As I get older and my video game tastes narrow and preferred range of titles gets pared down (which was never that extensive in the first place), there are only two combat shooters that have remained stalwarts and persisted in my collections: one of them is Gears of War (the other is Halo).
Gears of War 5 (or officially Gears 5) sort of snuck up on me until reminded of it at this year’s E3 and then it seemed like full steam ahead with a new game promising to answer the major cliffhanger left behind in Gears of War 4.
As much as I enjoyed GoW4, I recognised that overall it was a little “safe”. Understandable considering The Coalition were a new studio who were assigned the game after Microsoft bought the franchise so they needed to just get a competent game out there. With the warm up out of the way, Gears 5 absolutely delivers a fantastic and highly-enjoyable sequel.
POTENTIALLY MINOR SPOILERS from here on out but the compelling campaign story is accompanied by wonderful visuals and a new variety of game play mechanics that really revitalises the series.
Like a TV series, Gears 5 opens with a “previously on…” segment, which is handy as the lore of this universe has become somewhat complex. The game itself kicks off where the previous one ends, in fact the entire first act feels like the proper ending to #4. With a new control scheme and mechanics to play it’s a good way to ease back into things.
I’m all about the main campaign story with games these days (multiplayer doesn’t really do it for me anymore so my focus is usually on the single player experience) and I was enthralled in this one. While some might complain about it being “predictable”, a lot of the enjoyment comes from seeing things unfold rather than being kicked in the guts with surprises (and there are a few legit surprise twists to be had for sure).
There is a very important choice you have to make in this game that may determine the future of the sequel. That’s all I’ll say.
The XBox One is almost six years old but somehow this game looks better than anything else on this system. The Gears aesthetic has always been described as “destroyed beauty” it’s even more evident than before with such rich and highly detailed environments but also contrasts that destruction with equally beautiful natural scenery to show the parts of the planet Sera that are growing again.
Along with the slightly new control scheme comes a variety of game play mechanics, the most significant of which involves the robot Jack as part of your offensive and defensive arsenal. Jack has a range of functions that you make use of and can upgrade them as you progress through the game (which also involves finding collectables to help earn the ability to make certain upgrades).
To help break up the monotony of its cover shooter core are the Act 2 and 3 portions where you traverse sparse landscapes on a skiff. It has the feel of an open world without properly being so but it does allow for optional side missions that take you off the mostly linear game path. Not only is it so much fun controlling the skiff but it’s another opportunity to show off the awesome graphics.
I would have to say my favourite thing about Gears 5 is the reframing of Kait Diaz as the main character. Even though it was only teased at the end of #4 of her importance to the story going forward, the easy and lazy thing to do would be to keep her as a side character and maintain “The Fenix Family Saga” but we already had three games about that and JD Fenix didn’t come of as that interesting (that is until somewhat into this game of course).
Gears of War has always had the veneer of a hyper-masculine, super over the top macho attitude even after introducing prominent female characters in the the third game yet in the gradual transition it loses none of that energy and grit that made these games so much fun. That speaks volumes in regards to what these games have truly been about and what is important in telling a compelling story.
It’s certainly not a perfect game however, in my play through I encountered a few glitches of characters cutting through the ground, enemies affecting damage when they clearly didn’t, etc. The most frustrating was when I was stuck on one check point at the halfway point of the game for two hours and when I finally made good progress the game failed to load the final wave of enemies to progress any further causing me to start the checkpoint all over again.
I played on “Experienced” for the first half of the game until that frustrating checkpoint and then had to lower it to “Intermediate” (hey I’m not as good as most people nor do I play as often) just so I could finally progress instead of raging out, which hasn’t happened for years!
Gears 5 is a beautiful and fun game that not only revitalises the Gears of War series but adds to the lore and story. it also makes me want to make a new set of COG armour and cosplay as Marcus Fenix again.
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