Some of the greatest hits of the past have come from the unlikeliest of combinations. Americans swear by peanut butter and jelly on their bread, Eminem performing a duet with Dido still boggles the mind and who’d have imagined that Batman teaming up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would have resulted in the best comic book crossover in recent memory?
You can add one more fusion of diametrically opposed ideas to that list: Gears of War and a tactical blend of squad-based strategy. On paper, Gears Tactics shouldn’t work. A spin-off of its beefier source material, Gears Tactics is a slower and more methodical return to the wartorn planet of Sera, swapping the third-person view of the mainline series for a more dynamic overview instead.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Gears Tactics is a reskinned XCOM, but nothing could be further from the truth. The comparison may be obvious, but Gears Tactics is still the Gearsiest game whatever Geared up, providing players with not only an alternative slice of tactical action but one that is amazingly faithful to its source material at the same time.
Where Gears Tactics finds its groove, is in its more flexible approach to setting up your COGs on the map. You’re not confined to a grid, you’re able to take move in whichever direction you want provided that you have enough action points to do so, finding cover and setting up flanking positions on your golden path. That shift from visceral shooter to thoughtful strategist still allows for an ocean of blood to be spilled along the way as a more aggressive approach isn’t just an option.
It’s actively encouraged.
Gears Tactics takes the trademark systems from Gears of War and retunes them into vital components within its own design. Chief amongst these remixes is the execution system, a trademark of classic Gears where you discovered that a chainsaw colonoscopy was just as effective as a bullet to the head. In Gears Tactics, that trademark still exists as a wonderful example of gratuitous violence but also rewards every member in your squad with a bonus action point once it has been successfully pulled off.
It sounds minor, but it’s a genius addition that adds a whole new layer of strategy to your turn. Free of the more rigid rules of the genre, Gears Tactics functions like a game of chess, albeit one where you can plan several moves ahead and adjust your strategy on the fly to create a forward expansion designed to keep the momentum going. The game blurs the line between gut instinct action and military scheming, further fusing the two ideas together with your Gears who all bring their own unique skills to the party.
While you won’t find a base of operations to work on between missions, you will find that your soldiers can easily be customised to fill certain battlefield roles. Heavy gunners can provide covering fire that wipes the field clear of grubs, Snipers can make Charlize Theron guards catch a spontaneous case of head explosions and your support classes will keep your troops fighting fit.
It’s fun to mix and match with your assigned quartet in any map, troopers who you can further grow through skill points that can be assigned to one of two distinct skill tress and a further two specialisations per path chosen. It’s also worth mentioning how Gears Tactics deals with resources, as you’re largely given an infinite arsenal to play with, hampered only by lengthy cooldowns.
The Overwatch system (not that one), is also a brilliant addition that allows you to set up small ambush points within your line of sight, where you just know that the Locust will roadie run blindly into. The catch here is that Overwatch uses your available action points to pull off, an idea that also reminds you to take stock of your ammo and just how far you’re willing to stretch your field of vision against a diminishing cone of accuracy in the big picture. Oh and just to make things interesting: The Locust also like to make ample use of this system.
Knowing when to use a grenade to plug an emergence hole and when to do a bayonet stab rush so that you can reset those cooldowns plays into the overall strategy and growth throughout your Gears Tactics journey, while your approach to dealing with the Locust also guides your trigger finger during the main campaign and side missions.
You’d think that Gears Tactics sounds like XCOM with training wheels, and on the easier difficulty settings it certainly is as you’ll barelt suffer any losses along the way. Crank the knob up by a few notches, and Gears Tactics becomes far more ruthless albeit with just a touch of forgiveness for the stray battlefield blunder here and there. When you’ve found your groove, outfitted your soldiers with salvaged upgrades and customised your Gears to look like the badasses of tomorrow (If I am to die today, I shall die well-dressed), Gears Tactics shines as a surprisingly flexible strategy game that regularly injects itself with action steroids.
It’s also a damn good looking game! There’s more than enough on the visual front to keep PC gamers beating their drum about having the superior platform, ranging from an entire art gallery of graphical options and optimised performance. While my own laptop that I reviewed Gears Tactics on is currently bordering towards the potato side of graphical workhorse power, I was able to get a solid 60fps session running at any given time on my integrated GeForce GTX 950M, after I’d made some cuts to the fancier rendering options available.
If there’s any complaints to be had, it’s that the entire narrative which drives Gears Tactics is on the rubbish side of exposition. It’s your typical gung-ho story set within the Gears universe, tied to the more recent games and featuring characters more two-dimensional than cheap Russian Soviet era animation. Everyone’s an asshole, the zingers get repetitive after a while and it’s hard to get attached to the core cast when one bad decision during a Brumak boss fight results in them being reduced to squishy gibs and all you can do is shrug your soldiers and reload your checkpoint.
But with gameplay so addictively cerebral, who cares? I’ve spent the last week popping Locust heads and kicking Tickers into surprised Boomers, keeping not only my adrenaline running but my brain working as well in an unholy fusion of genres and cognitive functions which seldom cross paths. An idea that Gears Tactics doesn’t just pull off brilliantly, it raises the bar for an entire genre.
Review copy of Gears Tactics provided by Microsoft
Gears Tactics isn’t just one of the biggest surprises of the year, it’s a vulgar display of power starring everyone’s favourite beefy boys in a bloody new direction that’ll test your trigger fingers with pure heavy mental action.
Last Updated: April 27, 2020