When I played Gears 4 it left a bit of a sour taste because it didn’t feel like the Gears I had known from the original trilogy. The Coalition didn’t make a bad game with 4 but it didn’t exactly feel like the old Gears I had known. TC did a near perfect job of recapturing the feeling of the old games with Gears 5 and are definitely stepping up to show why Gears is a flagship series.
Gears 5 starts out shortly after the events of 4. Following JD for the first chapter but very quickly shifting its attention to Kait, who’s trying to find out exactly what her relation to the Locust is, after taking the amulet from her mother at the end of 4. Unlike Gears 4, 5 doesn’t hold back this time, quickly throwing you into an all out war against the Swarm in the first chapter, giving a feeling closer to that of the original games than I got from almost any moment in 4. The tonal shift is only one of the smaller changes TC has made.
Outside of a handful of parts that are linear the campaign there has been a complete overhaul to how levels are designed. Now there is a level layout closer to that of Metro Exodus with chapters taking place in a decently sized sandbox. Points of interest litter each area such as crashed Condors carrying DeeBees and supplies or old remnants of the Locust War to explore. Other secrets like relic weapons and collectibles can also be found at POIs. For the first time ever side quests are a thing as well, which makes sense since there’s sandboxes to explore now. Getting around these new, larger environments isn’t an issue either, thanks to the Skiff that you can drive around to get from place to place. When I first got into the open world, I was a little worried it would compromise what made Gears what it was to begin with, but TC did a really good job for their first attempt at something like this and it didn’t compromise any of the other aspects of the game.
Some light RPG elements have been introduced to the campaign in Gears 5 thanks to the return of Jack, everyone’s favourite door ripping bot from the original games. Jack has his own abilities and upgrade trees which change how effective he is when it comes to helping you get stuff from the environment or even assisting you in a fight. The primary method of upgrading Jack comes from Components, which can be collected from all over the place, further promoting exploration. There are also new abilities for him you’ll come across as you progress through the story and in some cases there are parts that offer permanent buffs, which can completely change how an ability works if you do the side quests for them. Of course, you can beat the game without upgrading Jack but on higher difficulties, if you want Jack as efficient as possible or even if you’re just a completionist, it’s very rewarding to explore the sandboxes TC has put together just for the upgrades alone. It should also be noted that the campaign allows up to three player co-op; with one of the players being able to play as Jack, with access to his abilities and upgrades as you unlock them.
The story is nothing short of brilliant, easily contending with original trilogy. Finding out what’s going on with Kait and her past is the main focus in Gears 5 but the focus shifts towards the end, leaning into the next challenge Delta Squad will have to deal with as well as leaving you to sit and stew on the consequences of the actions you’ve done during your run of the campaign (Yes, that does mean there’s choices to be made which will affect Gears 6). The campaign does a great job of fleshing out Kait, Del and JD much more and makes them way more interesting characters than they were in Gears 4. Supporting them are some returning characters, and some new, such as Fahz. Combat remains largely the same outside of commanding Jack if you’re in single player or if you’re playing him in co-op, which is great. I wish to fit with the more gritty direction the story takes though that TC brought back some of the heaviness to the weapons and made the weapons feel much more hard hitting. Outside of that the only real change to gameplay is a couple of new weapons like the Claw light machine gun, Talon pistol, and the Breaker Mace, as well as the addition of new Swarm enemies like the Leeches, Rejects and the Warden.
These new enemies and weapons also obviously appear in Horde mode. Updated for Gears 5, TC didn’t go overboard on the changes but it’s definitely a better experience than Horde was in the previous game. You still have the fabricator and chose where to position it for you base and you still have to get through 50 waves and place fortifications but there’s a bit more depth to it all. Firstly there’s now power taps which will appear over the course of the game, offering more chances to get power besides just killing enemies. Taking control of these taps gives you reasons to move your fortifications forward and take control of more areas of the map, but it also puts you at risk since your fortifications are spread more thinly, adding a risk-reward element.
Each character now has their own role, cards and ultimate ability which is specifically tied to them. So you’ll have Del as the engineer role and he can upgrade the fabricator for better defences or you might have someone playing as Jack for support and other characters like JD, Kait, Fahz and Marcus are focused on killing off the Horde. Ultimates are tied to each character and offer unique playstyle opportunities, such as being able to see and shoot through walls, call a mortar strike or turn temporarily invisible. Cards being tied to specific characters makes the mode much more balanced compared to before since there was some things that were so strong that you had to take them in every situation but the addition of character specific abilities means getting to those high waves on higher difficulties will actually require more coordination and teamwork. New bosses also can be fought, such as the Warden and the Flock.
New to Gears 5 is the Escape game mode. Where Horde is a test of endurance, Escape is a test of speed and efficiency. Up to three of you play as Hivebusters, getting intentionally taken into a Swarm hive so you can destroy it from the inside. After a brief cutscene of you coming out of your pod, you plant the venom and it’s a race against time. Escape has specific characters with unique abilities, the same as Horde, so optimising your cards and working together with your abilities is key. Ammo and weapons are scarce so it becomes a case of fighting when you have to. Higher difficulties also add multipliers to enemy stats and debuffs such as increased speed on how the venom spreads. Each Hive is also its own unique map. TC switch out the hives every so often so there’s always new stuff to play but even if you have enough of the featured Hives you can take to the player created ones to test yourself. With more additions coming to Escape in the form of characters and new Hives there’s essentially endless replay value when you add the Hive creator, the player created Hives and the ones TC puts out.
Versus is something I have a love-hate relationship with in Gears 5. The gameplay is way better than Gears 4 ever was thanks to better consistency of the Gnasher. Various other improvements have been made such as the deeper preparation phase of Escalation, with more options with weapons selections and bans as well as an upgrade system, allowing you to get gradually better power weapons the longer your picks stay active. However, I feel like competitive play simply isn’t suited to the maps. Escalation and King of The Hill are the go-to modes for most players that take Ranked seriously but it felt like most of the maps weren’t made with Hill modes in mind. You frequently encounter problems like hills being almost directly next to the enemy spawn, making some pushes almost impossible as the enemy constantly trickle in. Ranked in hill modes also lacks clarification as to what is classified as good performance. The new ranking system is based on personal performance it seems but there were times I would outperform the enemy team and win the match, but still lose skill points. I never had a problem like this in TDM, Guardian or any other deathmatch-based modes. There may be a reason for this, but I find it strange players can lose points from matches they won. Personally, it makes it hard to stay motivated when you can’t even be rewarded for winning.
Quickplay has had a new mode called arcade added, allowing players to purchase power weapons on the go as they get kills. Executions and headshots give you more skulls to purchase weapons with. There’s also the change of if the final hit of any weapon hits the head then it is an instant kill. TC have done a great job of making a mode that is more accessible for casual players and people that are new to the game. Normal Quickplay is what you’d expect, with random rotation modes and maps in an unranked environment. As you play Versus and other multiplayer modes you’ll be able to level up and re-up, same as Gears 4, but new to 5 is a Tour of Duty system. These Tours act as free battle passes essentially, offering players unlockable content as they collect stars and rank up through the tour. These tours will be the primary method of how TC will be implementing future content such as new characters, maps, skins and other cosmetics. With new tours new big updates will come with new content, with smaller updates in between, keeping Gears 5 fresh.
A copy of the game was provided for this review by the developer/publisher