Gears Tactics is undeniably a Gears title. It looks the part, sounds the part and yes, even feels the part. Somehow, The Coalition and Splash Damage have managed to take the secret sauce that makes Gears what it is and apply it to a tactical turn-based strategy game. Seeing how well Gears Tactics turned out, I’m surprised it hasn’t been done sooner.
I also won’t be surprised when other franchises start to follow suit. Tactics games have a lower barrier to entry for many players who struggle to control a character in 3D games. This genre allows them to experience something similar without the control issues.
With Gears Tactics, we have a new story in the Gears universe. It expands on existing lore, fills in some details and fits neatly within the existing narrative. Franchise fans are going to love where Gears Tactics takes them.
Gears Tactics Review
As I mentioned in my preview, Gears Tactics is set 12-years before Gears of War. It follows Gabe Diaz — Kait’s dad — on his mission to track Ukkon, creator of the Brumak, Corpser and other monstrosities. Like all Gears games, the story is best experienced, so I’ll say nothing more other than it truly feels like a Gears story. It has all the highs, lows, plot twists and action you’d expect.
Setting Gears Tactics before Gears of War also helps foster nostalgia and give long-time fans moments to be excited about. Getting to see the classic Locust (while you saw them in half), original weaponry and the wartorn, crumbling cityscapes took me right back to the good ol’ Xbox 360 days.
Albeit, in a far prettier package.
As a PC game, Gears Tactics will look as good as you can make it look. However, as a tactics game, sacrifices have been made in order to show such a large field and so many characters. Gears 5 this ain’t. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. When the camera zooms in, you’re more likely going to be enthralled by your execution or the sniper shot that blew a Locust in half, rather than the slightly blurry textures or jagged polys.
And while the visuals are a little lower than you’d expect from Gears (again, because of the amount of visual data on-screen at once) the audio is top notch. Voice acting, weapon sounds, Locust grunts and music all sound flawless. The audio is pure Gears and when you hear the end of combat stinger, you’ll feel it too.
So, how do you transform a 3rd-person cover-shooter into a tactical turn-based game? Quite easily apparenlty. I’m not sure if Gears lends itself espeically well to this genre or if The Coalition and Splash Damage are supremely talented — or both — but Gears Tactics is one of the best uses of a franchise IP I’ve played in a long time.
It boils down to some basic mechanics that cement Gears Tactics as a tactics game, while retaining its Gears…ness.
Characters are split into a number of classes; Support, Vanguard, Sniper, Heavy and Scout. Each class has its own weapons, skills and abilities. However, each class also has its own skill tree that you upgrade over time and each skill tree has four unique specialisations. If, as a Support character, you want to focus on healing you’d opt to follow the Surgeon path. You are free to mix and match as much as you like too and, you can earn Reset Token to clear the skill tree and start all over again.
The Skill Trees are a combination of active and passive skills which allow you a great amount of control over your units and their builds. It’s possible to have two of the same class with entirely different skills and abilities and in doing so, you can ensure you have the right squad for each mission.
When a unit is downed, you can revive them, just like in Gears and when an enemy is down, you can execute them. This is one of the best features of Gears Tactics. When you execute a downed enemy, all other members of your squad get an extra action point. You can even try to link executions to help push your squad forward and deal with more enemies.
Like most tactics games, Gears Tactics lets you take turns using your units. However, Gears Tactics isn’t set on a grid, so your characters are able to go anywhere. They’re also given three Action Points to spend however you like. You can make three movements or shoot three times or use three abilites or any combination of them. It gives you an enormous amount of freedom to play how you want to.
Another element which gives you enormous control over unit customisation is in weapons and armour. Each unit’s main weapon has four components and each component can be swapped out for new ones you find. These include common, rare, epic and legendary rarities with better stats attached to more rare pieces. As you complete missions, collect equipment cases and level up, you’ll start to find synergies between weapon and armour sets that let you create some inanely badass Gears.
That’s really the extent of Gears Tactics‘ metagame. Unlike XCOM, where you’ll be diving deep into the homebase meta, Gears Tactics is content to allow you to spend that time customising you squad. I probably spent as much time doing so as I did trying to save City 31, so I’d say that’s a success.
The campaign plays out across Acts and Chapters with the majority of missions furthering the story. However, the campaign does include some padding in the side-missions that must be completed before you can continue. These often require you to hold two zones and prevent enemies from entering them or simply killing all enemies.
The gameplay in Gears Tactics is great but these side-missions really screwed with the pacing of both the narrative and my understanding of gameplay mechanics. It would have been much more pallatable if there were fewer of these, or if they had been set aside as a separate ‘Horde Mode.’
All that being said, when you’re in the thick of things, perfectly executing combos with your squad, extending your AP by completing executions, closing an emergence hole before it opens by planting a grenade on top of it or fighting the enormous and difficult boss battles, Gears Tactics is undeniably a great game.
Turning Gears of War into a turn-based title sounds like a stretch but it suits it down to the ground and the dev teams have done a wonderful job making sure it feels just right.
While it’s only available on PC for now, I’m really looking forward to the Xbox One version to see how well it translates to a console and a controller.
Gears Tactics is a must-play if you’re a fan of the franchise or the genre.
Gears Tactics was reviewed on PC using a digital code provided by Microsoft.
Game Title: Gears Tactics