Let the Past Die. Kill It If You Have To.
If I had to compare Gears of War 4 to a movie, I think my choice would be Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was less a unique entry into the series, more a reminder of why you fell in love with Gears in the first place. It wasn't bad, just simple and safe. If I had to compare Gears 5, it would be to The Last Jedi. It takes the series in a new, bold, direction, experimenting with the gameplay style and reworking it into a new beast. However, is this a beast you're going to want to see?
Gears 5 Review | No Breaks on the Cole Train
Taking place after the events of Gears of War 4, you follow the new Delta squad as they continue to bring the fight to the Swarm. While the first chapter focuses on J.D., it isn't long before you step into the shoes of Kait and continue the quest to learn her identity. It'll take her all across the planet, from vast deserts to snowy mountains and secret research facilities. Kait's story of discovery is well worth following, featuring likable characters that are easy to relate to.
For the most part, Gears 5's storytelling strengths lie in its characters. Loud and full of personality, each soldier is almost instantly likable and a joy to spend time with. From Kait and her mysterious past to new characters like the overconfident and assholish Fazh or the Carmine/Dizzy mashup that Lizzie seems to be. The always lovable Cole probably gets some of his best lines in the series, and the return of Judgment's super blunt Paduk is a surprisingly welcome addition. This central cast is the best a Gears game has ever had. I'd die for each and every one of them.
From John DiMaggio's continued impressive run at turning the overly manly Marcus Fenix into a believable character to Laura Bailey's ability to play up both Kait's strength and self-doubts, Gears 5's voice acting is fantastic. It also helps that the game is stunningly beautiful, with some fantastic facial animations. Several times, the sheer graphical quality in cutscenes (and in Gears 5 as a whole) really blew me away.
Gears 5 Review | Zen and the Art of Reloading
While the story makes it clear right away that it has changed dramatically, the gameplay doesn't give that impression at first. Basically, Gears 5 is a third-person cover shooter where you use various fun weaponry to take down swarms of, well, Swarm. All of the mechanics you know and love are here in some way or another. The last game introduced the ability to pull an enemy over the cover and instantly execute them. Gears 5 saw fit to keep that because it's still a blast. However, several mechanics have changed in important little ways.
One of the most notable changes involves the reloading system. No other series has ever placed an emphasis on reloading the way Gears of War does, and it has used the same tired and true mechanics the first game introduced. However, times are a-changing, and Gears 5 has altered the mechanic. You can now reload your gun at any time, even if the clip is completely full. Scoring a perfect reload will always make the entire clip deal extra damage, not just what you've added to it. To counter this, scoring perfect reloads is now on a cooldown timer, so you can't just keep slapping extra damaging clips into the gun over and over. It's a welcome change that made me care more for the system.
Another major change comes in the form of Jack, the robotic buddy that follows Kait around. Jack will learn various skills that you can deploy to help in battle. At first, Jack can just ping all nearby enemies. Later on, Jack can also put up shields, heal you, deploy shock traps, and even turn you invisible. Furthermore, you'll be able to find upgrade parts for Jack, letting you alter these abilities even more. The ping goes from just highlighting enemies to boosting your damage against them. Jack keeps the game moving fast, and I soon came to love its abilities.
Even ignoring these big changes, there are plenty of small ones. A melee combat rework lets you wield a knife no matter what weapon you possess. Guns like the Lancer no longer lock you into an awkward execution animation when you don't need it. Bigger enemies now have health bars, meaning its easier to tell when you're actually dealing damage to them. Your down but not out time goes down every time you drop in the same fight, giving encounters a little more edge. There are basic stealth segments, allowing you to clear some areas quietly. It's even just little things, like mapping melee attacks and melee executions to the same button, rather than two different buttons. Its clear a lot of love went into making sure Gears 5 played smoothly.
Gears 5 Review | Gears On the Run
However, no change is bigger than the addition of a pair of small open world segments. Two of the game's chapters take place in either a vast frozen forest, or in a red desert, and both of them are open for you to explore. To get around you'll have a skiff, and you can find side quests in each of these levels. The side quests range from small ones, such as inspecting camps to find missing members of an Outsider camp, to large ones that have you raiding an astronaut facility during a windstorm. Finishing these can get you rewards for Jack, further improving its abilities. The quests themselves are usually pretty harmless, though I will admit at times I was zoning out and losing interest in the worlds. There certainly could be a little more content to justify having such an open world.
Thankfully, even if the side quests were occasionally dull, combat never was. There are several new enemies that make up the rank of the Swarm. Many of them are hijacked robots twisted into biomechanical monstrosities. Rejects will pathetically crawl their way towards you in an effort to try and self destruct and take one of you out in the process. Stumps set up like giant limping turrets that spray bullets all over an area.
