Gears 5 Review
The Gears of War series (now called just Gears apparently) has had its claws in me since the beginning. I was invested in the story of Delta squad in the original trilogy, and the hard-hitting multiplayer action is something I’ve always found very appealing. There’s no game quite like it in terms of its mechanics and general gameplay, which always leads to a few hours of ‘getting back to grips’, but once it settles in again, pulling off a perfect Gnasher shot almost becomes second nature.
I’ve already gone off on a bit of a tangent, I’ll try my best to reign it in. We’re not strictly talking about my attraction to the Gears franchise, we’re here to talk about the latest instalment Gears 5. The Coalition have had the unenviable task of continuing one of the staple Xbox franchises Epic let go of the reigns some years ago. Gears 4 showed that they were more than capable of making a Gears game. A solid effort was made across the board from Campaign to Horde, they played it safe, but were very much successful in their task. With Gears 5 they’ve flexed their muscles a bit and started to add their own flavour to the franchise, introducing new ideas that wouldn’t have been thought of in a Gears game in the past. But they’ve done it with such confidence, it’d now feel strange to revert for any future instalments.
I’m going to split this review into two key sections, Campaign and Multiplayer. Both have enough content to justify reviewing them separately, but I’ll try to condense and cover the main points the best I can.
For me, The Coalition did a great job with the Gears of War 4 campaign. Moving the core of the story away from Marcus Fenix and the original Delta squad was always going to be a challenge. They were successful is introduction fresh new faces to the team, while still using some of the familiar old faces long enough to bridge the gap between old and new. I had enjoyed the story that they told and was invested in what was going to happen next with Kait after the end. Despite some new introductions to the game, it was very Gears by numbers in terms of general gameplay thought, and it’s evident while going through the campaign for Gears 5 that The Coalition have been thinking about how to change things up, while keeping true to what made the previous games so loved.
And what a fantastic game it is. From the get-go the injection of colour to the world of Gears is startingly obvious. Lush greens fill the screen which do away with the standard affair of dark brown and greys the franchise is known for. This is easily the most diverse collection of environments in any Gears game, and it’s a very welcome change. From vast red deserts to wintery snowy areas, it’s beautiful.
The level design has also had a spruce up. The first act is very much familiar territory of corridor movement and smaller sections filled with cover for the main fight scenarios. But as soon as Act 2 starts there’s an introduction of Tomb Raider like open world sections. Complete with side missions and a vehicle to explore, it came as a bit of a shock to start with. And while the side missions are purely optional, they have been used as a great tool to flesh out the lore of the world. And this isn’t just when you’re going through the side mission section either, while travelling through the open sections on the new vehicle – The Skiff, you’re treated to God of War style conversation between the characters. It’s an excellent use of the down time between shooting sections to really build the personalities of the characters and the relationships between them.
There are also sections where you can walk around and not have the ability to shoot at all, just take in the world and listen to conversations that the NPC’s are having. At the start of Act 2 there’s a village that you go to that hate the COG, and listening to everyone’s opinion as I was walking around trying to find the character that I needed to push the main story forward took up about twenty to thirty minutes of my time. And I enjoyed every second of it.
Light RPG element have also been introduced with the management of Jack’s abilities. Jack is the 3rd controllable character in terms of co-operative play which adds a totally different gameplay mechanic to the game. You can pick up points along the way to upgrade Jack and his multiple abilities and assign the points to the relevant sections and tactically choose which ones you’ll use depending on which scenario. There’s plenty to choose from and the game introduces them at a good pace so that you won’t get bored of using the same ones from the beginning.
Then there’s the actual story itself – which I loved. It would have been easy to rely on the Fenix family again to carry the game forward, but Kait’s story is so interesting it became necessary to make her the focus here. And while the Fenix’s are present, they are for the most part periphery, and it was absolutely the right call to do that. Exploring her psyche and what she’s going through in relation to the Swarm and Locust was fascinating. The relationships between the characters are built so well that I really found myself caring (and loathing) some of them, which make some of the events within the campaign even more hard hitting. In terms of Xbox exclusives this generation, this is the best story bar none. And one of the most enjoyable campaigns I’ve played for some time. It’ll take up around 10-12 hours of your time, fluctuating depending on if you want to get 100% of the collectibles and side missions.
On top of the campaign changes, The Coalition have had their way with the multiplayer suite too. Adding new ways to play on top of an already successful formula. Your expected Gears affairs are here – PVP and Horde. There is also the addition of brand-new Escape, and tweaks to the modes within PVP to explore.
Escape is a 3-player mode which sees you take control of one of the Hivebusters. They are on suicide missions to infiltrate a Swarm hive and neutralise it. They do this by planting a venom bomb then fight against the enemies to escape before the venom consumes everyone inside. You’re faced with minimal ammo, and a maze-like level structure that you need to navigate to find the quickest way to escape, while trying to discover ammo caches to increase your chances of survival. It’s nice to see a brand-new mode introduced to Gears, and speed runners will no doubt thrive in the challenge to beat your previous effort to get the quickest escape time possible. As it currently stands, I found it became quite stale quite quickly. It’ll be interesting to see how the weekly added maps keep the mode fresh and interesting, and how much impact fully levelling each character and their ultimate abilities (another new inclusion for Gears) will have on keeping players engaged.
