Reviewed on Xbox Series X
In an industry where padding out campaigns is common to increase playtime, Gears 5 Hivebusters bucks the trend. The story DLC for Gears 5 – the first for the franchise – is a laser focused linear campaign that’s all killer, no filler.
Welcome to Scorpio Squad
You play as the stars of Gears 5’s Escape Mode, Scorpio Squad, which consists of Jeremiah Keegan, Lahni Kaliso and Leslie Macallister under the command of Victor Hoffman. The story opens up with the teams first unofficial mission together before they become the fabled Scorpio Squad. The squad is sent on a mission to bust a hive of swarm on Weilehi, a southern island. Keegan, Mac and Lahni are a well balanced trio that rip on each other, all have different personalities, and all mesh well together. The acting performances are top notch and really bring life to these side characters and expand the lore of Gears. All three characters are written well, and the character development for all three is well executed. Lahni and Keegan don’t feel like token characters full of racial tropes that is common to see in the AAA space of games.
The game takes you to beautiful, never before seen locales on a new island that is clearly inspired by Polynesian architecture and geography. Lahni herself is from these volcanic islands and that factors into the story of the game. You’ll go from beautiful, lush jungle vistas, to an underground bunker, to a lava cavern that powers said bunker via geothermal energy. The locales give the Coalition a chance to show of their technical prowess. And they do just that.
Gears 5 tried to freshen up the series by adding some wide open levels you could travel to with your skiff to complete some side missions, find collectibles or find components to upgrade Jack. Hivebusters is a return to a more traditional Gears. It’s linear, has memorable set pieces, and a boss fight. How The Coalition mixes it up this time is by forcing players to use more weapons instead of just relying on the good old trusty Lancer.
Ammo isn’t as plentiful, and there will be scenarios where you’ll need to use all weapons you can find at your disposal. While there aren’t any new weapons worth mentioning, it’s nice having to use weapons you’re not familiar with or tend to avoid. But the most welcome addition, is the introduction of unique character abilities for each squad member (called “Ultimates”). Keegan’s ability generates ammo, Lahni’s turns her into a close combat master with her blade skills, and Mac generates a barrier.
The introduction of these abilities adds some more variety into the standard cover shooting that Gears has mastered. These abilities can be upgraded by finding powerups throughout the campaign. It’s more rewarding to enhance squad members abilities then it is to just find collectibles. The upgrades include enhancements like Keegan’s ammo becoming explosive, Mac’s barrier hurting any enemies that touch it (perfect for charging juvies), and other RPG-lite upgrade tropes you’d expect.
Out with the old, in with the new
The most refreshing part of Hivebusters is that it has nothing to do with the Fenyx crew. There is no Baird, Cole, JD, Kait or Marcus. No COG. This is Gears from the point of view of people shunned by the COG or who wanted nothing to do with the COG. It’s like Star Wars without the Skywalkers being involved. It allows for more narrative freedom and I hope future story expansions play around with the Gears lore.
Hivebusters may be story DLC for a cross-gen game, but it feels like the first game that’s shown off some of the capability of the Xbox Series consoles. I played it on a Series X and the game’s visuals are crisp, clean, colourful, vibrant and dynamic. The 4k and HDR really shine in this game. The most impressive part of the game’s technical achievements however, is the fact that it can produce these visuals at a very solid 60 frames per second. I hardly noticed any framerate dips at all during my playthroughs. Any minor hiccups that were a part of the base Gears 5 X|S version seem to be remedied in Hivebusters.
Overall, Hivebusters is a short but sweet story DLC. It takes the familiar feeling of Gears 1-4, and adds some fresh new twists in a very focused, well produced package. You don’t need to play Gears 5 at all to enjoy it or understand it. I highly recommend it.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X