Gears of War is arguably one of the most recognisable video game franchises of all time – at least where Xbox gamers are concerned. It’s a series that spans six main instalments, with two spin-offs, and has a potential movie in the works. The history of Gears of War is rich, studded with lore and featuring a story that was first introduced to players way back in 2006, barely a year after the Xbox 360 itself was launched.
Let’s not beat around the bush – Gears of War is one of those typical ‘Murica titles. It depicts enormous, ‘meathead’ warriors (almost invincible warriors, I should add) that wield mind-bogglingly huge weaponry in their battle to rid their home planet of invading enemies. It screams military appreciation, worships visceral combat and gritty violence, and almost every single character has a gruff, no-nonsense voice and personality.
Are any of those points a cause for real concern? No – they make Gears of War what it is: an ever-enjoyable, rewarding and entertaining third-person cover shooter.
Gears 5 – despite the name – is the sixth instalment in the franchise and is the first to drop the ‘of War’ suffix, owing mostly to the series long being referred to as simply ‘Gears’ by fans, and a want to make the titling ‘cleaner’. I recently ploughed through the campaign and dabbled with the other modes available and overall, I very much enjoyed my experience. Here’s my two cents…
Gears is an age-old recipe that never seems to fail. I’ve explained to many other gamers that Gears 5 is one of those gems that feels so familiar yet doesn’t seem stale. You can play the first Gears of War, then come into Gears 5 and feel totally at home. The control scheme is the same, the weapons are recognisable (except for a few tweaks), the style of play is unchanging, and you’ll know more than a few of the characters.
At its heart, Gears 5 is a cover shooter. You move rapidly from point to point, eliminating the enemies wherever they surface. It’s dynamic, fast-paced, and aggressive. While this formula doesn’t change too much throughout the game, it never becomes boring. The combat is as satisfying and brutal as ever, and the assortment of missions on display are pleasing enough for a few hours’ entertainment.
Gears 5 is the first in the series to break away from the traditional A – to – B style, however. Before, players would be almost on-rails, running from room to room as they worked toward their main objective. In Gears 5, the player is presented with larger, more open environments and the ability to traverse them at will. This inserts a refreshing aspect of choice into the game, as side objectives become available, allowing the player to lengthen their playthrough and explore a little. I personally found this to be a fantastic addition to an already exciting title, as any game with open-world aspects receives enormous approval from me.
This iteration also steps away from the traditional beefy male protagonist, as we play as a female lead for the first time in series history. All the old favourites are still there, however. Ultimately, if you’ve played any Gears of War title before and enjoyed them, you’ll be right at home with Gears 5.
Gears’ graphics and environmental appearance has bettered exponentially with each title. This iteration runs on the Unreal Engine 4 and offers a pleasing range of visuals to be experienced. The explosions, gore, smoke and fire effects are fairly well done, and the lighting is atmospheric and authentic. The character models are pretty much the same as ever, but polished. They’re not photorealistic, but how do you make a man with more muscle than the average Hulk look photorealistic?
The enemy models are brilliantly done and injected with all the creativity of previous titles. Some enemies are grotesque, terrifying or just plain badass – The Coalition (Developers) have done a great job at creating an entire race of enemies to slaughter as viciously as possible.
Gears 5 offers the player a wide variety of environments to explore, which is another positive point. The game will switch from ruined cities, to snowy mountains, and then from rolling deserts, to underground chasms. They’re expansive, but not empty. They’re populated, but not crowded. Of course, Gears 5 is capable of 4K HDR at 60FPS, so it looks smooth by default, and the engine has no issues keeping up with the chaos on screen.
It’s Gears. You’ll be cracking skulls and speed-reloading as agilely as possible, revving chainsaw Lancers and rescuing downed teammates faster than is humanly possible. In my opinion, Gears 5 has quite a compelling story – I found myself genuinely intrigued and wanting to explore the story insofar as possible. I have to admit that the ending was quite predictable, but that didn’t make it any less impressive. If anything, it sets up beautifully for a sequel.
The missions aren’t too varied – most comprise clearing out specific areas to enable ‘things’ to happen. Whether this is moving something, saving someone or unlocking somewhere, that’s the base formula at play here. However, it remains engaging throughout and offers up probably around 15 hours of play for someone who gets through games quite quickly. I did the main story but unfortunately I missed a) some of the side missions and b) a lot of the collectibles.
Gear’s multiplayer has been almost as perfect a formula as its single player for well over a decade. The standard multiplayer modes are ever-present, allowing players to go head-to-head with other gamers in the same visceral and gritty environments that they explore in the single player adventure.
The iconic Horde mode is just as awesome as ever, pitting players against 50 waves of challenging combat. However, The Coalition have tried their best to inject some refreshing changes into this mode, enabling characters to have specific abilities that are unique to them, thus permitting players to affect the field of battle in various ways.
Gears 5 also introduces a mode called ‘Escape’, a take-it-or-leave-it 3-player co-op mode that sees players assume the role of a ‘suicide squad’ teaming up to destroy enemy hives. It’s essentially a more tactical take on Gears, as running a strategy and actively communicating with your buddies is a must. It’s frantic, fast-paced and aggressive, but lacks a little polish.
There’s not much else you can really say about Gears 5. It does what it says on the tin, and it does it well. It’s an exciting but short foray into the Gears universe, complete with all the aggression, viscera, and patriotism that we’ve come to expect from Gears. We welcome back some old favourite characters, and are introduced to some new ones, and we set the scene for what I’m predicting will be another incredible title in a couple of years.
Amazingly, I paid just £1 to play Gears 5! You can pick it up as part of the Xbox Game Pass subscription, something which is well worth doing if you don’t want to part ways with the £50 RRP. The Coalition have also included a fantastic recap of the entire series to date, just in case you’ve not played any of the preceding titles.