Gears  (7)

Gears of War 4 was by no means a bad game. It was a strong debut by The Coalition, the company set up by Microsoft to carry the Gears of War torch once Epic Games handed it off.

It was a high octane blockbuster action game that was enjoyable to play in both its campaign and multiplayer modes. With a focus on the son of Gears of War hero Marcus Fenix, the fourth game in the series pushed the timeline forward a few decades while focusing on its familial ties. A fun and meaty campaign and expansive multiplayer modes, Gears of War 4 was a good time. It was also incredibly safe.

The Coalition did a good job in faithfully nailing the look and feel of the Gears of War universe – but I’m not sure they did enough to deliver anything new or interesting. It really was just more Gears, and while that’s not necessarily a complaint, it ultimately felt like the work of a studio finding its feet.

Gears  (2)

Gears 5, which drops the “of War” bit from the name, is a more confident turn from the developer. The Coalition proved that with Gears of War 4 that they could make a Gears game, but with this latest instalment, it feels that they want to prove that they’re capable of doing more. While Gears 5 doesn’t really stray too far from what makes Gears of War so much fun, it does just enough to make it feel fresh and exciting again, and no longer like a relic from the last generation.

The campaign picks up not very long after the events of the last game – and there’s a handy recap before you’re thrust into your first Act. The pair of Fenixes, Del and Outsider Kait are no longer COG outcasts; they’re donning their chunky armour, on a mission from series stalwart Baird. The crusty veteran has sent the elite group of soldiers off to reinstate the satellites for the Hammer of Dawn, the Gears’ most powerful, too-destructive weapon. It’s the impetus behind the entire game, really as without the Hammer of Dawn, the Coalition of Ordered Governments have no hope against the increasing Swarm threat. While the first act has you playing as JD or Del, that changes. This isn’t JD or the Fenix clan’s story. Marcus is still there, of course, in his role as a grizzled elder, but this isn’t about him or his son. This time it’s all about Kait, and she’s the focus of the remaining acts.

Gears  (3)

In this sequel, when we first meet Kait – whose mother was entwined and fused with the Swarm – she’s aloof, not having slept in days and still wrapped in grief over her mother’s fate. While Gears 5 is ostensibly about the Gears getting the Hammer of Dawn back online, the story is mostly about Kait’s relationships: with her mother, with Del – who becomes her best friend, and most importantly, with her past. Gears 5 has all the things you’d expect from a Gears game: vreems, bloody gibs, the most satisfying headshot sound in all of gaming, lots of waist-high cover, great big boss fights, jingoism and bluster – but it also has things you don’t generally expect like tenderness, character development, introspection and a social awareness that holds a mirror to our own society.

While the focus is on Kait, the real star of Gears 5 is Jack, the literal Jack-of-all-trades robot who makes perhaps the biggest change to the established formula. An upgradeable service bot, Jack adds a bit of freshness to the action. I’m loathed to use the term RPG-lite, because you don’t really earn experience points to level up his abilities. Instead, you find and install mods, which you can upgrade with components scattered throughout the game. You’re able to equip one assault and one support mod at a time, giving Jack abilities that genuinely change the flow of combat. He starts off with a simple Flash ability that temporarily stuns enemies who’re hiding behind cover, allowing you to plant lead in their heads (again, with that awfully satisfying “splatch!”), and a Pulse ability that scans the area for enemies, showing their positions as outlines on the screen.

He’s easy to command too, with a simple button press activating his support functions, and a combination press kicking off his assault ability. It’s a clever, intuitive blend of UI and utility. Most interesting is that he’ll be the third player in a co-op game. He can fly all over the battlefield, cloaking himself (and later, the Gears), zapping enemies and boosting players with stims, making him a great support tool and even fun for those who might not traditionally enjoy action games like Gears. Players can also re-spec Jack at will, so they don’t need to feel like they’re stuck with their choices. By completing secondary missions you can even find stronger abilities you can’t otherwise upgrade to, and they’re absolutely worth getting.

Gears  (4)

Yes, Gears now has side quests because it’s no longer purely a linear action experience. In the game’s second and third acts, you’re given two large, yet constrained open worlds to explore. While this approach makes a welcome and fundamental change to how Gears plays out, I’m not completely convinced it’s been executed well. In the first of those, you’re piloting your Skiff – a wind-powered, small land boat – across a frozen Tundra, making your way to objectives where things play out in more traditional Gears fashion. Find an area, clear out the bad guys, grab the McGuffin, and head on to the next objective. On each map, there are a couple of extraneous waypoints to discover, but there’s no real sense of freedom or discovery. The side missions themselves are a little humdrum, effectively fetch-quests that have you collecting a thing, pressing a button or turning a knob after clearing out a bowl of enemies. The second open world is a crimson-red desert, and I think that by design they’re both largely terrains you’d expect to be barren.

