Gears 5 ambition and bold direction breathes new life into old legends.
Gears 5. Without having to say or do anything the title of the latest entry in this long running franchise sums it up perfectly. A clear nod to it’s past while also embracing a new identity. A new future. Gears 5 pays homage to it’s legacy while simultaneously paving the way towards new horizons.
Gears 5 initially picks up right where Gears of War 4 left off. JD, Del. Kait, and Marcus are investigating an site stowed away on a lush tropical island. While the COG are looking for new weapons to help against the Swarm, Kait continues to struggle with her legacy and the visions they haunt her with.
What follows is the most transformative Gears experience yet. The opening chapter is essentially a love letter to Gears as we all have known it. Dark, linear and straightforward combat encounters with the classic cover based gun play that has become the industry standard. Some nice set-pieces, satisfying explosions and off we go. As soon as the pyrotechnics fade, something completely new happens. This is where Gears starts to show change. An entire chapter where the action is non-existent to allow for story beats and character development to take place.
It’s a radical change, and throwing it right after an explosive opening is a nice way to make the sudden change of pace accommodating. Despite many critics relegating the Gears franchise to dumb bro shooter, these games have created a compelling universe with fantastic characters. Are they over the top? Of course, but that doesn’t stop them from having a ton of heart and attachments to this world and it’s stories. Allowing for a moment to take it all in and see what’s transpired from Gears 4 was an excellent decision.
The Coalition also uses this moment to introduce a few new gameplay elements. Most notably, long standing favorite Jack. The best floating robot companion in gaming (sorry Destiny fans). Jack was always a core member of Delta squad, but now he has a significant gameplay presence. Players can find components, a new collectible that allows Jack to be upgraded and obtain several useful active and passive combat abilities. Jack can even be played as in co-op campaign or horde mode.
Once we get past the games opening moments and are thrust into the gigantic hub area’s riding a skiff, we are pretty far from the Gears we all know, and onto something new and experimental. Secret area’s, character interactions and relic weapons are hidden in a drop dead gorgeous frozen tundra. This is the moment where the title change really hits home. At it’s core, the cover based gun play and combat is the best it’s ever been. However they aren’t afraid to stow the guns away to allow for moments of mundane to fill the gaps between battles.
It isn’t too dissimilar from lessons God of War learned and implemented. At some point running room to room to take cover and fight relentlessly grows tiresome. We’ve had those kinds of experiences for a decade, it’s time for a change and for the most part Gears 5 pulls it off with finesse.
The duality of the plot can sometimes clash with the new gameplay experiences the open world area’s can bring. Kait’s journey mostly dissipates for a large chunk of the campaign and ramifications of her journey don’t reappear til the last hour or so. It feels as if they hesitated to go all the way with her story. The marketing hinted at something dangerous and truly wild, but outside a few early moments they never take her story anywhere near it’s full potential. Outside of Kait’s story the rest of the game’s plot fares better. War is back, and the COG vs Swarm battle is in full effect and some true gut punches and shocking moments will leave everybody waiting for the conclusion to this new trilogy.
Gears 5 also is just that, a firm middle chapter. It has some of the same issues that every middle child has. The delicate balance of following a story, and building towards a conclusion that it won’t reach itself. It succeeds, and manages to find a great point for the story to end on.
Gameplay wise this is Gears through and through. A handful of new weapons and Jack’s much upgraded arsenal are the biggest highlights. Melee combat is also a much more viable tactic, and some battles even allow for moments of brief stealth before settling into the bombast you’d expect from a typical Gears firefight.
The skiff and exploring the world provide the biggest departure in terms of structure, and as a mode of transport the skiff was always a blast to pilot.
Outside of campaign, horde and versus are back with significant improvements. Now I’m not a slide shotty guru, nor will I ever be one so the new arcade deathmatch is perfect. A nice blend of action and ideas that allow for those less versed in the Gnasher to flex some competitive muscle and have a good time.
Escape is the lone new mode, and is a fun yet brief three player activity which see’s the players trying to make it out of a hive infested location while poison gas gives chase. The lack of ammo and weapons combined with the tension of the creeping gas make Escape a great mode. It’s hard, but packs a lot of action in a small fifteen to twenty minute burst which is a perfect companion to the much longer and more involved horde mode.
Last but not least I’d be remiss not to mention this game’s absolutely drop dead visuals. Graphics are absolutely taken for granted lately, as most games tend to look better than not. Gears 5 is a monster. Absolutely huge vista’s and set-pieces are delivered at a crispy 4K and 60 frames on the Xbox X and the PC port is phenomenal.
Gears 5 is a great game, but it isn’t perfect. My experience was marred by server issues that would cause severe hitches and frequent disconnects. Now most of these are server side, but when my sixteen hour campaign had four hours of it occupied by disconnects that’s not acceptable. Outside of that technical issue the main plot has a satisfying conclusion, but Kait’s story just doesn’t live up to it’s initial promise. Hopefully Gears 6 will do her justice, but that doesn’t make her lack of growth feel better in the moment.
Outside of my gripes with her story, I absolutely had a blast with the campaign and the rest of the package is Gears at it’s best.