Available now for Xbox One and Windows 10 PC, Gears 5 continues the series where Gears of War 4 left off back in 2016. Developed by Xbox Game Studios’ The Coalition, this newest installment delivers what fans have come to expect, while also sprinkling in some firsts for the series.
This review is focused on the Xbox One version of the game, although we did spend some time with the Windows 10 version as well.
In Gears 5, players will be taking up the mantle of Kait Diaz (and other members of Delta squad), who is on a self-assigned mission to investigate the possible connections she might have to the Swarm after inheriting a necklace from her Mother, who she had to kill at the end of Gears of War 4. All the while fighting off the now Swarm-corrupted robot army of the Coalition.
Luckily, if you’re not familiar with everything that happened, the game gives you a nice summary video before going into the campaign to help get you up to speed.
The biggest change to the series’ formula literally takes the game off its typical five act rail. In Gears 5, players will be able to explore open areas on Kait’s Skiff. While the story still directs you to specific locations, these two larger areas that make up the middle of the now four act game also have a handful of smaller landmarks scattered about. Those points of interest, however, coupled with the locations for the campaign, are the only things that you’ll come across in the otherwise empty environment. Finding a crashed plane or an area for a side mission will reward you with a forgettable speck of side-story, or upgrade components for your robot companion, Jack.
Serving as both a hacker and a high-tech, superpower replacement, Jack follows you around and lends you his abilities. Is it dark? Jack can help light up the room. Is there a safe that needs to be opened? Jack can shock it and open it. Is there a locked door halting your progress? Locate the communications port and Jack will be your own personal R2-D2. Jack can also retrieve far away or unreachable weapons and ammo and bring them to you! Jack also lets you give him commands during combat, letting you detect enemies in the vicinity, deploy shock mines, or give you a temporary armor buff. All of those abilities and more can be upgraded with parts that you’ll find scattered about during the campaign.
I found Jack to be one of the most likable characters in the game, even though he doesn’t directly talk to the player. One of your squadmates, Del, acts as a sort of handler for Jack, like a man with a cute puppy, and it’s his dialogue that helps establish our connections to Jack. Something that I loved was Jack’s design, which has what we would perceive as eyes, shaped in a way that makes it easy to convey emotion depending on how they’re rotated. The small number of scenes in which Jack was able to express himself and convey that he was just as much a member of delta squad as the others were great, however he felt underutilized in that regard.
While staying up late one night while reviewing this title, I decided to check out its multiplayer components. Having never played the series’ Horde mode before, I had absolutely no idea that I was in for an hours long multiplayer session. Looking back at Gears of War 4, I certainly appreciate that game’s menu giving you an idea of how long an average session can last. The longer the match went, the more I wanted it to end. After about an hour and a half of being in the same Horde game, I remember letting myself purposefully die…only to see that dying only resets your score. If your team dies in horde, you simply restart the wave. Because of the incredible time sink, this isn’t a mode I’ll likely play much of, if ever again.
Now the new Escape mode, however, I found this one to be quite fun. The match starts off with you essentially giving yourself to a Snatcher, being taken to an enemy hive. From here, you place a bomb, set the timer, and then run. Along with three other players, you have to navigate your way out of the enemy lair, making good use out of the scarce amount of weapons and ammo you’ll find along the way. To help encourage players to continue playing this mode, the character that you play as can level up and unlock abilities (and additional slots to equip more of those abilities). There are also a whopping eight levels of difficulty for Escape, with each one adding a new rule like increased enemy health, while also increasing the types of rewards you can earn. For those with a creative side, the game also allows you to design your own hive that you can share and let other players challenge.
While Gears 5 is an enjoyable game to play, I encountered an issue that made playing the game difficult. While playing on my Xbox One, I ran across a problem where the game would soft lock. I’d be moving between rooms, only to have the loading icon start spinning in the corner of my screen indefinitely. Restarting seemed to fix the issue, though of course my progress hadn’t been saved as so I had to replay the portion from before I encountered the error. Another issue, which I encountered on both Xbox One, and Windows 10 PC, was the game unable to load the data after doing a multiplayer match. After finishing an online game, you’ll get to see your stats, any rewards you earned, etc. This issue simply gave me an error screen and I would be forced to explore my inventory myself to see if I had acquired any new unlockables.
Accessible to All
Immediately when starting up Gears 5, I was blown away by all of the different options that there are. Do you like Gears of War, but maybe aren’t a fan of all of the gore? You can turn it off, along with the cursing if desired. The accessibility options are also something that should be applauded, allowing players to turn off camera shake, or change how those “button-mash B until the enemy gets off you” situations work.
The subtitles are something I found to be especially great. Not only can players change the size of subtitles, but the subtitles themselves are incredibly well done. They’ll tell you who’s talking, if they’re talking via radio, and the subtitles will even tell you that the music has stopped after defeating the last enemy in an area so that you know you got them all. There’s even a controller remapping section for those using the adaptive controller.
While going through the campaign, one of my favorite things was the voice acting. Both the performances of the voice cast, and the writing that produced the fun moments of banter between them were great. The squad could be in the middle of a firefight and one of them would just toss out a one liner that was good for a laugh. The story was well acted, though it ultimately felt like there wasn’t enough meat on its bones that might satisfy people looking for more than a cover based shooting game- though that might not be perceived as an issue to the average Gears of War fan. The way the game concluded was also incredibly poor. The final act only served to introduce new plot points without providing any answers or a sense of finality to anything.
On the musical side of things, the soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi felt… simply OK. It certainly fit the mood of the game, which of course is what it’s supposed to do, however I couldn’t really pick out any favorite pieces as none of them really stood out to me personally- which is a shame because I’ve really admired some of his past work.
Over So Soon?
I’ll admit that I’ve never been into Gears of War, but I found myself enjoying the characters and the gameplay that Gears 5 offered up. However, the game ultimately feels short and the narrative almost feels unfinished with how The Coalition decided to end things. The four acts I spent my time going through over the course of the campaign, while fun, didn’t feel like it truly offered up much in the way of story telling.
Having to replay sections of the game because of saved data issues, or encountering multiplayer errors only adds to the disappointment of what should have been a more technically polished release from Xbox Game Studios.
Review copy provided by Microsoft for Xbox One. Screenshots provided by Publisher and taken by reviewer.