Inexplicably, despite the second co-op player having a mounted turret, there are no encounters in the open world. While the open-world traversal is meant to be a bit of downtime between all the firefights, it feels strangely dead, punctuated – thankfully – with chatter between Kait and Del, and later, other Gears who joint your party (one of them I must add, brilliantly voiced by iZombie’s Rahul Kohli, who puts in an impressive performance as an utter knob).

Gears  (6)

The easiest comparison here, is to Metro Exodus’ open hub worlds, but those are at least peppered with encounters and things to discover that make exploration feel rewarding, instead of just a way to pad out the experience. It feels almost rushed, added as a way to extend the experience and give it a modern veneer. Still, it’s something I’m glad has been included for the way it breaks up the pace, and allows Kate’s relationship with Del especially to shine.

Of course, Gears of War is as known for its extensive suite of multiplayer modes and options as it is for its single-player and co-op campaigns, and Gears 5 doesn’t disappoint. Ok, that’s not entirely true. There is one incredibly disappointing thing, and that’s that despite the recent launch of a pair of Azure datacentres in South Africa, they’re still not used for games, which means that Gears 5 doesn’t take advantage of them. It means that we still use European servers, and are stuck with a 150-200ms latency. That sort of latency removes the sting from our Gnashers, forcing local players to have to do multiple calculations in our heads and aim ahead of opponents.

Gears  (10)

That aside, there’s an awful lot to Gears 5’s multiplayer. Of course, all of the modes you know and love return, so you can play King of the Hill, Escalation, Execution, Guardian and Arms Race (which is essentially Gun game). While I’ll always have a soft-spot for Execution, the de facto mode that made the first Gears game my multiplayer game of choice for years, I have to admit I’ve enjoyed the faster pace of Arcade, the new multiplayer mode. It’s faster and more accessible, borrowing heavily from Hero shooters. Characters all have their own passive and active abilities and loadouts, giving each of them a specific role. Getting kills and assists in the mode earns skulls, which can be used to buy bigger and more effective weapons. Death loses you whatever weapons you’ve accrued, but you get to keep your remaining skulls and plug them into your next purchase. It’s far more accessible than Gears’ traditional multiplayer modes, so it should be a great starting point for new blood.

The biggest other change comes to Gears 5’s Horde mode. While Gears of War 2 popularised the mode that balanced base building and defence with the relentless onslaught of bigger and stronger enemies, each sequel has iterated on the formula in interesting ways. Horde in Gears 5 has probably had the biggest overhaul, once again borrowing from Hero shooters. Once again, each character has an understandable role. Kait, for example, can temporarily go invisible, turning her into an infiltrator and scout. Marcus Fenix, meanwhile, becomes an instant headshot machine, a perk which nearby teammates can also benefit from. Using these roles becomes key to outlasting the Swarm, but it’s not the only change to Horde. At points on each map, there are structures called “Taps” that if acquired and maintained, provide buffs and resources. Getting them requires that players engage more aggressively with enemies, branching out from their base structures instead of holing up in one location. There’s in-game progression, where currency earned buys perks, but also a nice out-of-game progression using upgradeable skill cards that grant battlefield perks. Mercifully, this is all earned in-game, with no paid loot boxes in sight. Players can buy cosmetic items and XP boosts, but they don’t really aide them in the game’s core multiplayer modes. The changes to Horde mode, and the Hero abilities in Arcade, are meaningful additions that should hopefully give players a reason to stick with Gears as they adapt their playstyles and learn their roles. I can see Horde becoming my new addiction for a good while.

Gears  (11)

It’s worth noting that Gears 5 runs like a dream. I’ve primarily played on PC (like most Microsoft games, it has cross-play and cross save), where it has options to cap maximum and minimum frame rates, but The Coalition has made a concerted effort to keep the game running along at a smooth 60fps on all systems. While it still has weird character pop-in that’s almost as much a hallmark of Gears as its waist-high cover, tweaks to the engine have resulted in the best-looking Gears game yet. Right from the beginning, when the Gears rappel from a helicopter into a tropical basin in Azura, it’s a beautiful game to behold.

Gears 5 is good stuff from The Coalition, but I’d like them to break out of the established Gears of War mould just a little more.

Last Updated: September 4, 2019

Gears 5
There are missteps, especially with the open worlds feeling lifeless, but Gears 5 is a more confident turn from a developer that no longer has to prove it’s capable of making a faithful Gears of War sequel. Bigger, better and more beautiful – and a bold step in the right direction for the series. The action is superlative, the writing hits humorous and emotional notes, and the number of multiplayer modes is extensive. If ever there was a reason to subscribe to Xbox's Game Pass service, this is it.
9.0
Gears 5 was reviewed on Xbox One, PC
84 / 100

31 Comments

  1. G8crasha

    September 4, 2019 at 15:31

    Man, now I also have Gears 5 I need to play on PC! I just don’t have enough time in my day to play all these games!!!

