Gears of War as a series has been offering better iterations of the same formula over the years. The original trilogy nailed it by introducing cover-based shooting mechanics and setting an example of how great games could look and play on Epic’s Unreal 3 engine. When The Coalition took over the series’ development with Gears of War 4, it seems they set out to prove that they could recreate the magic of the series on the new generation of consoles. And they did, as Gears of War 4 is a gorgeous looking game till date and plays in the same linear-shooter way as its predecessors. With Gears 5, not only has The Coalition finally made some improvements that the franchise desperately needed, they have also emerged as the people who have created the best Gears experience till date.
Starting a little ahead of where the last game’s story ended (the game offers you a recap video before starting the campaign), Gears 5 affirms Kat Diaz as the series main protagonist. It takes us through her journey of the consequences she’s dealing with, post the events of the last game. But it’s not as emotional or as self-indulgent as it sounds, as in true Gears fashion, most conflicts are solved by shooting the locust and pulling levers. The narrative does however come more into play during the game and thankfully, it’s not just through cut scenes. The pacing is much better balanced this time round so there’s ample opportunity for your team’s banter, which can be informative as well as bond building.
Meet Jack, the best addition to Gears 5
One of the biggest differences that gets apparent during the campaign is that Jack (the floating robot whose biggest asset so far seemed to be opening doors and shining light), plays a much larger role in Gears 5 than in any of the previous games. It assists you in combat by shocking enemies and pick up ammo and gear for you from around the map. Not just that, the new and improved droid also has upgradable abilities like making you invisible for a limited duration, spotting hidden enemies, giving you a shield cover, and many more that we’d much rather have you discover on your own.
In fact, if you’re playing the campaign in 3-player multiplayer mode, one of the players will be controlling Jack. And as weird as it sounds, this can be amazing for any player who prefers playing a support role rather than all out action. You have all of Jack’s abilities at your disposal you can pick up weapons, ammo, set off traps, and completely turn the tide of a tough battle with the skills you have at your disposal.
Gears has not been the kind of game to offer RPG-like character development and skills to players, so Jack’s upgrades are a great way of introducing progression in combat strategy, without completely changing the core of the game.
It’s new and improved
Another big change in the series is that it’s not just about going from point A to point B and shooting everything in between anymore. You come across huge open spaces in the game, each with their own set of side missions that are essential for getting the max-powered upgrades for Jack. The side quests however are quite few and easy to complete in your first play through itself. We would have ideally wanted more, but it’s good to see the series head in this direction.
Gone are the tacky vehicle-based missions like the highly annoying bike level in Gears of War 4. Instead, you have one vehicle – the Skiff – at your disposal to help you get around and explore the open spaces. It controls well and isn’t nearly as annoying as we often find vehicles to be in action games. These new systems are reminiscent of last year’s God of War in a way. Having a companion character to assist you in combat, limited open spaces for side quests, and the banter that takes place during the lull, seem pretty similar in both games. Not that we’re complaining – the new additions definitely improved the single-player experience for us.
While the game’s videos have largely shown off the snow levels – which truly is quite breath taking – our favourite one is the desert area with lush red sand and the striking crystal shards
Other important gameplay additions include an option to take down enemies in stealth. Don’t get us wrong, you must still kill them to complete the mission, but now you have the option to do it without alarming other enemies. This is where Jack’s invisibility power-up really comes in handy. Don’t worry though, you can still just fire a shot and play any area like a traditional Gears game. Then there’s the knifing ability that’s attached to a dedicated button. It’s different from the weapon-based melee that you did in the previous gears game – since it’s dedicated to taking down enemies using quick knifing actions.
All these changes make it clearer that Gears 5 has more to offer than any of the previous games before it. Now with a Beginner level mode that applies to the campaign as well as the PvE multiplayer modes, it’s a lot more accessible as well. There’s even a tutorial that gets you up to speed with the controls right at the beginning of the game.
Like we said, Gears of War 4 is gorgeous till date, but Gears 5 still comes off as a marked improvement over it. The last game was overall a bit dark, dreary, and even claustrophobic at times. But here the large open spaces are lush with set pieces and offer you a completely new experience with each new act. While the game’s videos have largely shown off the snow levels – which truly is quite breath taking – our favourite one is the desert area with lush red sand and the striking crystal shards. On an HDR-capable display, the depth of the red sand is gorgeous and probably one of the most striking levels in the history of the series.
A combination of all this made the game hard to stop when we were playing through the campaign. There’s always a feeling of ‘what’s next?’ in the game, which is similar to what we felt in God of War as well. The pacing, banter, level variations, combat variations, etc. make the campaign feel very well thought out and without the annoying padding that plagued the last game.
We wrote this review before the game was officially launched, so the multiplayer servers were empty most of the time. We did however get try out the modes in their limited capacity.
Starting with the series favourite Horde mode, you can team up in a group of five to play against 50 waves of AI-controlled enemies that incrementally get tougher with each round. The game gives you the option to fill up empty slots in your team with bots until real people join in. There’s still a fabricator that you can use in between rounds to set up traps and turrets with your earned currency, and you earn character perks and level-ups at the end of the session. Horde still holds up well despite it being a bit formulaic by now.
The PvP modes are back, namely Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Escalation, and Guardian. There is a new Arcade mode however, that makes the game a lot faster and even out the weapons, so your assault rifles pack a bigger punch and nerfs down the shotguns a bit.
The Escape mode is reminiscent of the Zombies mode in Call of Duty where you can team up with two more players to face an onslaught of AI-controlled enemies. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try this out with other players, but we did manage to try out the in-built map editor that has been included for this mode. The map editor is as easy as putting in a bunch of Lego pieces together and we spun out a complete map in no time. We did have to play through it alone though, once again because we were reviewing the game days before the official release, but we can imagine this being a hit with the players post launch.
To say Gears 5 has changed the way we perceive the series would be a bit unfair. The Coalition seems to have taken extreme care in what they have changed in the game, so that the core gameplay doesn’t get negatively impacted. The Gears of War formula was wonderful in the last generation of consoles, but Gears 4 frankly didn’t break any significant new ground. Gears 5 however has given us the first step of where the series is headed, and frankly we can’t wait to see what happens next.
Buy this blindly if you have enjoyed any of the previous Gears of War games, as this is a marked improvement in every aspect. But if you’re not a fan of cover-based shooting and prefer run-and-gun experiences more, then this wouldn’t do much to change your mind.
Gears 5 will be available on Xbox One and PC (Windows Store and Steam) to Gamepass subscribers and Ultimate Edition buyers from September 5. For everyone else it will be available on September 10. Standard Editions are priced Rs. 1,299 on Steam and Rs. 3,999 on Xbox One.