Gears 5 Review- War Gets Personal

Posted September 16, 2019 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: The Coalition

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios

Release date: September 10, 2019

Available on: PC, Xbox One (reviewed)

The Gears franchise, at least to me, has always stood apart from other sci-fi shooters due to its strength of developed characters. While at first it may have the appearances of just another “bro shooter”- big muscled men with big guns shooting everything in sight- it became more than that, giving its characters a depth not often found in shooters. That really became apparent with the franchise’s last entry, 2016’s Gears of War 4. The story following JD Fenix and his comrades Delmont Walker and Cait Diaz became a little more personal, highlighting familial relationships, like between JD and his father, Marcus, and Cait and her mother.

That continues in Gears 5, where after the first act, where you play as JD Fenix, the story focuses on Cait. Cait’s story builds off the loss of her mother and the lingering effects from her encounters with the Swarm. She’s plagued by headaches and visions, and the depiction of Cait’s PTSD is something not often explored in shooters. It’s this rare delving into the psyche of a war torn soldier that drives the 8-12 hour campaign (depending on how much you explore and do side missions) over the game’s four acts. Cait’s pursuit of answers makes the war more personal, and what she finds leads her to make choices with far reaching consequences.

The gameplay is as tight as in previous Gears titles, and is nicely varied between shooting and exploration. The addition of the robot Jack gives players extra options on the battlefield, as he can be equipped with one attack mode, such as an electrical blast, and one support mode, such as a shield. Over the course of the game you’ll find or be given different modes for Jack, which can be upgraded by finding modules. you can also update Jack’s passive abilities, making him an even more effective companion. Jack can also be used to retrieve weapons from across the battlefield, or to access consoles and unlock doors. He’s also playable for those doing co-op.

The shooting is solid, and there are plenty of old favorites to use, like the Lancer and the Gnasher. Chainsawing enemies is still fun to do with the Lancer, and its chainsaw ability helps to clear passageways. There are a couple of new weapons, like the Claw, for players to use, and they work well. Loadout remains being three gun slots and one for grenades, and they can be changed up as you find weapons after battles if you wish. There are plenty of ammo crates to be found to replenish your supply, but they’re not so plentiful as to make every firefight a cakewalk.

Another new edition to the game is the skiff, a ski behind a sled propelled by a sail that serves as your primary transportation device across Acts 2 and 3. The skiff is driven by the player or character on the ski, with the sled being able to seat up to three companions. Weapons can be stored on the sled for easy access. The skiff gets you across vast terrain in the middle acts, where the gameplay gets a bit more open. Here you’ll find different side missions which add extra bits of story as well as enable you to find extra modules for upgrading Jack. Mission markers can however be a little confusing at times to follow, and I found I had to bring up my main map at times to make sure I was heading in the right direction.

Outside of the campaign there are a few multiplayer modes to delve into, as well as a boot camp to refresh you at the start as well as to help hone your skills. Horde returns and is as fun as ever. The 5 player co-op mode has you tackle 50 waves of enemies per map, with 12 maps available at launch. Escape is a new 3 player co-op that has you and two companions trying to escape a hive. There are four different hives at launch, each with their different challenges, and there’s even a map builder to create your own hive and share with the community. It can be a fun mode, but may be best with friends, as strangers may leave you behind or snatch up any ammo crates ahead of you.

For those who like competitive multiplayer, there’s the Versus mode. Versus has an Arcade mode that takes you through several types of matches, and can be either ranked or casual, depending on your preference and skill level. The modes here are typical of most shooter PvP modes, like Deathmatch or Control, and while they can be fun, your mileage out of them will depend solely if your one who enjoys PvP. Getting into matches works fairly well, though some match-ups can be a bit unbalanced. The co-op modes are better set for players of similar skill levels, and Horde will fill in AI bots for any players that drop out.

The game looks beautiful, with nicely detailed environments and particle effects. The voice acting is also outstanding, making the characters richer and fuller than other typical sci-fi shooters. The story is well done, though the ending is an obvious set-up for the next entry for the franchise, which may disappoint some who may wish for a better resolution. For the most part the game runs great, but some technical issues do rear their head. I mainly hit these issues in Act 2, but other players have reported hitting them elsewhere in the game. The issues include a saving bug that can force you to replay a big section of the game, as well as dialogue or scenes not loading properly. They’re not game-breaking, but they are annoying and because they do occur they need to be mentioned here. Hopefully a patch corrects these down the line, as these tech issues do mar an otherwise excellent experience.

In all, Gears 5 is another worthy entry in the franchise, and may be the best one yet. Cait’s story and the depiction of her PTSD help elevate this above your typical shooter, and the voice acting makes the characters likeable and fell fully developed. Gameplay is solid, with nice options for multiplayer once the credits roll on the campaign. The Coalition promises more maps and modes for the future, so there’s plenty here to get you bang for your buck. A few technical but not game-breaking issues to mar the experience a little, but the annoyances they cause are easily swept away by the superb gameplay and story. This may be the best Gears to date, and has me eagerly looking forward to the next entry into the series.

9.5/10 stars

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus