Review – Gears 5
Gears 5 – for this outing the series eschews the ‘of War’ moniker it’s used since the original launched in 2006 – is a redemption story, though perhaps not exactly the story you expect going into it, and is an absolute blast from start to finish.
Players control a couple of characters through the story, starting with JD Fenix, son of series staple Marcus Fenix, before moving on to Kait Diaz, an Outsider whose heritage is called into question and explored in the game’s early acts. The writing here is the best the series has seen thus far, moving away from the “dudebro” action movie dialog and injecting some real character-building back-and-forth into the scenes.
It’s one area the series was lacking, as despite that ‘could be a Schwarzenegger movie from the 80’s’ vibe, Gears has always had a strong base story underlying it all. Each game has layered in some complexity to the narrative, and Gears 5 takes it to another level entirely as it explores the origins of the Locust and the various offshoots of the species.
Gamers – playing solo, or with up to two friends – will explore those origins across a wide array of environments, including lush jungles, frozen expanses of ice and snow, and the blowing red sands of a desert. Gears 5 is somehow the best looking the series has ever been while also sporting easily the largest maps, and they’re locations that are open to exploration like they’ve never been before.
Don’t worry, series purists, the bulk of the game is still the tense arena-style ‘hide behind cover and pop heads’ gameplay you’re familiar with, but between those sections is an open – albeit mostly empty – world to traverse. Driving the all-new Skiff vehicle, which can carry multiple people as well as store extra weapons, in these open world areas, players can choose to go straight to the next story objectives or carry out secondary missions that pop up along the way.
While you’re free to ignore these side missions it’s not a bad idea to knock them out when you get the chance as they reward you with major upgrades for JACK, your robotic companion. You may also find some unique weapons while exploring out of the way places…
From the gameplay, which sees some minor tweaks/additions and feels faster than ever thanks to the 60 fps target, to the suitably booming audio – The Coalition nailed everything about Gears 5 to perfection. In the interest of not spoiling anything, I’ll just say this about the campaign – it felt epic in a way the series hasn’t felt in years, and it absolutely leaves you wanting more.
Fortunately, when you’re done the campaign there is more – Versus, Escape, and Horde modes* round out the offerings, plus a Boot Camp for series newbies or those who need a refresher before jumping into an Insane difficulty playthrough. If you’re new, or a long-lapsed player, be sure to check out the ‘Previously on Gears’ and ‘State of the Universe’ video summaries found in the Extras menu, as they do a stellar job of catching you up on what’s happened thus far.
There’s also My Tour, a progression system that offers 43 unlockable rewards based on completing objectives like killing 120 drones, getting 40 shotguns kills, or 30 eliminations with a specific character. The available rewards include emotes, banners, and character and weapon skins, as well as Iron – the currency used in the in-game store. With 20 characters to choose from between CoG and Locust factions, including four bonus characters that come from the Halo and Terminator universes, there’s a whole lot of extra content to collect.
Gears 5 releases September 5th for early access availability via Game Pass Ultimate or pre-ordering the Ultimate Edition, and September 10th for the regular edition. Reviewed using Xbox One X and PC, via code provided by the publisher.
* Check back at launch for details on the multiplayer modes and how they’ve survived the typically server-melting rush of players