Within the PVP suite there a new quickplay arcade mode. Each character has their own set of starting weapons, and beyond that they have possibilities of unlocking another set of weapons as you earn skulls for eliminations throughout the game. I personally love this addition, and it really allows for new styles of play to develop beyond the usual shotgun and battle for the power weapon affair that Gears PVP tends to turn into. Not that I don’t enjoy that too, but it’s great to have options. Arcade mode allows you to play with a squad of up to 3 people in a lobby, this stops the teams of 5 in a party dominating this mode, and allows it to be a place where people newer to the franchise can get their feet before moving on to the more sweaty ranked modes.
Ranked mode will be where you’ll find the most dedicated Gears fans. This is classic Gears multiplayer, everyone has the same load out, and there are power weapons spawns across the map. This is where I realised that my skills with Gears weren’t quite as up to scratch as they used to be, losing out a lot of 1v1 Gnasher shotgun battles. It is also where I remembered that when things are going right, Gears is one of the most satisfying multiplayer experiences out there. With headshot nose and visual cues on point, and a gory death galore. But it can quickly turn into a frustrating affair when things are going wrong. I’ve already lost count of the amount of times I’ve shouted, ‘there’s no way I missed that shot’, or a simple shout of ‘bullshit!’. But all this does is make the good times every more satisfying.
Finally, no Gears game would be complete without Horde mode. Anyone familiar with the mode will be right at home here. Though I’m a little disappointed that there is a restriction to one of each character per game due to the perk and ultimate system. Each is able to be levelled up and have new perk cards added to them to improve their usability, but if you’re unlucky enough to have selected the same as another person in a random lobby, then it’s the luck of the dice as to whether you can play as them. I really hope that this restriction is removed, I’m still building up my Marcus character and several occasions I’ve had to drop back to use someone else that I didn’t want because another player in my team had selected him. The Coalition have also stuck to the 50-wave game, meaning if you haven’t got 2 hours to spare, you’ll just have to drop out of the game, rather than being able to select a short version of the mode. I’m still enjoying Horde mode probably above all others now, but some slight tweaks could certainly make it even better.
Just to slightly touch on the character selection. You can customise each in the menu with their appearance, gun skins, horde/escape load outs able to be changed (though not all characters can be played across all modes), and options for these can be unlocked through the Tour of Duty or the Store (more on these in a moment). The number of characters available for multiplayer modes are fairly limited though, particularly if you haven’t got the Ultimate edition of the game. There’s a whole host of characters that you’d expect to see. And I’m a little confused as to why it was decided that adding Halo and Terminator characters to the game at the start was a higher priority that staple characters like Cole and Baird. I just really hope there is no plan to release them behind a pay wall.
Tour of Duty is a battle pass type deal. Complete with challenges from across all modes (expect campaign) each tour lasts 3 months. Collecting stars from daily challenges and medals increases your rank, and with it comes a new cosmetic item. Daily challenges are usually manageable within one sitting and can be changed once each day for free, or more than once and paid for in ‘scrap’ (which is earnt as you level up in game). Medals are much longer challenges that will take some grinding to get to. They are sorted into categories and completing a full category will unlock another cosmetic reward. Plenty will have opinions on in game challenges, but I personally enjoy working towards completing them, and they motivate me to play a game a bit more too.
The store is where ‘microtransactions’ rear their head. Unfortunately, they have become a norm in gaming these days, and had Gears 5 not been a Game Pass release this would have been a much more scathing opinion on them. The store features purely cosmetic items again, ranging in price up to around £10. I don’t think microtransactions have any place in full priced game. However, I’ll give a little leniency with Game Pass deals being so prominent recently. Having only paid a few quid to extend my Game Pass Ultimate until early 2020, I’ve not really paid much for Gears 5. And I can understand that they need to generate some more revenue. But I’d have preferred for it to have been introduced maybe a year down the line, not straight away.
Gears 5 has done a fantastic job of being accessible to series veterans and newcomers alike. There is a ‘previously on Gears’ area within the menus to get caught up with the events of Gears of War 4, and a ‘State of the Universe’ area which gives a fuller view of events before that. The Coalition have also added a quick ‘boot camp’ which serves as the game tutorial and an option to play the PVP modes against AI bots. And each mode has a substantial sliding scale of difficultly levels, catering to laid back gamers, to ones looking for a serious challenge.
While there had been some network teething issues within the first week or so of release, and still being some stat tracking problems within the game, I think Gears 5 is a resounding success for The Coalition and Xbox as a whole. We’ve been crying out for quality first party games for ages now, and Gears 5 has managed to hit the standard everyone wants. I can only hope that big first party games in the coming years manage to stay at such a high standard.