“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This old African proverb that begins the credits scene for Gears 5 encapsulates everything I feel about the journey The Coalition just took us on as gamers after literally having just finished watching the credits roll.
Title: Gears 5
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: The Coalition
Available On: PC, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PC
Release Date: September 10, 2019
Game Acquired Through Xbox Game Pass for the Purpose of This Review
Three years ago, Gears 4 left off on such an impactful cliffhanger that I’ve been eagerly anticipating getting my hands on the next game in the series to see what theoretically happened after that famous fade to black. It was made even more suspenseful because we didn’t expect it at the time when it happened.. it seemed like there was just so much more story to be told when it ended, which really made the wait all the more painful. When Gears 5 was first revealed to the general public, it looked incredible, and thankfully it appeared we’d be picking up somewhat right where the previous game had left off, getting to find out what happened next to Kait, JD, Del, and the crew.
Let’s discuss the immediate thought that entered my mind when starting up Gears 5 for the very first time. The Coalition did an incredible job making this game as graphically strong as it can be, as it is simply beautiful. I was playing on PC through Xbox Game Pass, and running on my hardware, which is several years old, I was still able to produce a graphically superior game to most things we see running on home consoles, with a smooth framerate and next to zero technical hiccups along the 14 hours or so it took me to get from the beginning to the very end of the game. Many times along the way, I had to pause and take in the scenery and surrounding landscapes, especially when you move into the more open world areas during Acts 2 and 3. There’s so much to see and do that you’ll have a tough time finding everything in one playthrough, and that’s a good feeling.
Gears 5 puts you back into the role of Kait, JD, Del, and Marcus Fenix, alongside a new robot companion named Jack. There are several cameos throughout the campaign, as well as the introduction of a brand new named character that seems like he’ll play a major part in the narrative come Gears 6, but before we get to experience any of that, the developers have us start out in what is known as Boot Camp. Here, they’ll teach you the ropes to some of the changes made for this entry in the series, which isn’t that drastic, but it’s nice to get a feel for the controls again and that classic Gears of War gunplay mechanic we’ve all come to expect since the original game. Boot Camp doesn’t last long, and serves its purpose well of reintroducing veterans back to the series, and acclimating newcomers to the way things are going to work. Plus, at the end it gives a nice story recap on what happened during the entirety of Gears of War 4, so pay attention!
Almost immediately the action ramps up and the big set piece moments we’ve seen in other major franchises like Uncharted and Tomb Raider begin happening all around you. Gears 5 feels the most like those two franchises over any other entry in the series to date, and this is a huge positive note if you’re a fan of cinematic experiences and great storytelling. There’s enough action packed moments to balance out the scripted segments, and the enemies continue to get more difficult throughout the different acts and sections. Towards the later moments of the game, dying was all too common as our squad kept getting overwhelmed on the standard difficulty setting, which just meant that a proper strategy to take out the swarms needed to be figured out.
Earlier we mentioned a new robot companion that goes by the name of Jack. Fully upgradeable and customizable through component parts you can find spread out throughout each area, Jack becomes a crucial member of the team. He can cloak the Delta Squad so they can sneak past major harmful area of effects and enemies, heal them when they suffer too much damage, put out pulse blasts that give a general hint of where to go next, blind enemies hiding behind cover so they’re easier to target when they stand up, and a number of other different abilities. Jack can also fetch items and weapons for you that are out of your reach by targeting them and hitting the appropriate button. Puzzle solving also heavily utilizes this same mechanic by targeting specific things or vents and sending Jack in to unlock doors, hack computers, or shut off defense systems.
One of my favorite aspects about Gears 5 is how they handle the artificial intelligence throughout the campaign. Baird has his personal AI that he built, which it’s heavily hinted at early on that there may be some sort of romantic feelings between the two. Del, who is the robot handler in your squad, also feels very attached to his companion. There was a moment in the game where Kait said, “Who gives a shit? He’s a robot!” To which Del responded, “That’s not his fault!” They tackle the morality of a computerized conscious that is going to become all too real and familiar in the actual world within a few more short years, and theoretically already is starting to pop up from time to time.
