Every console can be defined by their exclusives. Nintendo consoles have Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, and Sony consoles have God of War and Uncharted. Arguably, the two biggest franchises that belongs to Microsoft are Halo and Gears of War, and one of them recently released a new entry. This is Gears 5, and it’s time to float between cover like a butterfly and brutally kill like a bee.
The series of big set pieces and even bigger physiques return, following off of the plot of Gears of War 4. You play as Kait Diaz, an outsider-turned COG who finds out at the end of the previous game a connection between her mother and the Locust. This game follows her journey to uncover the mystery of her origins as well as reconnect Hammer of Dawn satellites, which can be used to destroy enemies.
Before getting into the review, there are two things worth noting. The first is that I have decided to break this review up into different sections for each mode. Second, the only experience I have with this series is with Gears of War 4.
One thing I do know about the campaigns of this series are big set piece moments. Large monsters, large destruction, large body types. Large can be seen in Gears 5 as well, though in two different forms. Acts one and four represent in my mind the classic Gears campaign. Linear segments with big fights and a high amount of destruction. Acts two and three, on the other hand, are a different kind of large. These acts are about being in large, open areas, similar to Metro Exodus. Unfortunately, I do not think these two styles of campaign work well together, as for they change the tone of the game in a way that feels unnatural. You go from epic set piece and fighting for survival to going on an adventure with friends, then back to the fight for survival. The story does an okay job at connecting these two different act types together, but it feels like duct tape trying to hold everything together.
While I appreciate the game trying something new, I think acts two and three are not as fun as the traditional campaign acts. The new acts throws Kait into a large open area to explore. In these areas, there are the main mission areas, side mission areas, and tiny areas, and the area can be explored with a skiff that can store weapons. The main mission areas are decent, but don’t quite live up to the traditional campaign missions. The side mission areas are smaller areas that consists of a skirmish and will give abilities to Jack, and tiny areas are things like a single abandoned tank that only has a single collectible. I enjoyed this approach to level design in other games, but the levels in this game are barren and feel lifeless. Nothing happens in the exploration area, only in the mission areas, and the mission areas feel small compared to the traditional campaign levels. On top of that, the side areas are repetitive, as for they always involved a small fight that ended with either an upgrade or components for an upgrade. I like that they tried something new, but I don’t think it worked in their favor.
None of this is to say that the campaign as a whole is bad. In fact, I am quite positive on the overall experience. Even though the story feels like an extension to another game more than its own thing, I enjoyed what is there and who is in it. I liked the characters a lot, and even the few stereotypical characters have good character arcs to make them feel more three-dimensional. Jack, which is a drone, is a great companion, and the various abilities he has, which can be upgraded and even reset, are a lot of fun to use. The whole campaign can be played in co-op, which I didn’t do, but appreciate either way. Finally, the game has a lot of stunning moments, whether it be large battles or quiet moments, that had me stop and admire them. There is a lot to like with the campaign in this game, though it doesn’t always seem to connect.
The mode I was most looking forwards to with this game is their new escape mode, which has a team of three infiltrating a level, planting a gas bomb, and escaping. I was excited about this mode for two reasons: they are levels that seem similar to other co-op shooters like Left 4 Dead with special enemies and a point-a to point-b level structure, and the ability to play user-created levels which means a near infinite amount of levels to play. While this mode delivers on both of these points to a certain capacity, I found this mode to be the most disappointing out of the four.
The mode is pretty simple, but there are some unique things to this mode as well as some things it borrows from other modes to make it stand out. I really like the idea of the rooms slowly filling with gas, as for it adds a sense of urgency to the game. Characters are unique, as for each have their own starting equipment and abilities. The game treats special enemies similar to how Left 4 Dead treats special enemies, and difficulty is based on modifiers similar to horde mode. There are also community levels to play, which means a near infinite amount of levels to try. So, where does it go wrong?
While everything I just listed are things I enjoyed in the mode, none of it can save the mode from being repetitive. Unlike every other mode in this game, you hardly have any weapons or ammo in this mode. You start with your starting weapon, and pick up a few rounds off of enemies. Every time I have played this mode, it consists of scavenging for just enough and running to the exit, which feels unrefined compared to games like Left 4 Dead or World War Z. On top of that, the levels themselves don’t feel different from one another, as for they all look and play like an underground maze. Also, you can’t level up characters in community maps, which I found stopped me from playing a lot of them. This mode was fun the first couple of runs, but that fun doesn’t last as long as it should.
Since this game has community maps, it also has a map builder where you create and upload maps. Just like the escape mode itself, the map builder has some neat mechanics that is overall weighed down by its limitations. I am not a big fan of creating levels as for I find the experience overwhelming, but even I found the amount of tools to be lacking. You are given $1000 to spend on a level, and reaching that spending limit will force you to finish the level or add a checkpoint, in which another $1000 is added for the next part. In these chapters, you put down room tiles, enemies, and items. It’s all pretty basic, but where it becomes limiting is in the small details. You can only have up to five enemy types in each part, and you can only choose a general area for enemies and items to spawn instead of a specific spot. Also, there are only a few different room types and themes, so it didn’t take long to see duplicate rooms. There are some neat things like changing the lighting of a room or setting an enemy spawner, but I think both the builder and the mode as a whole needs more content added to see its true potential.
