A Microsoft/Xbox staple, Gears of War (or Gears as it seems to just be known now) first appeared on the Xbox 360 in 2006. Since then we’ve had three direct sequels and ‘spinoff’ called Judgement leading to this, Gears 5, the sixth instalment of the third-person shooter series.
Developed by The Coalition and published by Xbox Game Studios, Gears 5 picks up where Gears of War 4 left off. The ‘Swarm’ are growing in strength and a new war is beginning. This has prompted Kait, Del, JD and Marcus to attempt to restore the Hammer of Dawn network.
Of course, it’s never as simple as just pressing a button and across the course of the game, the landscape of the Gears world and the characters will be changed forever.
Whereas the previous entry in the series was mostly made up of trying to find Kait’s captured mother, here the goal is more straight-forward at first. Get the Hammer of Dawn back online and destroy the Swarm before they become too powerful.
However, Gears 5 has some interesting twists and turns along the way. Truths to be uncovered, friendships tested, character’s lives changed forever and a whole host of shooting things. Avoiding spoilers is no easy task, so the less said about where the story goes, the better. Let’s just say that if you’re a Gears fan, this story will satisfy even if it is a bit slow in places.
In fact, a lot of what Gears 5 does will satisfy long-term fans as the gameplay is very familiar. There’s very much a ‘it’s not broke, so don’t fix’ mentality to the gunplay. No bad thing as it’s as fun as always. Even if you’re new to the series, it’s very simple to get to grips with. Shooting enemies in Gears games has always been great and that is no different here.
That’s not to say Gears 5’s single player campaign doesn’t have anything new to offer. 2 out of 4 of the Acts will see players enter a ‘sort of’ open world where side missions can be completed and exploration to find to supplies is encouraged. Unfortunately, these segments are also the games weakest moments.
The problem lies in just how uninteresting the deviations of the main path are. They follow the same formula…drive the ‘skiff’ (admittedly quite fun) to a location, clear out the Swarm and pick up your reward. Rinse and repeat. Now the argument that this is the crux of Gears gameplay is solid except normally its in service of the story. These side-missions have very little story and certainly don’t engage.
It also doesn’t help that the locations are so bland and uninspired. One icy and the other a desert. Yawn inducing locations with the same wrecked facilities over and over again. In fact, this is one of Gears 5’s biggest failings overall. A lack of memorable locations, a shame because it nails many other aspects that you might not expect it too.
One of the more impressive things about the single player campaign is the characters. The returning cast from Gears 4 with some added extra ones (Fahz is a great addition) and proper development for them.
Stepping up into the lead role for this game, Kait’s story is brilliant and she’s very likable. JD takes a more backseat role but the arc he goes on is equally brilliant. Then we have the likes of Del, Marcus, Baird and even Cole in a more cameo role. Fantastically animated, impressively voice acted…these are living and breathing characters meaning their plight is way more impactful.
It’s not just the characters that look great but the game overall. On Xbox One X it really shines, especially when caught up in the desert storm in Act III or during the hectic and exciting finale of Act IV. This is the best-looking Gears game without a shadow of a doubt.
All of this would be enough to give Gears 5 a very high rating even before we’ve talked about the multi-player but alas, we’ve not talked about the issues.
Now a lot of these issues will be patched, but upon release and as of right now, Gears 5 is a buggy mess. For some, it’s nearly unplayable. For others (us), it has caused undue frustration. Our issues equate to the single player campaign not saving progress on two occasions, forcing us to replay chapters that we had already done. By Act III our game stats suggested that we had only been playing it for 15 minutes overall and by the end, according to our stats we had only completed half the game even though the credits were rolling.
Many other players are reporting much bigger issues and not just to do with the single player campaign.
Stability of the servers is a big issue it seems, a real problem for a game that encourages you to play the single player campaign co-op (up to three players) and has a wealth of multi-player modes.
Talking of which….
Gears 5 comes with a whole host of modes with the newest, Escape being the big one The Coalition has been pushing. A weekly event that sees three players team up to escape a Hive before the chemical weapon they placed inside goes off. Armed with next to no weapons, players have to fight their way to the exit while picking up supplies along the way.
It could be fun but it’s going to need time and many more maps. With just four at launch, it’s repetitive and reliant on a good team. While players can set the difficulty, there is a sort of random nature to the difficulty with it spiking suddenly when your team has next to no ammo.
It’s a nice addition and could be what brings players back months after launch depending on how much content is actually available.
Then we have the classic Horde game mode where up to 5 players team up to fight off waves and waves of enemies. A Gears staple since the second game, it’s a personal favourite and the formula remains mostly unchanged here. The big changes come with the class system that was introduced in Gears 4. Here it’s more important to have a balanced team and unlike previous games, you won’t be able to select duplicate characters. The games way of ensuring a balanced team instead of say, 5 players all in the ‘tank’ or ‘engineer’ roles.
Some may dislike this being fostered on them but the overall gameplay of Horde remains unchanged and as fun as ever.
As is the out and out wars like Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Escalation, Guardian, Dodgeball and Arms Race. For content Gears 5 really delivers on its multi-player and as the community gets used to modes like Escape, it will only improve.
All of its frustrating issues aside, Gears 5 delivers. From a single player campaign that has plenty of action and a great story to a wealth of multi-player modes, it’s a great entry in the series. One that will get better over time as patches are introduced and the multi-player community grows.