The world feels very alive in Gears 5, and you can clearly tell how certain cities and areas we’ve seen in previous games are progressing forward and staying with the times. Only a handful of sections in the open world segments feel barren and desolate and could have used a little tweaking to make them feel as explosive and dynamic as the rest of the game did. Collectibles, besides just the component part, are also well hidden and enjoyable to seek out, though I did stop caring about those sometime during Act 3 and just wanted to see the story out to completion at that point. There are also several side missions to undertake during Act 2 and Act 3 when you can fully explore some of the more unique areas found in the game on your Skiff. In fact, the Skiff gameplay mechanics, the way it controlled, and the dialogue banter that takes place between your party members while out exploring made for some of the most endearing moments the franchise has seen since the beginning.
Besides the single player campaign, let’s talk about some of the other features Gears 5 packs in under the hood. First and foremost, there’s the Tour of Duty. This is a basic ranking system that allows players to earn exclusive rewards, complete daily objectives if that’s your thing, earn stars, and acts as a personal progression system. These types of systems are found in many other different types of shooter games, so it’s no surprise to see this and veterans of the genre will understand exactly how it works without much of a learning curve.
Versus Mode is your standard online multiplayer fare. Back in the day on the Xbox 360, we spent many a nights jumping into online battles in previous Gears of War games, but here in Gears 5, I only jumped in long enough to form an opinion on how everything works, and then I was done for good. Each character has unique loadouts and upgrades which was a nice addition, and there’s a new ranking system, but the online multiplayer doesn’t reinvent the wheel in Gears 5, and feels very much more of the same thing we’ve come to expect of the series since probably Gears of War 2.
Escape is a brand new mode being introduced that is a 3 player, co-op survival setting. The object of this mode is to escape (go figure) a deadly swarm hive using different loadouts and abilities from each one of the available characters to play as. Escape can actually be quite challenging and loads of fun, especially if you go in with a group of buddies just looking to mow down enemies and get the hell out before time expires.
Horde is back from Gears 4, and if you’ve forgotten how that works, players must survive 50 waves of the horde with a 5 person team working together. You’ll need to not only take out the enemies, but build fortifications and defense systems if you want to live to see the end of the 50th wave. I had an insane amount of fun with this mode back in 2016, and it’s as good as ever this time around as well.
Now let’s discuss the audio. The voice acting is quite good, and it was fun hearing many recognizable voices besides the main cast, like Alanah Pearce and the lead singer of heavy metal band Arch Enemy, Alissa White-Gluz (who funny enough, because of her growling and vocal range, provides some of the screeching sounds for the enemies)!
The soundtrack, composed by Ramin Djawadi, is a beautiful blend of cinematic and atmospheric music that really lends to some of the set piece moments you’ll experience throughout the story, and gets very emotional when it needs to. Some of the standout tracks off the official soundtrack include “Family”, which is a nice orchestral piece that plays during the title screen of the game, “Kait’s Theme”, which starts out slow and beautiful before ramping up into this amazing piece of music that really sets the tone for her character development since Gears 4, and “Squad Regroups” which plays immediately after one of the most emotional moments the series has seen to date and really paints a haunting and chilling picture of your actions and what could happen in future installments.
Does Gears 5 revolutionize the series and take third person shooters into a new stratosphere? Absolutely not. But it continues to build upon everything Epic Games did right in the original trilogy, and what The Coalition has been expertly refining since taking the helm with Gears of War 4. Anyone that’s been invested in the lives and personal stories of these characters since the beginning owes it to themselves to play through this latest entry. But even if you’re jumping in to the franchise for the very first time, there’s an amazing game to be experienced here that will most likely compel you to go back and play through everything that came before it when you’re done. Just like when I finished Gears of War 4 in 2016 and it ended so abruptly, so too does Gears 5. Let the countdown commence for the next three years when hopefully we’ll be able to get our hands on Gears 6 and finish this latest trilogy and journey The Coalition has been gracious enough to take us on.