MICROSOFT’S major release for this year will be chainsaw-bayonetting its way into Xbox One and PC systems across the world from September 6 when Gears 5 releases.
Developed by The Coalition, as the name suggests this game is the fifth instalment in the hugely popular franchise, which has become a staple of the third-person cover shooter genre.
Earlier this week I had a chance to visit The Coalition’s studios in Vancouver as a guest of Microsoft and find out first hand what the new game has in store ahead of its September 10 release (September 6 for Game Pass Ultimate members).
Part of the experience was an extended hands-on with the new five-player co-operative Horde mode, where players face waves of enemies, starting with small numbers of low-level opponents who are easily despatched. Downed foes drop energy, which can then be used to buy walls, sentry guns, repair defences, and so on.
As the wave count increases, enemies also receive buffs such as additional health, damage resistance, and they increase in level and number too – all pretty standard stuff for horde modes, but still challenging and fun nonetheless.
At launch, there will be nine characters available as heroes in Horde mode – six from Gears 5, two from the Halo universe (neither of whom are Master Chief) and one from The Terminator franchise.
The Coalition are acutely aware a lot of gamers will be coming to Gears 5 with no prior experience of the series, and have taken pains to make onboarding into all aspects of Gears 5 as welcoming as possible – and that includes Horde Mode.
Indeed, one of the support characters, Jack, is geared towards newcomers. Jack is a drone whose weapon is a shock probe, a passive ability of turning invisible when not moving, the ability to repair defences and turrets, and a special ability of temporarily being able to seize control of an enemy and control them for a short period.
While the character sounds ridiculously overpowered, his taser isn’t as damaging as the guns wielded by the other characters and he doesn’t have a lot of health. Also, enemies he takes control of will regain control with whatever health they still have, meaning they can still be a real challenge to put down permanently.
Kait, the protagonist of the main game, has a cloaking ultimate ability that allows her to go invisible and remain so while she stealth-kills enemies, Sarah Connor (yes, that one; Linda Hamilton even provides the voice) gains the ability to knock enemies down with her attacks, while others have expanded defence building options, better combat abilities, and the like.
Additionally, as players make their way through the waves, they can gain levels and experience which can be turned into perk cards, providing a manner of boosts to them and their team.
In the group I played with we found that up until about Wave 10 it was pretty straightforward, things got a bit more challenging to Wave 15, Wave 16 was our first defeat, and then the waves just became an ever-narrower victory until, by Wave 27, we were just getting overrun – we couldn’t keep our defences up, enemies were pouring through gaps, and our sentry guns were running dry.
The developers reckon a full 50-wave runthrough will take anywhere from 90 minutes on the easiest difficulty up to three or four hours on the hardest level, with commensurate rewards for tackling the more challenging options.
Not all of us are blessed with four friends capable of being on the internet at the same time for an extended period – families, jobs, and daily life continuing their ever-present scheming against our free time – but Gears 5 horde mode is playable solo too, with the AI filling in any empty slots (including if someone drops out mid-match), although they’re not nearly as effective.
While AI friendlies can attack enemies and revive downed human players, they can’t build defences or use ultimate abilities, so it’s clear the experience is best enjoyed with other people.
It’s good to see additional content beyond the main campaign in a AAA title and I had a lot of fun with my time playing the Gears 5 Horde Mode.
It’s set to be a popular part of the game, especially given the developers are promising further content post-launch too, so if this is your jam then make sure you’ve got your Lancer locked and loaded for when it launches in September.
The author travelled to Vancouver as a guest of Microsoft