When my time with Gears of War 4 came to a close, I was shocked. The game ended suddenly, with little fanfare, in one of the biggest anti-climaxes I’ve experienced in games. Up until that point I’d been enamoured by the characters and drawn in by the events of the game, but the sudden ending was off-putting and somewhat soured the experience. When Gears 5 was announced, I was ready for more Gears, but I felt some trepidation as to what my experience would be with the game. Upon completion I’ve found that my trepidation was completely unneeded, as Gears 5 turns the series formula on its head, becoming one of the biggest and best games in the series.
Gears 5 begins some months after the events of Gears of War 4, commencing as Kait, JD, Del and Marcus arrive at the ruins of Azura. At the request of Baird, they’re seeking to regain control of the Hammer of Dawn, an old super weapon he believes could turn the tide of the war. As with any and all plans formed in the Gears of War universe, things go awry, plans change and a rift begins to form between the previously tight knit cast of characters. Unlike other games in the series, which took place over a period of 24 hours, Gears 5 takes place over several months, allowing its writers to tell a story focused around personal growth, development and the relationships affected by them. This focus means that the game’s characters have significantly more depth than in the series past, although the jumps in time mean that some of that depth and growth isn’t really explored. Character change noticeably during these off-screen time skips, with little to no context or justification being provided for their shifts in personality or intent. A little more exploration of characters other than Del and Kait would have gone a long way.
The writing itself in Gears 5 isn’t amazing, but the quality of the voice actor’s delivery makes it shine. This is especially true of Laura Bailey and Liam McIntyre, who bring Kait and JD’s internal struggles to life through their fantastic delivery. While so many other action games continuously push for grandeur and excess in their dialogue and delivery, Gears 5 regularly takes moments to pull back from the action and zero in on its characters and their emotions. It’s a refreshing take for the series and one that I appreciated during my time in the campaign. I left the game’s campaign significantly invested in its characters, and while I won’t spoil anything that happens during it, I will say that there aren’t any anti-climactic moments like the ending to Gears of War 4.
The other significant change to the Gears of War formula comes in the form of the game’s structure and environments. Fans of the series will well know of the linearity of previous games in the series. While there are plenty of bombastic moments and a massive sense of scale, the games were a heavily linear affair of being funnelled through paths to the next combat arena. Gears 5 changes this somewhat, with large traversable open areas in two of the game’s four acts. These wide-open spaces bring a level of exploration to the game that hasn’t been seen in the series before. However, these open areas are largely barren environments with little to do within them, except travel to the next mission or secondary objective. If you thought the open world of RAGE 2 was barren (which I certainly did), get ready for something even emptier in Gears 5. Once you’ve reached an objective, the game changes back to a standard linear mission or combat arena, removing any sense of openness. The open environments are fantastic to look at – as is the rest of the game – with beautiful skyboxes, lush environments, incredible lightning and some incredibly detailed and well animated characters, but I just wish there had been more to do in them. I also faced the odd framerate drop and hitch while playing on my Xbox One X, but nothing that ruined the experience.
Once you’re in a combat arena, Gears 5 controls and feels much like past games in the series. Your character moves slowly and deliberately, never ones for particularly dextrous or quick movement beyond a somewhat effective dodge roll and straight-line sprinting. Cover is the name of the game, as you move between different sections of half and full cover, gunning enemies down along the way, or hunker down as waves of enemies come to you. There is a slight twist thanks to the inclusion of Jack, your robotic AI companion. Jack comes with a suite of swappable and upgradable skills that can triggered during combat. These range from a flashbang that causes enemies to stand up behind cover, a stim boost that heals you and reduces damage, and more. You can freely swap between abilities at any time, allowing you to mix and match Jack’s skills to favour whatever situation you find yourself in. If you haven’t enjoyed the series combat in the past, Gears 5 won’t change your mind, but as the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Beyond the campaign, Gears 5 is the package that keeps giving, with a range of multiplayer modes for you to sink your teeth into. You have Versus (a ranked mode with the more classic shooter match types such as Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill and Escalation), Horde (the classic Gears staple where you and your squad try to survive against as many waves of enemies as possible) and Escape. Escape is the new addition in Gears 5 and has you take control of a COG member fleeing a Hive after setting a poisonous gas canister that will spread through the Hive and kill everyone within it. The mode is a frantic rush to the exit, as you scrounge for weapons and ammo to kill the enemies between you and extraction, while also trying to stay ahead of the poisonous gas. While there is plenty of potential to the mode, your enjoyment of it will largely depend on who you play with. I ran into multiple scenarios where my squadmates would rush off on their own, getting killed somewhere we now had no hope of getting to in time to revive them, or collecting all of the available ammo so that everybody else in the squad was left without enough ammo to do anything. Altogether, there’s plenty to do in Gears 5 and I didn’t run into any issues with latency or finding matches.
Gears 5 takes the Gears franchise in a new direction in a couple of ways, but at its core it’s still the same game you’ve played before. The story is more character focused and gives those characters and plot point more room to breath than past entries, affording you the time to grow attached to them and be more impacted by story beats. The open areas are a welcome shakeup to the series formula, but their barren design leaves much to be desired, even if they and everything else in the game look utterly fantastic. Beyond this, there are a myriad of different multiplayer options that are sure to keep you engaged for plenty of time after you’re done with the 10-12 hours the campaign takes. Gears 5 is the shakeup the series needed and one of the best shooters released this generation.
- Voice acting is fantastic - Set pieces are bombastic and fun - Story is surprisingly emotional and character driven - Heaps of multiplayer modes to keep you busy - Game looks fantastic
- Open environment are largely barren - The odd framerate drop and hitch