Xbox One, PC
April 28, 2020
Xbox Game Studios
The Coalition, Splash Damage
Gears Tactics is a single player top-down turn-based strategy combat game developed by The Coalition and Splash Damage and published by Xbox Game Studios. It’s the latest entry in the Gears of War series and takes place in the same story realm. Gears has carved its identity over the decade with its over-the-top action and third-person cover-based shooter mechanics, which The Coalition has perfected. Gears Tactics is the developers first foray into the strategy realm for the Gears of War series, tackling a different genre entirely from the fast-paced action we’ve become used to. Because of this, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of Gears Tactics, but I was pleasantly surprised once I got stuck in.
The story of Gears Tactics is fairly straightforward: set about twelve years before the main Gears of War series, you play as the disillusioned Gabe Diaz (who also happens to be Gears 5’s Kate Diaz’s father). It’s up to you to defeat the Locust’s evil mad scientist, Ukkon. Together with the help of two other main characters – Sid Redburn, a seasoned gear tasked with persuading Diaz to complete the mission, and legendary sniper Mikayla Dorn – you must rally the troops together and take down your target. The game mainly consists of one long campaign divided up into missions that take place on the battlefield. Each chapter consists of several story and side-missions, each one book-ended by cutscenes that progress the story further.
I was pleasantly surprised that, while the game’s story is only told in a select number of cutscenes, it was still engaging and delivered in typical Gears style. Characters, monsters, and weapons feel suitably badass, and the game manages to raise the stakes for Gabe early on, despite having a limited number of scenes to do it in. Even though the dialogue feels cheesy and a tad melodramatic in places, I was still invested in the story and the welfare of my characters. Delivering a solid story through a strategy game isn’t a given, and it’s clear that the developers were keen to give veteran Gears fans a story that feels familiar and does the series justice.
If you’re a total newcomer for the series, or purely keen to try out Gears Tactics as a strategy fan, you won’t be disappointed either. While on first impression Gears Tactics seems to have a lot in common with games like XCOM and in some respects Total War, it also offers some refreshing twists on those classic strategy gaming formulas. Unlike many traditional strategy games, for example, Gears Tactics doesn’t have a set grid for your characters to move across. Instead, each character gets a set number of action points that can be used per turn. Actions like throwing grenades, executing enemies (in the signature gory Gears style), or moving across the board can be done in any order, unlike other games in the genre where you may only be able to move and attack once per turn. You can also gain a bonus action for each time you execute an enemy, which I found a great way to motivate players to keep moving forward.
While the absence of a grid definitely gives players much more freedom on the battlefield, it also comes with significantly more threatening enemies. As suited to the Locust, Gears Tactics features a vast array of monsters that come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from wretches who can only use their claws to attack, to boomers carrying missile launchers that do significant damage, to Brumaks, massive monsters with cannons strapped to their backs. Just like members in your party, enemies get a set of action points per turn. Groups of enemies and emergence holes – pits that spit out waves of enemies each turn – can also pop up on the map at any time, be it right in front, next to, or behind your party. This contributes to Gears Tactics feeling a lot more fast-paced and action-oriented than a lot of other titles in the strategy genre.
“Gears Tactics feels a lot more fast-paced and action-oriented than a lot of other titles in the strategy genre.”
I particularly enjoyed how the game’s mechanics pushed me to play a lot more aggressively than usual; on the battlefield, enemies can surround you so quickly, that resting on your laurels for too long is never a good idea. While you do have the defensive overwatch ability in which you drag out a coloured cone to interrupt enemy attacks, the game tends to reward players more for playing proactively and taking out as many enemies as possible. For example, earning more action points makes an enormous difference to the speed with which you can complete a mission, not to mention the opportunities available to grab cases of loot along the way.
Despite the core mechanics on the battlefield being the same in each mission, the core objective of each mission changes. Depending on the objective, you’ll have to pick up cases containing supplies, defeat enemies spread across the battlefield, or defend a set area to gain supplies for example. To get the most out of these missions, you’ll have to spread out your party members on the map in a clever way, taking advantage of the unique abilities of each character. The game comes with three main characters (or four if you pre-ordered Gears Tactics and received Augustus Cole) for your party: Gabe Diaz, Sid Redburn, and Mikayla Dorn. You can further supplement your party by recruiting procedurally generated gears that you can recruit at certain points in the game. Depending on the weapon they’re carrying, each character has a specific class giving them unique abilities and perks. There are five different classes in the game: support, vanguard, scout, heavy, and sniper. I found that having at least three different classes in my party made for a mix and match of skills that complemented each other very well, allowing me to build different attack strategies around my chosen characters.
During each story mission, you’ll need to keep your main characters alive in order to achieve victory. While each unit can be revived by another one in battle if they’re struck down, they’ll have significantly less health upon revival, and they can die if you don’t get to them in time. On top of this, if one of your extra procedurally generated gears dies in battle, their death is permanent. In my eyes this, combined with the ever-changing mission maps and objectives during a mission, makes for an engaging set of challenges for players to sink their teeth into, while keeping the core gameplay mechanics simple and accessible. Even though the game’s story might not be the most ground-breaking in the history of video games, the core game mechanics more than make up for it.
As a strategy game, Gears Tactics not only stands strong, but isn’t afraid to innovate within the genre. I was struck by the level of detail in the core mechanics, which in my eyes proved a deep level of understanding of the genre on the developers’ part. Rather than just tick the basic boxes of the classic strategy game formula, Gears Tactics isn’t afraid to push the boundaries. It successfully offers players a gameplay experience that feels original within the genre and fits in seamlessly with the broader Gears of War look and feel. For a franchise known for a very different style, this certainly is an impressive achievement.
- Fast-paced and action-packed gameplay
- Enormous variety in missions and monsters
- Story told in typical Gears style
- Accessible and effective core gameplay mechanics
- Dialogue feels cheesy at times
It’s clear that both Splash Damage and The Coalition have done their research; as a strategy title, Gears Tactics successfully captures the nuances of what makes a good strategy game work. Regardless of whether or not you’re a hardcore Gears of War fan, Gears Tactics offers a fresh take on the XCOM-like tactics formula that will be a joy to play for strategy fans. If you’re looking for an engaging combat-driven strategy game that will keep you on your toes, Gears Tactics is worth every minute of your time.