For those at the back not paying attention, our Gears 5 review is split into two segments, one covering the campaign, the other covering the multiplayer. While we wait for Jack to rip that door so we can dive into everything surrounding the expansive multiplayer offering, let’s dive roll into campaign.Let’s get on with it shall we?
Gears 5 surprised me. In the run up to launch, there were all sorts of worries and concerns surrounding the campaign, and indeed, we commented on the peculiar tactics taken from a marketing perspective once E3 2019 came and went. Put simply, the general consensus was this: Why aren’t they showing campaign?
I think it all boils down to wanting to genuinely surprise and delight fans. For the most part, this pays off.
Any fears of Gears 5 being “more of the same” were dispelled by the end of an admittedly safe first act, as the sheer quality of gameplay performance, voice acting and story telling shone through. It’s capped by a cutscene that is tonally very different to anything in Gears before it, and someone at odds with this normally gung-ho franchise. This is still Gears of War, but certainly it’s more refined. Evolution, not revolution.
Old Gears, New Tricks
You start (after a brief “previously on Gears” segment) in the boots of JD Fenix, doing what Gears games usually do, and that’s going after a Hammer of Dawn satellite. Set in a beautiful tropical island, the colours jump off the screen, particularly in HDR. Gone then, is the muddy grey and brown textures of the past. Then, the first surprise – mild stealth sections! Am I sure this is still Gears of War? For the first time, the player can choose when and how to initiate combat. There have been many moments where my co-op buddy and I took our time trying to entirely stealth sections of the campaign without getting caught, and it was a genuinely refreshing change.
To be clear, Gears 5 starts out much like any of the games in the franchise, but it’s when you hit Act 2 that the Coalition really start to change it up, with the introduction of expansive open-world-esque segments, made a delight to navigate by the addition of the Skiff, a giant wind powered sled. As you explore the world, yes there are ‘side-missions’ although at best I would refer to them as combat scenarios, meaning that beyond killing everything and gaining additional rare weapons or components, there isn’t really a purpose to them, though the additional team banter and conversation is a nice touch.
Speaking of components, this is where the light RPG elements come in. Jack, our friendly robot sidekick, ripper of doors, is now not so much a one trick semi invisible pony. No, now we can upgrade him with the aforementioned components, allowing him to fetch heavier weapons in battle, extend his cloak, provide additional armour, freeze enemies or produce a hardlight shield of sorts to protect us from enemy fire. Handy in a fight!
Overall, the campaign continued to surprise and delight me – but also frustrated me too.
Playing on PC, I’ve been hit with a number of bugs and issues, the main being that after an indeterminate amount of time, the game will freeze and crash, politely providing me with an error code – GW502. Gears 4 on PC did the same thing, and whilst it could be my machine, there are a number of posts complaining of this issue for both Gears 4 and 5. As of me writing this, no fix is yet forthcoming. This is a huge shame, as I was really enjoying the game on PC, as it supported my 32:9 Freesync monitor. I’ve also experienced a number of audio bugs, where one of us couldn’t hear the game at all during co-op play.
Thankfully, the Xbox One X sports a nice crisp 4K image with a smooth 60 frames per second, so I completed my campaign playthrough via console. This change to 60 FPS across the board on the One X in part adds so much to the feel of this new rendition of Gears – it simply feels better to play.
Gears Grows Up
Speaking of feeling better, Kait most assuredly is not. Following the events of Gears of War 4, Kait is suffering from severe headaches and worse, visions of the enemy. Whilst I have no desire to spoil the plot, it didn’t go the way I thought it might, and there were some fantastic moments and set-pieces throughout the campaign. Highlights for me where a boss section with ice reminiscent of the first Gears of War, and a terrifying encounter with a Warden in an enclosed area and the return of a riftworm.
The cutscenes in particular are gorgeous, played out in-engine, with the Coalition delivering a masterclass in Unreal Engine 4 techniques. Two moments in particular really impressed me, both cutscenes involving a moment for a particular character (at least in my playthrough!). Gears mostly evoked laughter at the insanity of it all, but Gears 5 made me feel for the character, and I didn’t expect that.
Pacing was mostly okay throughout, though I personally felt the game felt a little rushed toward the end. While there is a serious evolution in the overall presentation of the story, there are still moments where I wish a little more time was taken to allow moments of impact to breathe. There is one choice in particular that I’m curious to see how the Coalition take into account come time for the inevitable sequel.
Overall, from a pure campaign perspective, Gears has plenty of highs, and very few lows (outside of game breaking bugs!). It’s story is tight and well told, and isn’t out there gunning for a best story award. The themes it does deal with – family, loss, grief and the trauma of war – are handled well. As one of the best releases from Xbox Games Studios “old guard” of IPs, you shouldn’t miss giving this game a shot.
Multiplayer – Horde, Escape and PVP
Gears multiplayer had always been hit or miss with some people. If you talk to some people, it’s a very hardcore game where you get gnasher-blasted in the face before you even realize what’s happening. It can be frustrating to understand the skill gaps in play, and realize you honestly don’t have a chance.
For others, like me, it’s a game of precision, tactics, wall bouncing, map knowledge, using every weapon pickup, and grinding for hours to get better. I’ve always loved Gears multiplayer ever since I found it in Gears of War 3. It took me a while, but when it finally clicked, it clicked.
I’m happy to report that Gears 5 has the most bang for your buck of any Gears game yet. If you’re a hardcore Gears fan or someone who is playing for the first time, there’s something here for you.
