When you get to the point of having the number ‘5’ in your game title, that number brings with it an expectation. An expectation of a certain type of quality, an expectation of a certain type of experience and an expectation of a certain type of gameplay. The type that’s been delivered before and the type that fans of the series have always enjoyed (not you, Judgment). When developers try to infuse a different type of experience with an established game series (be it gameplay, presentation, or control wise) they’re taking a huge gamble.
There have been some successful attempts at this but those seem to be few and far between. For the most part, a drastic change ends up leaving a bad taste in the mouth of die hard fans of a series (I’m looking at you, Halo 5). There’s a fine line between freshening up the experience and totally altering the experience to the point that it’s now unrecognizable. Thankfully, The Coalition have walked this fine line masterfully with Gears 5.
In Gears 5, all the classic Gear of War gameplay is still present and all your favorite characters still have a part to play. As expected, there’s new weapons to play around with and new people to meet. There’s also some returning cast members that I thought I’d personally never see again in a Gears game. But don’t be fooled. While these traditional sequel offerings are not in the least surprising, Gears 5 does a fantastic job of playing with expectations. While Gears 5 starts with the traditional, linear Gears of War gameplay, it ends up going the semi-open world route with optional side quests.
Another huge, new focus of the game revolves around collecting components and upgrades for your robot companion Jack. These components are found littered throughout the game’s levels and give you an entirely new reason to explore the world. Jacks has a myriad of assault and support abilities available. These include the abilities to drop shock traps and hack enemies as well as scanning the environment for enemy locations or making you and your squad invisible for a short period of time. He can even retrieve out of the way weapons and ammo on command, help a downed ally in a pinch or straight up support your assault with his taser. He’s such a big part of the game and your strategy on how you want to tackle certain situations that it’s a bit mind boggling that he was reduced to just opening doors or giving you some light in previous entries of the series. He is now such an essential entry in your squad, that someone can even play as him if they’re playing the campaign in co-op.
The campaign of Gears 5 centers around the story of Kait Diaz. Now a freshly minted Corporal in the COG, Kait is now wrestling with the revelation seen at the end of Gears of War 4 that her grandmother was Myrrah, Queen of the Locust Horde. While the ‘war’ in previous Gears games was external, Gears 5 does a nice job of focusing not only on the external conflict with the Swarm, but also on the internal conflict within Kait. An outsider taking up the weapons and armor of the once enemy COG is one thing, but also knowing that you’re connected, literally by blood, to the larger enemy is a whole other beast. Gears 5 does a nice job of telling this story with a few twists and turns (no spoilers, please) that will surely be keeping fans waiting anxiously until the next installment.
With the inclusion of a semi open world and side quests, Gears 5 also introduces a bit more flexibility on how you want to handle combat situations. A lot of situations will give you the option to go in guns blazing or with a stealth approach to help dwindle the enemy count before the gunfire commences. You can now implement stealth kills from behind and the melee abilities overall have been improved. You now utilize your knife by pressing the B button at any time. This is far more useful then the old gun smash melee from previous games. You can even combo into an execution by holding the B button at the right time when facing enemies head-on.
As with previous Gear games in the series, the campaign is just the beginning. Gears 5 comes with a Versus multiplayer mode, it’s popular wave after wave defending Horde Mode and an all new Escape Mode. Versus sees the traditional game modes of Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill set in the Ranked playlist with other popular modes like Dodgeball set into the Quickplay playlist. Gears 5 also introduces a quasi-class based versus type with the Arcade Quickplay playlist. This game type starts players with specific weapons based on the character they choose and for every few number of kills, a new weapon can be unlocked for their using. It’s a good little addition for those who seek to stray away from the gnasher-heavy versus playlists.
The new addition, Escape Mode, feels like a bit of a mashup of Left 4 Dead and any Battle Royale Game. Three players must (you guessed it) escape from a Hive crawling with enemies while trying to outrun the venom gas they unleashed. Ammo is limited and the Hives are maze-like in design. You’ll be sure to breath a sigh of relief whenever you find a safe room with supplies and ammo. Teamwork is essential as ammo is scarce and enemies can be brutal. Each character has passive and ultimate abilities like personal shields and electroblades that stun enemies. The strategic usage of these is crucial. Each character also has their own XP and equipable skill cards (just like horde) that can be upgraded to make each run a bit easier.
Horde Mode has also been freshened up a bit with passive and ultimate abilities. For example, Kait can turn invisible and flank her enemies and Marcus’ Living Legend ultimate makes his (and any nearby allies) bullets find their way to the heads of any opponents easily. Enemies now drop orbs that players need to collect to level up their abilities which is split evenly among all players. This ends up discouraging camping as the only method of victory and opens up player positions a bit, a welcome change to the mode.
However, not everything is perfect in Gears 5. If playing Solo, the AI seems to not really help much, especially on the higher difficulties. In one section, after my teammate exclaimed to shoot the enemy in the back, he proceeded to never do just that! A bit frustrating but all in all, not a huge deal if you plan on playing with friends. Also, there seems to be some bugs with some of the open-world structure. People are reporting (me included) that they’ve had to replay portions of the game because they did something seemingly not in order which prevented them from advancing further. A giant issue for any type of open-world game. At the time of this writing, some people are not seeing their multiplayer accomplishments updated after matches. I’ve also encountered a few times in versus where I was respawned next to enemy combatants, something I can’t remember experiencing in Gears of War 4. It is worth noting that this was all during the early release of the game and that hopefully these issues are corrected sooner than later.
The bottom line is, if you’ve always loved the Gears of War franchise, you’re gong to love Gears 5. Even with the glitches and inconsistent AI, the amount of content and quality here should be enough to quench the thirst of every die hard fan. If you’ve been the type to dabble in Gears but never found the gameplay thoroughly engaging or deep enough to continue, this is the entry to give it another shot. The Coalition has done a great job of reinventing the series and with that, changing expectations for what is possible and what is expected in any Gears game going forward.
SCORE: 9.0 out of 10
A code for the Gears 5 Ultimate Edition was provided to Pixel Related for review