    Reply

  2. RinceThis

    September 4, 2019 at 15:42

    God damn it! I need it now. But not sure my PC will run it.

    Reply

    • G8crasha

      September 4, 2019 at 15:52

      Subscribe to Xbox Game Pass for $5 (I think that is the introductory price for 3 months, before it reverts to the full amount), and give it a whirl. I’m sure you can afford less than 100 bucks for the game!

      Reply

  3. Viper_ZA

    September 4, 2019 at 15:42

    R330 on Steam and R999 on the MS store, what gives?

    Reply

    • RinceThis

      September 4, 2019 at 15:42

      wot!? that’s crazy!

      Reply

      • Viper_ZA

        September 4, 2019 at 15:42

        Maybe Steam has made a mistake? haha

        Reply

        • RinceThis

          September 4, 2019 at 15:52

          If you buy and they have, do you get to keep!?

          Reply

          • Viper_ZA

            September 4, 2019 at 15:52

            I am sure ol’ Gabe will honor it, here goes!

          • Viper_ZA

            September 4, 2019 at 15:52

            R439 for the Ultimate edition, well played xD

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            September 5, 2019 at 08:40

            Yes. I bought Sleeping Dogs at a mistaken 91% discount during a sale once, was corrected about an hour later and nothing changed.

    • D4m@E

      September 4, 2019 at 16:18

      MK 11 was the same.
      Pre-ordered immediately 🙂

      Reply

    • D4m@E

      September 4, 2019 at 16:18

      MK 11 was the same.
      Pre-ordered immediately 🙂

      Reply

  4. Pieter Kruger

    September 4, 2019 at 15:42

    Can’t wait! Cancelled all weekend plans, gonna Gears baby!!!

    Reply

  5. Son of Banana Jim

    September 4, 2019 at 19:02

    The cool thing about Gears 5 is that you can play it on Steam and if you want to buy it, it’s over half the price on PC. You can even go the GamePass route, but come-on, you want to own your games right?

    At this stage, what’s the point of even owning a boner?

    Reply

    • Stoompot

      September 5, 2019 at 07:59

      Can’t see any reason, games are cheaper on PC and all the exclusives are there.

      Reply

  6. Original Heretic

    September 4, 2019 at 15:42

    There is a single tear running down my cheek.
    I miss Gears…

    Reply

    • RinceThis

      September 4, 2019 at 15:42

      Me too. But not going to buy an Xbox Xety One X-mas to play it.

      Reply

      • Allykhat

        September 4, 2019 at 16:04

        Watch a game movie on YT to catch up on story then play 5 on PC.

        Job done 😀

        Reply

        • RinceThis

          September 4, 2019 at 16:18

          Apparently Gears 5 has a full selection of back stories you can catch up on. Even touching on 1-3.

          Reply

        • RinceThis

          September 4, 2019 at 16:18

          Apparently Gears 5 has a full selection of back stories you can catch up on. Even touching on 1-3.

          Reply

      • Original Heretic

        September 4, 2019 at 16:18

        My thoughts exactly.
        I miss like I’d miss a long lost friend, I don’t miss it like I’d miss my torso.

        Reply

      • Original Heretic

        September 4, 2019 at 16:18

        My thoughts exactly.
        I miss like I’d miss a long lost friend, I don’t miss it like I’d miss my torso.

        Reply

  7. Stoompot

    September 5, 2019 at 07:59

    I’d get this but owning an XBOX is redundant since MS is selling their games on PC

    Reply

    • Pieter Kruger

      September 5, 2019 at 10:24

      No it doesn’t! Don’t buy into that! Does PS Now make Playstation redundant? When PS games release on PS & PC does it make PS redundant? It gives you more options that’s all. Not everyone owns a capable gaming PC(getting on par with console spec wise is more often much more expensive), some people actually prefer playing on console. Releasing on PC is smart, it’s just increasing potential revenue and Sony is also very interested in expanding their base…. Consoles will never become redundant because of this trust me! Happy gaming, on whatever platform you prefer!

      Reply

      • Stoompot

        September 5, 2019 at 10:39

        PS Now is in like three countries or something, so no it doesn’t. Games are cheaper on PC, so keep the fat box thanks

        Reply

        • Pieter Kruger

          September 5, 2019 at 10:51

          I don’t want to argue with you, seems like you just here to hate on Xbox BUT what if Sony expand their PS Now offering to more countries(why are they partnering with Azure you think?) What if Sony decides to release some of their 1st party on PC? Will that be the end of Playstation? Consoles are not going anywhere!

          Reply

          • Stoompot

            September 5, 2019 at 10:51

            Yes, when people’s opinions differ they’re haters

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