It was clear from the off that Gears 5 was going to be different.
From ditching the “of War” to the emphasis on a female protagonist, Gears 5 is an astonishing experience that masterfully respects its past as it looks to the future.
Though stamped irrevocably with the DNA of its predecessors – Gears’ legacy snakes through its latest iteration like words rippling through a stick of rock – Gears 5 is a fabulously fresh take on a well-trodden formula that actively tries different things whilst successfully retaining its core identity.
At first, however, it’s not clear how new lead Kait Diaz fits into things at all (particularly if you skipped Gears of War 4, the first Gears game developed by The Coalition – luckily, the story is recapped at the beginning of the campaign).
Though she featured heavily in pre-release promotional materials, at first, Kait feels little more than an NPC. Instead, you kick off the adventure as either JD Fenix or Del Walker, and whilst Kait is sometimes alongside you – albeit dogged by excruciating headaches that have her squadmates repeatedly asking if she’s okay – for the first couple of hours, things are indisputably very… well, Gears-y.
To be fair, that’s not a criticism. Few games rival Gears’ sense of raw, palpable power, fusing form and function as your delightful assemblage of weapons eviscerate – no, dissolve – foe after foe, their crude bodies exploding into bloody chunks that fall at your feet.
Melee, too, feels every bit as meaty and satisfying, and when you move, dashing from cover to cover, you move with solidity. Purpose. Strength. Yes, your beloved Lancer is still here. Yes, there’s still that inherent sense of bro-ship and squad-solidarity. Yes, Marcus is still snarking at you over the radio. And yes, there are a lot of corridors here with a suspicious number of very convenient, waist-high cover points.
“Few games rival Gears’ sense of raw, palpable power, fusing form and function as your delightful assemblage of weapons eviscerate – no, dissolve – foe after foe, their crude bodies exploding into bloody chunks that fall at your feet.”
While a good selection of familiar weapons is available, truncated clip sizes encourage experimentation with the new offerings, forcing you to pick up discarded weapons to finish the firefight. Jack, your robotic companion (yes, he’s back!) features a host of offensive and defensive traits to better your chances of survival, and its AI – and, to be fair, that of your squaddies – is usually pretty efficient.
Find enough of the components (and there are many, at least for those willing to look) you need to upgrade or improve his skills, and Jack will become an able, supportive companion… albeit one that’s a little slow to keep up with you when you’re relying on his flashlight in dark environments.
Before long, though – and it’s okay, we’ve no intention of spoiling anything for you here, so forgive us if we sound a little vague – the story quickens its pace, and opens up in a direction we weren’t quite expecting, with Kait taking point. Claustrophobic corridors open out into wide, inviting expanses, sprinkling an open(ish) world between intense combat chapters.
Sera is stunning place boasting rich, diverse habitats that’ll see you crunching through the ice one moment and trudging through rust-red dunes the next. It’s undoubtedly one of the series’ – maybe even the generation’s? – most spectacular looking games, and paired with its exceptional score and sound effects, Gears 5 is as wonderful to behold as it is to play.
While it’s tempting to think these open-world interludes are little more than padding, they’re masterfully paced and the perfect palate cleanser between frantic combat sequences. And though they look curiously deserted, there are plenty of little nooks and crannies to explore and lore-laced collectables to discover, adding depth to an already well-crafted tale.
Like any side quest system, they’re not mandatory to progress the story, of course… but there are usually rewards for those brave enough to step off the beaten path and seek out stories of their own.
“Never has a triple-A boasted such intricate accessibility and UI options… Gears 5 excels at permitting the player to tailor the experience to their own particular needs, including remarkable support for players with sensory and physical disabilities.”
Of course, Gears is even better with a friend or two alongside you. As well as playing the whole campaign in partnership, there’s also mayhem to be had in multiplayer, too. Along with the customary Versus mode, there’s also now Escape to complement five-player co-operative mode, Horde. The former retains its clean maps and fast action in spite of new additions such as special abilities, whilst the latter is an all-new co-operative mode for those wishing to work alongside other COGs, not obliterate them.
Gears 5 is not without its issues, of course. There’s an unwelcome difficulty spike with at least one boss fight – Matriarch Berserker, we’re looking at you – and whilst we didn’t experience anything particularly egregious firsthand beyond a couple of crashes when attempting to join a co-op lobby, there are nonetheless plenty of player complaints about bugs and glitches.
That said, never has a triple-A boasted such intricate accessibility and UI options. As well as granular in-game settings that let you decide from pretty much everything, from HUD hit markers to a profanity filter to enemy health bars, Gears 5 excels at permitting the player to tailor the experience to their own particular needs, including remarkable support for players with sensory and physical disabilities.
Though a tad slow to get going, Gears 5 has reinvented itself in ways many of us didn't dare dream was possible, blending what we loved about the franchise with a fresh story, personable protagonists, and some of the best visuals and shooting mechanics we've seen.
- Excellent score and SFX
- Great script and VO work
- Extraordinary, and meaty, gunplay
- A couple of onerous boss fights