This review is based on Gears 5’s campaign.
Like that other ‘of War’ game, Gears 5 looks to shake up the formula established by its franchise. Dropping the ‘of War‘ hints at a streamlined, faster Gears. However, that’s not what Gears 5 is all about. Like God of War, Gears 5 attempts to reinvent itself. To take what made the franchise great and magnify those elements, while introducing new mechanics that improve the formula and removing those that are detrimental. God of War was incredibly successful in its attempts at pulling off this very difficult maneuver.
Gears 5, while decent, is not quite as successful. Combat largely feels the same as it always has, all the way back to Gears of War. There are some tweaks and some new flashy toys, but nothing that shakes the franchise up at its core.
The narrative is excellent, yet feels familiar. Not in a negative way but certainly in one that maintains the status quo. Even though Gears 5 is the sixth game in the franchise, it almost feels as though we’re still being told the same story.
Comic books have been using this trick for decades. So, why not video games.
The biggest change of all is also the most contentious. At times, I enjoyed the semi “open world” of Gears 5. At others, I was left scratching my head as to why it was even included.
Gears 5 Review
Gears 5 picks up right where Gears of War 4 left off. If you’ve forgotten the major plot points, or have been out of the loop, there are two handy “previously on…” videos you can watch in the options.
I really wish more devs would add this to their games. It’s such an ingenious feature that after seeing it in Gears 5, I’m hoping it becomes standard.
Playing as JD Fenix (initially), players head to an old facility in an attempt to get the Hammer of Dawn back into commission. Chaos ensues, Swarm attack and bodies get sawn in half by chainsaws.
As Act 1 draws to a close, a catastrophic mishap occurs, which splinters Delta Squad and sees the action pick up a few months later. Now, in control of Kait, the narrative shifts focus. The Hammer of Dawn is still important, but it’s merely the MacGuffin.
Kait is the real star of the show. Her story is what drives Gears 5 and it’s one of the things that works best for the game. Telling personal stories has always been when Gears shines brightest. The same can be said of this entry.
However, the ending is left on a bit of a cliffhanger without much being resolved. Obviously, developer The Coalition is going for a trilogy here and Gears 5 is simply Act 2. That being said, I was still left a little cold by the way Gears 5 ends.
Though I have to say, it’s always a pleasure to hear John DiMaggio play Marcus Fenix.
Big Guns. Big Bugs.
When it comes to gameplay, much of Gears 5 is Gears as you know it. Big guns, chest-high walls, ugly bugs, active reloads and really solid mechanics. Playing Gears 5, it’s still clear, all these years later, why Gears of War popularised the cover-shooter.
Moving in and out of cover is silky smooth and incredibly easy. Move from cover-to-cover is the same. Aiming, firing, switching weapons and using alternate-fire modes are all simple, feel good and are a lot of fun.
However, I can’t help but feel that the shooting is pretty safe. There’s nothing that really changes the overall feel, the pace or the tension of the gunplay. Whilst there are new mechanics, none of them makes a drastic change.
One new element is Jack’s abilities. As you play through Gears 5, you’ll find an unlock new upgrades for Jack that let him perform actions in and out of combat. Some are pretty straightforward such as healing or sending out a pulse to highlight enemies.
Others are quirky and definitely make for extra fun. My favourite is Flash. When used against enemies in cover, they’re stunned for a few seconds and stumble around in a daze. This lets you get enemies out of cover for those gory headshots.
Even better still is when you’ve upgraded Flash so that it freezes enemies for a brief time. Deal enough damage while they’re frozen and they’ll shatter into a million pieces.
One other ability I made great use of was Stealth. When fully upgraded, you can use stealth to execute enemies and each time you kill one, you extend the time you’re cloaked. It makes for some great sequences in which you kill all of the Swarm before they even fire a shot at you.
However, it is a bit janky. No matter if the Swarm are aggro’d or not, if you use Stealth, they will forget where you are. Even if you execute their buddy right in front of them, they won’t bat an eyelid. They’ll instead, stand around and wait for their turn. It’s weird.
Jack’s abilities and upgrades is new and it does add something to the combat but it’s not enough. It’s a nice extra flavour but the meal is still very much the same.
Exploration is also in the same boat, for the most part. Aside from the two, large “open-world” sections, Gears 5 is a linear, guided experience. And this is where Gears 5 is at its best. The sad truth of it is, is that Gears 5’s open-world sections just don’t really work.
Great Big Empty World
Gears 5 is like Rage 2 in that it is a series of small encounters separated by vast, open nothingness. Exploring Gears 5’s two open-world sections isn’t rewarding, nor is it that much fun. Both are really beautifully rendered but there’s just not enough gameplay to justify them.
There aren’t random encounters, nor are there enemies populating the open world sections. Instead, they’re just big, empty spaces for you to needlessly journey from A to B.
God of War’s shift to a more open map design was a success because it employed Metroidvania elements. There’s none of that in Gears 5. Once an area has been cleared, there’s no reason to return.
Good. Not Amazing
It’s open-world, for open-world’s sake and it’s just not bringing anything extra to Gears 5. I honestly believe it would have been a much better, more impressive game if the open-world sections were stripped out and The Coalition had instead focused on additional, tightly scripted, white knuckle action sequences.
That’s what Gears is. That’s what Gears does well and that’s what it should stick to.
That’s not to say it’s a bad game. Certainly not. The campaign is a lot of fun and when you’re done you still have Horde, Versus and Escape to play. I just wish I didn’t have to spend so much time riding the skiff while nothing but sand/snow went by.
Either Gears 6 needs to go all-in on open-world or ditch it altogether.
Gears 5 though, is a decent addition to the franchise. Fans will love the story and lore and will equally enjoy the combat. It doesn’t reinvent the COG but then again, it doesn’t have to.
Gears 5 was reviewed on PC and Xbox One using a digital code provided by Microsoft.
Game Title: Gears 5