Gears Tactics Review

April 27, 2020

After six mainline games all featuring the same third-person cover-based shooting action, the Gears franchise has started to spread its wings in the last year. After last year’s Gears Pop! hit mobile phones with super-deformed versions of the series’ main characters (if you consider their normal massively-bulky figures not-deformed), Gears Tactics has finally arrived on PC, with an Xbox release planned in the future. Combining Gears aggressive, cover-based gunplay with the more thoughtful tactics of games like XCOMGears Tactics actually pulls off a solid base for a worthwhile expansion of the franchise.

Set soon after Emergence Day, when the Locust Horde have risen up from underground to invade the cities of planet Sera, Gears Tactics follows Gabriel Diaz as he’s pressed into service to hunt down the Locust’s chief scientist, Ukkon. Ukkon’s the bad boy responsible for iconic monsters like the Brumak and Corpser. Narrowly avoiding his own government’s Hammer of Dawn offensive, which leveled cities with an orbital laser in the hopes of wiping out the Locust, Gabe has no love his commanders, but becomes a leader in his own right as he rescues troops and civilians, training his own fighting force as they close in on Ukkon.

It’s a simple story that’s effectively told, and serves as a decent excuse to build up your own little army, much like Big Boss in the Metal Gear franchise. However, it doesn’t really hold much importance for the Gears story as a whole, except for closing a few little gaps in continuity and backstory, that could have actually benefited from some of the self-awareness and cheese of its launch trailer. It feels by-the-numbers for a Gears title, and feels further stretched by spreading minimal story material over multiple missions in its near-40 hour campaign, where not much actual progression happens. However, Gears Tactics certainly doesn’t disappoint with its presentation, slotting in with the rest of the series quite comfortably and looking and sounding just as polished and detailed as a mainline Gears title.

There really is something to Gears Tactics‘ unique blend of action and tactics that makes for pretty compelling gameplay. Raising you from a third-person perspective to a birds eye view, you take a squad of up to four characters every mission into turn-based combat, each one of five different classes with their own unique weapons and abilities. Snipers obviously excel at long range with their sniper rifles, while Vanguards can skewer enemies on their retro lancer’s bayonet in a rushing action, and Supports can heal the team up, or turn grubs into mincemeat with their lancer’s chainsaw. Eschewing grid-based system for more free-flowing unit placement, Gears Tactics feels looser than most tactics games, as moving your units around or throwing grenades can sometimes feel imprecise, as you pixel hunt for the exact spot you need. However, it also feeds the other way, as sometimes you find you’ll get an unexpected boost of movement into cover.

Gears Tactics gears you to be aggressive and rewards pushing forward and changing positions frequently. Cover is important, but so is getting up in the Locust’s face. Enemies can be ‘downed’ but not killed, providing an opportunity for you to send a unit to execute them before they’re revived by a comrade, rewarding your squad with an extra action point, so you can do more on your turn. If you don’t have a good angle on an enemy, you can move your units to somewhere more beneficial then spend their remaining action points into ‘overwatch’, which lets them cover an area on the enemy’s turn and instantly react to any movement. However, enemies will also use overwatch extensively to pin down your own units, preventing them from moving unless you can use your other squad members to extricate them from the situation. Enemies will also regularly boost their own numbers with reinforcements dropping in from the sky, or emerging from holes in the ground, meaning even after defeating one encounter, you’re never safe for very long. Splash Damage and The Coalition have done a solid job in creating a Gears spin on the tactics genre that feels unique to the franchise, and is satisfying to play.

Outside of combat, Gears Tactics focuses on unit development and customisation, and there’s a lot here to get stuck into. In missions, your squad can collect loot boxes that drop various kind of upgrades, as both your armor and everything on your main weapons can be customised, like barrels, stocks and scopes, with individual components potentially even having passive abilities too. You can even customise colours and other cosmetics, which translate into cutscenes as well. While you have four main hero units, who can’t die without failing the mission, your roster is boosted by scores of recruits who can be permanently killed, either rescued from Locust torture pods on missions or picked from a continually-refilling pool of candidates on your home screen. There are sizable skill trees for every class, and experience points come slowly, encouraging you to specialise units into a certain skillset. Often missions will have certain hero characters locked, forcing you to rely on your custom units, rather than falling back on your heroes.

You’ll also be forced to rely on them in side missions, which frequently stall progress in the main campaign, as you’re presented with selecting a few missions from a range of types to send units on – and no unit can be used twice. Initially these side missions are fun, creative spins on the formula, including seeing you advance towards an objective and clear out all enemies, defend control points, or run from approaching bombs as you collect loot boxes. However, they tend to wear thin as they lack variety as the game progresses, generally playing out the same way over similar maps, stalling progress and coming off as filler to stretch the campaign. Sometimes they even undercut future story missions, providing beat-for-beat scenarios with an even greater challenge than you end up facing later in the game. It gets especially egregious in the game’s third act, by which point you’ve basically seen all the game has to offer, and are mostly playing through remixed versions of earlier levels. I don’t know if multiplayer or co-op could have been a solution to keep the game feeling a little more fresh throughout, as while I enjoyed the gameplay, it didn’t ‘click’ enough for me to warrant coming back beyond the end of the story. That said, if the formula does click for you, a Veteran Mode unlocked at the end of the campaign lets you play on as much as you want, unlocking upgrades, customising characters and remixing levels.  The boss battles are the biggest breaks from the formula of the rest of the game, and they some of the best parts. There are only three of them, but they keep you on your toes, force you to think creatively and provide a genuine challenge that feels unique to each monster.

Gears Tactics is an enjoyable foundation for a new spin on the Gears franchise. There’s all the chainsaw-roaring gib-exploding action you could ask for in a Gears game, in a format that successfully translates it into a looser spin on the tactics genre that largely works. While it doesn’t quite have enough tricks up its sleeve to remain engaging throughout its 40-hour main story, it’s still a creative, interesting new take on the franchise that’s worth a look for any fan after something a bit different.

Gears Tactics was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by Microsoft/Xbox.


-Very Gearsy-take on tactics gameplay that forms a good base for future titles
-Great deal of customisation and upgrade options, which stretch into the endgame
-Very polished presentation


-Limited mission types that wear thin by Act 3
-Storyline is a relatively unimportant prequel that ends up feeling stretched

Overall Score: