears narrative, it's worth playing Gears of War 4 for its excellent gunplay, which blends the traditional, intense cover-shooting with clever new ideas. "Gears 4 is an insightful exercise in reappraising, optimizing, and consolidating," we wrote in our review (opens in new tab). "As an entry point for new players, it's a perfect introduction to why Gears of War is important... and for old hands it's an instant flashback to the best of Gears, but executed with freshness and vitality." Post-launch patches have also made Gears of War 4 one of the Xbox One X Enhanced games (opens in new tab), with 4K and HDR support at up to 60fps.
You should know that while Gears of War 4 will be free to Gold members this weekend, you won't get it for keeps - but if you like what you play, you could grab your very own copy for a reasonable $35 at Amazon (opens in new tab) or consider a subscription to the Xbox Game Pass (opens in new tab) library, which includes the entire Gears of War series (yes, even the largely forgettable Judgment spin-off). Xbox Live Gold members would do well to check out this weekend freebie, even if it's just jumping in for a few rollicking rounds of Horde mode, and if you're yet to invest, here are today's best Xbox Live deals (opens in new tab).
Xbox Games with Gold (opens in new tab) is another great source of free Xbox games for paying subscribers.