Gears Got Political, Huh?
HIGH The Gears series coming to terms with what it is.
LOW Ranked matches remain toxic. Fahz.
WTF Marcus has an unlockable ‘They f***ed up my tomatoes’ voice line
Gears of War is a notable series for me. At the time of the first game’s release in 2006 I didn’t see the point in upgrading to an Xbox 360 — nothing seemed to be that different, but on a snowy night in Montreal, two friends booted theirs up and started playing a pseudo-survival horror level. I was besotted.
After making cover-and-shoot mechanics popular, Gears 2 added more elevation, arena combat and a Horde mode. Gears 3 introduced a four-player campaign. Gears Judgement was a zany offshoot that compartmentalized levels, introduced score mechanics and classes.
Then, Gears 4 rolled those advances back thanks to a new developer offering a two-player campaign, uninspired multiplayer and a dearth of interesting ideas apart from a story that introduced a new generation of chest-high wall lovers — Kait, JD, and Del. After that disappointing iteration, it was with some delight that I discovered Gears 5 is a great return to form that finds its own identity in the franchise.
The campaign starts some time after the end of Gears 4. The player jumps into the roles of JD and Del in a technically impressive opening filled with great lighting and attention to detail. However, the gameplay feels like business as usual, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on how one feels about the series — the player takes cover behind walls and shoots at a series of bullet sponges with a variety of weapons.
The most notable hint at a change is the inclusion of a flying robot named Jack. Previously relegated to a being an NPC that players summoned to open doors, Jack is now playable. However, instead of guns, he uses cloaking techniques and stun shots.
Gears 5 now offers co-op that can accommodate up to three players, and Jack is a great addition here. The ‘bot introduces new-to-the-series tactics of stunning enemies or buffing the team, while also offering options for less-skilled players (or those who can’t be bothered with cover shooting) to engage in.
Then, Gears 5 changes its entire formula in the second act. No longer guiding players through linear encounters, things go loosely open-world, in terms of navigation and also with regard to the story and side missions.
The campaign threads a tale that reveals more of Kait’s past while also exploring more of the Gears world. This is no longer just burly men shooting burly monsters — it delves into a world in which women are expected to be baby incubators and men are expected to die in a never-ending war. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I will say that this is the most insightful narrative ever attempted in Gears, and it works.
The side missions are interesting as they tend to play very differently from each other. One might be a boss fight. Another plays more like a simplified stealth mission with the team sneaking up on enemies and whittling down their numbers before starting a firefight. They’re all bite-sized and end up as perfect chunks of content for today’s online environment where it might be tough to find someone willing to commit to the entire campaign.
The campaign alone makes Gears 5 worthwhile, but even a year after release, the multiplayer has been going from strength to strength with the developers listening to feedback from fans and adjusting accordingly. However, before talking about what multiplayer is, I have to talk about what it was.
At launch, Gears 5 offered standard versus matches with modes such as team deathmatch, king of the hill, and so on. These were fine, but as a player who enjoyed original Gears multiplayer that discouraged showboating and encouraged team play, the more relaxed attitude towards death made it feel too generic.
In the current iteration, the devs have addressed these complaints and added new modes like Gridiron – a hybrid of American football and Capture the Flag — that harkens back to early Gears. Horde has been given a nippy ‘frenzy’ mode that takes a fraction of the time to play. To complete the package, there are now daily challenges. They’re not particularly innovative, but they’re achievable in a day and the rewards feel meaningful, so they’ve have pulled me back in on a regular basis.
Gears 5 is a superb shooter, and the only real survivor of the genre it popularized. The campaign is worth playing all on its own, but the developers have gone to great lengths by taking a chainsaw to the multiplayer and offering new and exciting ways to play.
Disclosures: This game is developed by The Coalition and published by Xbox Game Studios. It is currently available on XBO, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via Game Pass and reviewed on the XBO-X. Approximately 24 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 100 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Strong Language, and Intense Violence. The game is extremely violent with eviscerating finisher moves provided in ‘loving’ detail for each weapon, there is a ton of swearing ranging from ‘shit’ all the way to ‘Motherfucker’. These things can be turned off in the options menu but I would contend that this is still incredibly violent.
Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are present.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is fully playable without sound. The text can be resized between three different gradients Small, Medium and Large. The color of text cannot be changed.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls. It also has a number of other tweaks to the control system allowing for not requiring both sticks to be used all the time, Y axis and X axis can be inverted and a whole other horde of other controller defaults. There is no screenshot of what the default settings are, though. For a traditional character Left Stick moves the character, the Right Stick looks around, Right trigger looks down the sights, Left Trigger fires the gun, RB is reload when pressed and different gun specific attacks when held, LB brings up a scan of the immediate area, A does Jump/Roadie Run/Take cover depending on the context, B is a melee attack, Y button does ultimate attacks in co-op modes, the D-Pad is used to switch between weapons.