If you’re looking for large, insane action set-pieces, focused cover-to-cover shooting combat and the satisfying explosion of body parts and flesh, Gears of War has long proven to be one of the top tier experiences in video games. Previously funneling through a relatively linear story, Gears 5 sheds the “of War” and with it sheds those straightforward restraints with a more open world style campaign with a hugely impressive suite of multiplayer options. It is, in my opinion, the most comprehensive and exciting Gears experience so far.
Following on from the events of Gears of War 4, Kait Diaz takes centre stage as she engages in a journey to find out more about her past, her family and how she is biologically connected to Myrrah, the Locust Queen. Her story was only in the periphery previously as we played as JD Fenix, but this time the narrative rightly belongs to her, as she clearly has the more intriguing arc out of all the soldiers. Her allegiance to the COG while constantly being haunted and reminded of her dark lineage makes for some solid character development, probably the deepest the series has seen.
It certainly helps that Kait is voiced by the talented Laura Bailey, who is able to deliver the emotional gut-punch of some of the more heavy dialogue in a meaningful way. Kait struggles go beyond the mere emotional weight of her situation too, as her Locust connection directly impacts gameplay in unique ways. Creepy interference as her mind plays tricks on her and some other direct influences to the way Gears 5 unfolds will keep you on your toes throughout the campaign.
The tone and vibe of the story might be darker and more serious this time around, but the team at The Coalition have pivoted a little from the dark, gloomy and grey surroundings Gears fans would be familiar with. Gears 5 moves from lush green forestry to snow-covered landscape and then onto desert of red sand, each environment looking gorgeous and giving a new perspective on the visual aesthetic that has been a hallmark since day one.
Character models and animations remain incredibly detailed as they always have, but by adding some actual colour and variety beyond the metallic weaponry and dark caves, this is the most vibrant Gears has ever been, and I don’t want to go back. It doesn’t take away from the violence and explosions of course, but it gives each act a distinct feel that still manages to tie in with the identity of the franchise.
Opening the game up with some larger environments means that this is the first Gears to truly dabble in the idea of an open world, but it’s still relatively restrained with only a handful of side missions in each area. Don’t expect an Assassin’s Creed-like level of tiny tasks to do with millions of collectibles and varying pathways; but for this I give credit.
There isn’t a lot of enemies or annoying distractions scattered across the landscape slowing your progress, rather key locations to explore, with a defined goal that allows you to complete them and move on. It feels focused rather than filler, and getting around on the Skiff, a wind-based vehicle, is swift, simple and enjoyable. I’d recommend visiting these side missions rather than skipping through them, as they offer valuable supplies and upgrades for Jack, the handy flying robot who accompanies you the whole way.
Jack had previously been used in Gears in a limited capacity when called for, so it’s great to see the friendly little robot (who only speaks in blips and bloops, despite Del’s love for him) is given more of a spotlight here. Jack has several abilities that you pick up as you move along such as cloaking and a shield, but also can be used to revive downed teammates, retrieve weapons from hard-to-reach places, stun enemies and even cause small amounts of damage to them.
There are puzzles that require Jack to help solve, as he can access areas unreachable to the rest of your squad, and the hundreds of component parts which are littered around and hidden add an extra incentive to explore, as the upgrades you can give him are genuinely useful. He’s so useful in fact that you can choose to play as him in co-op if you like.
“I can’t neglect to mention how satisfying Gears 5 feels… getting the best tactical position on your enemies and blasting them to pieces is still an absolute thrill.”
I can’t neglect to mention how satisfying Gears 5 feels, they’ve really continued to nail this style of combat after so many iterations. The moment-to-moment action of moving between cover, getting the best tactical position on your enemies and blasting them to pieces with a range of weaponry is still an absolute thrill, and every encounter puts pressure on you with aggressive and intelligent AI. There was one boss encounter I’d go as far as to call “cheap” – nobody likes being killed in one hit causing a load screen – but apart from that the pace moves along nicely, with cut-scenes providing breathers from the chaos and banter from the main cast keeping you moving from level to level.
Beyond the very memorable campaign is a slew of multiplayer modes, again just expanding heavily on what Gears does so well, far reaching from the humble beginnings of the original, one of the first online games I ever played on a console. Your standard versus competitive modes are back, ten in fact, which range from the expected death-match to more elaborate missions like capturing control points. This time around, kills in each match can be used to purchase weapons, which gives more tangible rewards for players who do well.
Horde mode is also back, a fan favourite and for obvious reasons. Fifty waves of enemies with random boss encounters every ten, things escalate quickly as your squad of five try to defend a point of the map by building fortifications and using currency dropped from killed foes to upgrade defenses between each wave. This is where a lot of time can be lost, with a range of maps and plenty of modifiers you can add on to make things more challenging. It remains to be the mode I’ll surely come back to the most.
Escape is the new mode everyone is talking about, and it works really well as a sort of anti-Horde. Instead of holding and defending a position, a poison gas starts to fill the map from the starting line and it’s your job in your squad of three to get out as quickly as possible, without being overrun by the many enemies and without the gas catching up to you.
It creates quite a frantic pace, as you barely start with any guns or ammo and are forced to scavenge what you can while always on the move. You can find supply rooms and the rush is broken up by a couple of safe rooms that act as checkpoints, but you always feel like you’re low on supplies, outnumbered and never able to truly stay still for too long. It makes for some intense sessions and thankfully is a whole lot of fun, proving to be a welcome addition that rounds out the multiplayer options in Gears 5 pretty perfectly.
There’s a Map Builder to create your own Escape’s for those who are creatively inclined, plus a card system is in place to get more skills which you can then apply like a deck to optimise and customise your character build. All multiplayer modes are tied together with Tours of Duty, with regular challenges giving rewards ongoing as you do well in each of the modes. It’s quite comprehensive and will leave fans with a lot of Gears to enjoy… until next time.
The Bottom Line
Gears 5 does an excellent job of maintaining the franchises penchant for high quality action mixed in with surprisingly deep characters and a clear, bold identity. It takes everything another step further; Kait is a complex, flawed and likeable hero, the variety in environments give the game extra visual impact and the addition of Escape as a new multiplayer mode gives another reason – on top of the many other reasons – to come back again and again.
Across the board, Gears 5 really is the whole bloody package… and it’s bloody excellent.