Thankfully, you have some new tools to take them on as well. My favorite is a new version of the Lancer sporting a grenade launcher. While that may seem generic and uninspired, this isn't your average grenade launcher. It fires into the air like a javelin missile before exploding and splitting into a cluster of smaller rockets that bombard the ground. Every single time I used it, I just had the biggest smile on my face.
There's plenty of fun situations over the course of the game's 10-ish hour campaign. One early standout saw JD trapped under a damaged helicopter wreck, and having to work with Cole to fight off a swarm of enemies. Another saw weapons become scarce, and Kait having to fight through enemies with little other than a metal pipe, almost turning Gears of War into God of War. One favorite of mine had Kait driving her skiff through a wind storm, dodging bolts of lightning and tornadoes along the way. No matter the moment, Gears 5 always captivated me.
Gears 5 Review | Revive Me!
Once you finish the campaign, there are plenty of multiplayer options to turn to. There's a 5v5 Versus mode, which is further broken into two types. Classic provides an experience that isn't too different from what Gears has offered in the past. Everyone spawns with a Lancer and a Gnasher (for non-Gears players this is basically an assault rifle and a shotgun) and goes to town. You'll have to pick weapons up like a classic arena shooter, and be sure to finish enemies off before they can pick themselves back up. Arcade mode plays a little differently. With its origins closer to that of a hero shooter, each character will have their own unique weapons and skills that you can use in combat. As you fight you'll earn skulls, which you can then spend on getting different weapons.
There's nothing particularly wrong with either mode, but if you enjoy the campaign it's a bit of a toss-up if you'll actually like the versus game. Simply, the competitive plays absolutely nothing like the single-player. Staying static in cover is often a death wish, and frankly even using it is often ill-advised. One of the favorite tactics is to bounce in and out of cover like a mad man to speed your way through the map. Many fights devolve into two players constantly dodge rolling and blind firing their shotgun. If you're used to this, it's still all here and it's still all enjoyable. It just isn't for me. If you're new then, once the wave of new players is out, adapting may be quite difficult.
Thankfully there's a pair of modes that sees teams of players fight AI. Of course, one of them is Horde, a returning Gears favorite. Five players work together to try and survive against 50 waves of progressively difficult enemy AI. As you survive, you gain energy that you use to either build items and guns or upgrade your character. Each playable Gear has unique items they can build or skills they can learn. As you play you'll unlock cards that give you permanent passive boosts.
There's a couple of things that attempt to make this difficult. There are noticeably longer cooldowns on the perfect reload system. Actually surviving all 50 waves on the hardest difficulty is quite the challenge. Horde mode is fun, but at times I found myself rather annoyed by some parts of it. Finishing a round means sitting through a score sheet that seems to last a solid 10 seconds too long. It makes the wait for each next wave feel endless. There's just too much dead time, but the action is still solid when it arrives.
However, it's the all-new Escape mode where the multiplayer really shines. There's a very basic story to Escape involving three people known as Hivebusters (along with a few Halo: Reach characters and Sarah Connor for... some reason) purposely letting themselves be captured by the Swarm so they can end up in the middle of their hives, plant toxic bombs, and fight their way out before the cloud overtakes them. This means you'll have nothing but a pistol to start with. You have to make do with very limited ammo until you can steal weapons off of dead Swarm. However, you can't stop and smell the roses thanks to the spreading toxin from the bombs.
The result? A brilliant fast-paced co-op mode that tops every other aspect of Gears 5. I could easily sink hours into Escape, and it's where I plan to spend any future time in Gears 5's multiplayer. Launch only has four maps, but an included map editor means the fun doesn't have to stop anytime soon, as players make their own creations to join in on the escaping fun.
Gears 5 Review | Final Thoughts
An absolutely brilliant campaign and Escape mode really help Gears 5 not only shine but pull to the top of the series as the best entry yet. Kait's story is interesting and the gameplay is fun and beautiful to take in. I could easily lose hours in Escape without it ever feeling old. This is everything I saw Gears of War 4 building to. It's impressive to see The Coalition pull it off. The only thing I'm wondering about now is what's next. Whatever it is, I know I need to be there.
TechRaptor reviewed Gears 5 on PC via Windows 10 using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Xbox One and PC via Steam.
- Fantastic Story with Wonderful Characters
- Great Voice Acting
- Super Fun Gameplay
- Awesome New Weapons and Enemies
- Great New Features and Refinements
- Escape Mode is Brilliant
- Open World Missions Occasionally Drag
- Competitive Multiplayer Feels Like Another Game Entirely
- Horde Mode has Too Much Deadtime