Gears of War 4 had an abrupt ending. You learned about Kait’s fate and the next thing you knew the credits were rolling. Everything felt over a little too soon. Three years later and The Coalition returns with their second game… and it looks like they’ve nailed it.
It’s in fifth gear from here onwards
First things first. Never played a game of Gears of War and confused by that first paragraph? Don’t worry, Gears 5 comes with two videos to catch you up on the entire series. This sequel takes off right where Gears of War 4 closed the curtain. Del, Marcus, Kait and JD are on a mission to launch a Hammer of Dawn prototype. Since The Swarm corrupted the robot armies, humans are now under threat and the only hope for humanity is to once again power up the Hammer of Dawn with all its beacons. The team attempts to do this without the consent of their first minister, Jinn, and soon things turn into a difficult scenario that sees Kait heading off on her own to discover her true origins. As with previous classic Gears of War stories, you should expect several gut-wrenching moments, but also some incredibly tough battles.
Before playing a single minute in the campaign you’ll be dumped into the boot camp where newcomers are taught the ins and outs of the Gears formula.
The third-person cover-based shooter doesn’t veer too far from the path of what has made it the classic we have all enjoyed over the years. Before playing a single minute in the campaign you’ll be dumped into the boot camp where newcomers are taught the ins and outs of the Gears formula. The button layout is still the same, which means that veterans will fly through it to get to the business end, the campaign. This doesn’t mean it’s the exact formula. Gears 5 has taken inspiration from the Tomb Raider series in that there are now pockets of open-world bits in the game. By doing this you’ll now be on the lookout for side missions in a series that was once very linear and there is a good reason for branching out and discovering all the various collectables and components.
Unlike games in the past, Gears 5 is a 3-player co-op game. Two players will play as COG players and the third as Jack, your little robotic sidekick. Jack is going to be that player no one wants to be, but the perfect substitute for a newcomer to the series that just wants to assist without all the technical jargon. That said, Jack is immensely important. While you’ll be able to change the skins on your weapons in the multiplayer, there isn’t anything else you can do to your guns in the campaign. But, you can upgrade Jack who plays an important support role. Should you play this by yourself (or with one other human player who doesn’t select Jack) you’ll be in charge of all the upgrades.
A Jack of all trades
Jack can assist you in various ways. A flash will cause enemies crouching behind cover to stand up for you to finish them off with the Longshot – yes, the cracking sound of a head exploding is still as satisfying as its ever been. He can also emit a pulse to help you locate nearby enemies and later on you’ll gain many more advantages that include shock traps and armour boosts, to name but a few. Each of these powers has upgrades. For example, you can upgrade the flash power to recharge faster or the pulse to also detect any pick-ups in the vicinity. Therefore exploration is of the utmost importance in Gears 5, and believe me, you’ll love every moment of it.
These open-world areas will introduce you to your new favourite vehicle in the Gears world, the Skiff. The Skiff harnesses the power of the wind to drag you and up to three other members all over these large areas. You’re windsurfing, while the other players sit on the sled. As you discover something of interest one of your members will point it out. Other than doing it for the joy of discovering something new, there is an important aspect to this that is once again linked to Jack. Jack comes with ‘ultimate’ upgrades that automatically get added to his abilities without having to spend your currency and the only way to discover them is by completing sidequests. As the word ‘ultimate’ suggests, these upgrades will make your experience that much better in the long run.
Everything about the campaign feels like a huge improvement over Gears of War 4.
As expected there are many spectacular Hollywood-like set scenes that’ll have you fighting some over-the-top boss fights. I’d rather not detail those and leave them for you to enjoy. Carriers, Pouncers and all forms of general threats will also play a part of your adventure, but it’s the new take on the DeeBees that stood out for me. These robots have been corrupted by the swarm and as such have frozen in place. This doesn’t mean that they’re not aware of their surroundings. Get close enough and it’ll activate and attack you, in turn waking up the rest of the DeeBees and having you fight off an onslaught of robots. It’s freaky as hell. These areas require stealth. Walk up behind one and remove its power unit to finish it off. It’s exceptionally tense, but very rewarding when you finish an area without alerting a single robot.
A sight for sore eyes
Everything about the campaign feels like a huge improvement over Gears of War 4. The sound quality of the guns are better than ever and the length of the game will last you for about 15 hours if you plan to do all that there is, but I would like to point out the graphics. It’s perhaps one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen on a 4K HDR television. Unlike previous Gears of War titles with its grey and brown colour palette (perhaps excluding parts of Gears of War 4), you’ll witness the most luscious colours your eyes have ever seen. One moment you’re in a tropical location with greens and blues and the next you’re seeing the collaboration of dark and bright orange flames burning down a city. It’s by far the most diverse setting in a Gears game to date. I really wish there was a photo mode, something that I feel is missing. But, no matter how pretty the game is and how impressive the campaign might be, Gears still shines in the multiplayer department.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing the servers are still officially down most of the time, but I was fortunate enough to spend some time in some of the modes with the developers at The Coalition. I played King of the Hill, Arms Race, Dodgeball, Team Deathmatch and, the highlight, Escape. In total there are 12 maps that’ll once again include some environmental hazards. When it’s not a train that unexpectedly smashes you to bits when you least expect it, it’s a pool of ice that freezes you to death when you walk over it. There are so many hazards to watch out for and you’ll be glad to hear that they’ve tweaked the balance. If you plant the most bullets into a foe, but someone else finished off the kill, you’ll still earn that kill. It’s in the new mode, Escape, that I had the most enjoyment.
You and two other players are tasked to escape the hive by finishing off levels of the swarm and reaching the surface before the bomb that you planted explodes. The trick here is that you have a very limited supply of weapons and ammo, so being accurate is extremely important. Waste a few bullets and you might end up with only a melee attack at your disposal. As with Horde, it’s all about teamwork. Once you’ve played all that is there you’ll also be able to create custom maps and share it online with friends. I expect this new mode to be a hit with fans.
Simply put, this is the reason you bought that Xbox One X.
There are weekly challenges that’ll keep your multiplayer experience fresh, named Tours of Duty. Doing all this will earn you in-game currency to buy various character and weapon skins, executions, boost (to level up Gears experience), iron (to purchase premium customisation content) and even bloodspray types. You’ll earn skill cards to add perks and unlock abilities to give you the advantage. Whether all this goodness will be locked behind a microtransactions wall down the road remains to be seen, but for now, it’s looking promising.
The Coalition hasn’t reinvented the wheel, but they’ve polished and shined the COG emblem so much that it now sparkles. Gears 5 comes with a stunning campaign and the multiplayer is going to eat away all the spare time you have. Simply put, this is the reason you bought that Xbox One X.