In Gears 5 there are 4 different multiplayer types. Versus, which is the classic Gears suite, Arcade, which is a more casual take on the Versus mode, Horde, a wave based survival mode, and Escape, in which you literally have to Escape a Swarm hive.
In case you don’t know much about the mode, it’s a 5v5 mode where you play a variety of game types such as King of the Hill, Team DeathMatch, Execution, and more. In today’s landscape of Battle Royale’s and hero based shooters, Versus is a very traditional multiplayer mode.
Everyone starts with the same weapons. There are no class based abilities, the only pickups on the maps are weapons. There are no in game rewards that fall from the sky. It’s about personal skill, team work, and map knowledge, and I can’t get enough of it.
The gameplay in Gears 5 is as tight as any Gears has been. Wall bouncing feels fluid, the shotgun feels powerful but fair, and the rifles are the best they’ve ever been.
Gears has always been called a “Gnasher fest” but I honestly don’t think it’s fair to call Gears 5 that. The Rifles are the best they’ve ever been. The Lancer is potent at range and has a nice, learnable recoil. If you have good aim and understand the recoil patterns, you can absolutely melt enemies from range.
There are also pickup rifles like the Markza and Retro Lancer that are extremely powerful if you know how to use them correctly.
The Gnasher is still the weapon to use up close, and Gears veterans will have no issues one-shotting enemies up close, or putting in a few shots from farther away and downing them.
The sandbox in Gears 5 is great, every weapon has a purpose and none of them seem to be too overpowered. There’s a nice mix of close range, mid range, and long range weapons. All styles of play are supported in Gears 5, and it really feels like everyone can contribute.
The maps in versus are varied theme wise and are a good start to the map selection. There are 7 arena maps in matchmaking at launch with promise of more to come.
Some maps are straight forward symmetrical or asymmetrical maps, others involve environmental damage like a train that has a chance to kill you if you don’t watch your step.
One map for example will allow you to shoot through the floor which is made of ice and freeze an enemy to death.
Each map is distinct and feels fair, and they all look incredible as well. From what I’ve played so far of these maps, I could easily see myself sinking hundreds of hours into these maps without getting bored.
On these maps, you can also play a variant of Versus called Arcade mode. Arcade mode is a more casual version of normal versus where there are “hero” characters who all spawn with different weapons and attributes. One characters’ attributes will give you a boost in speed, while another will let you wall bounce faster. There are plenty more to choose from as well, so there are many ways to play to suite your style
During the match, if you reach a certain score you can trade in points for weapons that you can automatically acquire.
It feels a lot easier to defeat an enemy in this mode and it’s clear after playing some matches that this mode was made to introduce new players into the series. There’s fun to be had for all players, though, so I definitely recommend trying it out.
Horde mode returns. The classic wave based mode where you have to survive 50 rounds of ever more difficult enemies is back, and it’s better than ever. In this mode, you play as a variety of characters who each have a unique ability tied to them.
In Horde, you must survive by defeating waves of enemies while making sure to preserve ammo and build your defenses. You can use defense mechanisms such as turrets that will shred enemies and spikes that will deter enemies from getting to an area.
When you defeat an enemy, they drop “power” which is the currency you use to make upgrades.
It’s a very fun and engaging mode, and each wave becomes increasingly more difficult. Team work is required here, so don’t expect to be able to lone wolf your way to victory. Horde mode is a great example of an awesome premise refined and I’m glad to see it back in Gears 5.
Escape is the brand new mode of the selection of modes, and it’s a mixed bag. The premise is that you are a group who wants to destroy a swarm hive from the inside.
It’s a fast paced mode where you are constantly moving and trying to survive enemies, where in the end you finally escape. You move through tight corridors and are always on the edge of not making it out. There are also a handful of maps to play through and each feels unique.
It’s fun, but it’s not something I find myself wanting to play over and over again. Most of the time you are low or completely out of ammo, and there aren’t any huge bosses at the end that make getting there feel worth it.
I can see it improving, but it’s not something I find myself wanting to play when I load up Gears.
All of these game modes are tied into a progression mode similar to what you would see in a battle pass. As you level up, you will gain new skins, emotes, and more. You will also gain currency which you can use to purchase different cosmetics. There’s also a store which you can spend real money to buy items from the store.
I’ll never be a fan of having to spend real money to gain cosmetic items, and a lot of the items feel insanely overpriced. I hope The Coalition eventually brings down the price because as of now it feels like to buy any worthwhile items I am being gouged.
There’s also a ranking system for ranked playlist, and the ranking system is your traditional tiered system where you play placement matches and are put into a rank with the ability to move up or down based on performance.
Gears 5 is the best multiplayer suite in the series. The versus mode is as great as ever and it feels like they have finally made it so every weapon feels useful.
The map selection is very good with promise of more to come. Arcade mode is a fun way to get introduced to the series, and has some merit for series veterans as well.
Horde mode is back and better than ever, while Escape has solid ideas but never quite pulled me in for long play sessions.
Gears 5’s multiplayer suite has more variety and more for everyone than any Gears before. There’s something here for everyone, and while some modes didn’t quite hit like I wanted them too, there’s still good ideas and fun times to be had.
For a series that has released 6 games (I have to include Judgement unfortunately) the multiplayer is still as good as ever, and I highly recommend you set aside some time to give it a go.