Even at the peak of its power, Gears always felt like Microsoft's backup plan. It didn't sell 360s the way that Halo sold the OG Xbox, surviving mainly on its online multiplayer and over the top violence. It's a mood piece more than a cohesive world, a collection of gruff characters grunting through flesh dungeons with chainsaws at the ready. No one ever cared about why three separate species of baddie all evolved into roughly the same enemy types, only how their heads popped when we pierced them with sniper fire. Gears Tactics captures all that and more, giving Microsoft's secondary shooter a well-earned leg up on Master Chief. While Halo is serviceable as an RTS, Gears thrives as a tactics game. In some ways, this is the Gears we've all been waiting for.
When does Gears Tactics take place?
You play as Gabe Diaz, the father of current Gears hero Kait Diaz. Taking place twelve years before the original Gears of War, you lead a squad of would-be soldiers against the forces of a new Locust threat named Ukkon. It's a typical Gears narrative that covers a lot of the same beats as past games, so fans won't be getting that many revelations. Worse still, the story sometimes makes missions less enjoyable since it forces you to bring in specific troops simply because they have two lines of dialogue. At the same time, since Tactics captures the same spirit as other games in the series so well, you likely won't care too much if every remark is a retread of information the franchise has tried to impart five times already.
The problem comes in that Gears Tactics feels like it has far too little story for its sizable length. The beginning and the end are packed with character moments, but the meat in the middle is all filler, and it feels like it. There are tons of "optional" missions where you get to choose between several different objectives, and you play these over and over even in the unique story quests. I groaned whenever I had to rescue another two soldiers from pods or outrun a Nemacyst bombing run. In a worse game, this repetition would make things feel rotten, but Gears Tactics pulls it out in the end.
That could be thanks to Gears' high-intensity gameplay. Even in a turn-based environment, Gears Tactics gets the blood pumping with every enemy encounter. The maps have plenty of variety, giving you unique cover situations and opportunities to funnel a line of mooks into a kill zone. The game also loves to drop tons of enemies on you, but this is counteracted by giving your characters numerous actions per turn. The end result is a system that ups the action in what is generally considered a thinking man's genre. Tactics-minded players will be measuring out every movement with careful precision and they'll be rewarded. However, it's entirely possible to charge headfirst into battle and come out ahead on lower difficulties, and that's just as fun.
Each of your soldiers split into five distinct classes, and that determines what gun they wield. Supports hold the iconic chainsaw Lancer while Heavies lumber along with the Mulcher minigun. There are also two returning Locust favorites you can pry out of enemy hands, the Boomer grenade launcher and the Torque Bow. Each of these classes split into four subclasses via upgrade trees, meaning that you can really customize every soldier despite what seems like a limited weapon selection and a constant stream of new recruits with those same tools.
Let's say you're way into miniguns. You can safely deploy with multiple Heavies and still get a wide range of combat options. One could be a mobile turret with boosts to sticking in place and keeping watch over enemy movement. Another could be a demolitions specialist with pumped up grenade damage and the ability to make the Locust explode when they die. You can go all-in with one subclass or mix and match from several branches, and you regularly get the ability to respec soldiers, so experimenting is not a problem.
Once on the battlefield, anyone who's played a Gears game will know exactly what they're in for. It's remarkable how much from the shooter games translates faithfully over to this new paradigm. Executions are a vital tool for giving your soldiers morale, with several classes giving extra actions to their comrades if they take out a grub without prejudice. Grenades can be thrown or stuck to nearby surfaces, and they're never in short supply. Even the lowly Snub pistol finds good use here as a way to knock enemies out of overwatch or distract snipers.
The developers also tried to include the same types of epic boss encounters you'd see in the shooter games, which may or may not have been such a great idea. In theory, I love seeing the huge Brumak and Corpser terrorize my troops, but the limited movement options in these scenarios stretch the gameplay to its limits. This is especially true if you're playing on anything but the lowest difficulty since you're forced into using named characters that need to survive in order to continue. If I could use actual military tactics and throw more expendable troops into the fire, these fights might make more sense, but that's not the case. As is, these moments are the only points where the fun turned into frustration.
This attention to detail even extends to the presentation. None of it is crazy-impressive, but it does look exactly like you'd want a Gears game to look. Special shots zoom in to the same angles as the shooters, locations feel like bombed-out warzones, and that old guitar riff plays whenever you clear an enemy encampment. If you're looking for something, anything new out of the franchise, you may be disappointed, but that's not me. I'm happy to find a new way to enjoy the old tricks of 2006. The only thing that's different is the perspective, and that's a huge accomplishment in my eyes.
Gears Tactics Review | Final Thoughts
One of the hallmarks of the Gears franchise is each game's longevity. After you beat the campaign, there are always multiple modes to keep you coming back, ranging from a full Deathmatch suite to the oft-forgotten (and missed only by this author) Beast mode. This is one aspect of the original games that Gears Tactics doesn't share in. After you run through the story, the only way to keep playing is through endless Veteran challenges. This is simply more of the same side missions you likely tired of in the main experience, and I can't see many players coming back for more. The lack of multiplayer or some other set of unique challenge maps really sticks out, especially in a title put on par with Gears 5 in terms of value.
All that being said, you probably already know if you're in for another round of carving Locusts into bits. Gears Tactics isn't a great introduction to the franchise, and anyone not already on board will likely stick to XCOM. However, if you're a shooter fan who finds strategy games interesting but cumbersome, Gears Tactics will hit all the right notes. The Coalition and Splash Damage achieved their goals of bringing an action movie energy to strategic warfare, and I was gripped throughout my twenty-hour run through the campaign. Even more than the recent shooter entries, Gears Tactics captures the feel of the battlefield perfectly. If you come in with the right mindset, you can throw on the game like an old Steven Seagal flick, sink into your office chair, and let the meathead slaughter wash over you. Shit yeah.
TechRaptor reviewed Gears Tactics on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Windows 10 and Xbox Game Pass for Windows and coming to Xbox One eventually.
- Perfect Tactical Translation Of Gears Combat
- Deep Unit Customization Options
- Action-Minded Gameplay Mechanics
- Repetitive Story Beats And Objectives
- Valiantly Awkward Boss Fights
- Complete Lack Of Endgame Content