What I sense is the most popular mode in recent Gears history is back, and as far as I know still seems th same. You and a group of others try to survive 50 waves on a multiplayer map using your weapons and fortifications. Just like every other mode, I found horde to be a lot of fun, but also with enough flaws to keep me from falling in love with it.
there are a lot of great things to talk about with this mode: characters have their own weapons and abilities, boss fights are fun, setting up fortifications adds a layer of strategy and defense, you can play as Jack the drone and go around reviving people and picking up weapons for others, the difficulty is based on modifiers, there are power taps which are optional to defend and give extra currency for more traps, you can revive enemies even after they fully die, and more. Unfortunately, the whole mode for me is undermined by two details: the mode is too long, and only JD can build fortifications.
In terms of length, I don’t think this is any different from other Gears games, but I think this mode is way too long. Horde modes in games have either infinite or finite amount of waves, but this mode is a finite amount of waves that generally takes the same amount of time as an infinite amount of waves in other games. Getting through all 50 waves takes me around two hours to complete, and I often found my teammates dropping out 30 minutes in. By the time I reached wave 50, I found the experience to be boring, as for I had enough fortifications and enough money to worry about keeping my killing machine oiled more than fighting. As a result, I found horde mode hard to go back to because I knew how long it would take to complete and how boring the experience would get towards the end. The other issue, which isn’t as concerning but is still annoying, is the fact that only JD can put all fortifications up. Money can be shared between players or even put into the forge like a bank, but only having one character be able to build fortifications means only he gets to have the full experience while everyone else only gets to shoot enemies. The mode is still fun to play, but that fun is only good for a few playthroughs.
Ever since the first game in the series, Gears has had a multiplayer mode, and here is no different. Multiplayer is back, though it feels like the weakest mode out of the four. This mode has plenty to offer in terms of playlists, but none of them feel like the defining mode to play.
The multiplayer mode consists of enough playlists and modes to almost be confusing, though there are only seven maps as of now to play in public matches. Everything is under two categories: ranked and casual. Ranked splits up each mode into their own rank and lobby. Casual goes even deeper. In casual, you have a playlist for classic modes seen in previous games, an arcade mode, a mode against an AI team, and a limited mode that adds a modifier to a pre-existing mode. Each mode and playlist serve a different kind of player (vs. AI for beginners, casual for casual players, ranked for hardcore players, etc.), and I don’t have any major complaints for any of the modes. Actually, I quite enjoyed the arcade mode, which is a new edition to the series. In this mode, each character has their own weapon loadout, as well as weapons to purchase. As you get kills, you get a currency which allows you to purchase better weapons for your character. I like to play as Fahz, who is essentially the sniper class in the mode, as for I enjoy popping heads from a distance with a sniper, which gets me money to buy ammo for the sniper to keep doing the same thing.
Unfortunately, the biggest reason why I enjoy this mode is also a big reason why I am not a fan of multiplayer in this game: the gnasher shotgun isn’t king in arcade. In every other mode, rushing with the gnasher is still king, something I know is not new for the series. It’s so frustrating to play when all the multiplayer to me boils down to one-versus-one gnasher matches where luck feels just as important to winning as skill. Personally, I found Gears 5 multiplayer to be the most frustrating multiplayer I have ever played in any game. I can’t count the amount of times I said to myself “I should’ve gotten that kill” or “I totally shot first,” and that sentiment felt constant. Other things like not being able to hit people who are blind-firing from cover even though I can see their head and hands added to the frustration, and I ultimately found myself sticking to the arcade mode because at least I wouldn’t have to deal with the gnasher. Multiplayer feels like a mode that was hardly touched, and while the arcade mode is fun to play, I didn’t find the experience overall to be noteworthy compared to other games.
There is plenty to talk about in each mode, but there are also things to talk about that affect mode. For starters, this is one of the best-running games I have ever played on PC. I was expecting this game to chug considering it’s primarily an Xbox game that is brand new, but this game ran like a dream. I had all of my settings at ultra, and even then I barely heard my fans run. I can’t think of a game I have played that ran this buttery smooth so effortlessly.
This game also offers a lot of extras in terms of settings and small additions. There are a lot of accessibility options I never tinkered with, but still appreciated. Some of the menus can be confusing, but I found the help guide to be, well, helpful. There are also videos explaining both the story of the whole series as well as explaining universe of Gears. Finally, The tutorial mission you play before you can access the game is surprisingly fun. This game offers a lot to get new players acclimated to the Gears environment.
Before I wrap this review up, there is one more thing to talk about: microtransactions. They are here, offering xp boosters as well as cosmetics for characters, weapons, icons, banners, expressions, and even blood sprays. There is a good deal of content in this game, and I’m generally not too up-in-arms about microtransactions, but I still caution the game if they go farther down this road.
In conclusion, Gears 5 is a game that was almost fantastic. It started out strong, and I loved it going in, but it started to get a little ugly as the game went on. Every mode in this game is fun to play, but I found myself bouncing off each mode hoping the next one would stick, only to find myself stuck in the middle of every mode trying to pump myself up to play something. I think there is a solid experience here for Gears fans, and I would say there is enough content here to justify a full-price purchase, but I don’t feel there is any mode in this game worth sticking to for the long haul.