Score: 9.5/10 | THIRD-PERSON SHOOTER | RPG ELEMENTS | STRONG VIOLENCE
“The Coalition have done an amazing job with Gears 5 to make veteran fans feel at home whilst also welcoming newcomers to the series.”
Gears 5 is a third-person cover-based shooter game developed by The Coalition and published by Xbox Game Studios for Xbox One and PC via Xbox Play Anywhere and for the first time on Steam. It released for Ultimate Edition preorders and Xbox Game Pass subscribers on September 6, 2019 here in Australia and releases worldwide on September 10. This is the 6th instalment in the Gears of War series. Gears of War 1-3 and Gears of War: Judgement (a prequel to Gears 1) were developed by Epic Games’ Cliff Bleszinski and Rod Fergusson. Microsoft acquired all rights to the Gears franchise in early 2014, bringing in The Coalition to develop a remaster of Gears of War 1, the Ultimate Edition which released in 2015. Whilst Cliff was no longer involved, Rod has cast and directed every Gears title to date. Gears of War 4 was then released towards the end of 2016, this time set 25 years after GoW3 focusing on Marcus’ son, JD Fenix.
My history with the Gears series on started way back in April 2007 when I first plunged into the world of consoles. Majority of my gaming prior to that was on PC so it was a big step to firstly commit to a console, and even harder decision as to whether I went with the Xbox 360 or the newly released PlayStation 3. The Xbox 360 was selling for $600 here in Australia and the PlayStation 3 was a whopping $995. My mate Grant was with me and he simply said, “For the price of the PS3, you could just get the 360 plus 3 games.” “Well when you put it like that, I’m sold!” So, I walked out with a shiny new Xbox 360 as well as Gears of War, Call of Duty 3 and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Double Agent. Gears was one of the first games I played co-op on the 360 and got hooked on it straight away. It was initially weird being over the shoulder in third-person view, but the cover-based gameplay really set the game apart from others at that time and the story was epic.
Fast forward to September 2019 and Gears 5 is finally upon us with the same voice actors from previous games in the series including Laura Bailey (Kait Diaz), Liam McIntyre (JD Fenix), Eugene Byrd (Del Walker) and the great John DiMaggio (Marcus Fenix). One of the first things I do when playing a new game is to go into the settings window to make sure subtitles are on and to invert mouse look. While in these settings I saw we had the ability to use the new Xbox adaptive controller which is great to see. In navigating the Extras menu item, two things caught my eye – “Previously on Gears” and “Gears of War State of the Universe”. I started with State of the Universe and was pleased to see that they provided a brief overview of the key plot points of the four major games in the series. Whilst watching it, I was remembering my time playing co-op with Grant and the emotions that came with scenes with Dom, Marcus’ father Adam, Anya and little JD. This means that Gears 5 is a great entry point for anyone who has never played a Gears game. One of our directors, Pete Curulli, has never played a Gears game and this was perfect for him.
“It gives you enough to begin that emotional connection to the characters and feed that drive to play the other games to catch up on what has happened more extensively, without getting bogged down in story.”
If, like Pete, this is the very first time playing the game, you will be put into a training simulator. I breezed through this on the Xbox One, but it felt different playing on the PC with keyboard/mouse, so I was glad to go through the motions. One thing Pete and I found unusual was having sprint bound to the spacebar by default. This is because shift is bound to Tac Ops in Gears 5, whereas shift is generally sprint in a lot of PC games. It didn’t take long to get used to; it just threw us off initially. Beyond the tutorial, you will begin Act 1: Shot in the Dark, and it’s here you can play single player or invite two other friends to play 3-player online co-op, or split screen if you have enough controllers at home. Once into the introduction sequence, the graphics blew me away.
It looks damn good on my 110” theatre screen with the base Xbox One, and just as amazing on my PC. I am using a GTX1060 GPU and Pete a 1080ti, but we can only imagine how good it would be on an RTX2080 or an Xbox One X in 4K. When running around the abandoned research facility on Azura as JD, it had the similar linear design of previous Gears games, guiding you forward. I was also pleased to see collectibles like COG tags and other objects that gave you a snippet or game lore. A cool new feature was the ability to order flying robot companions, Dave (and later Jack), to collect ammo boxes and weapons that you couldn’t reach yourself, or to activate switches in rooms with locked doors. I also felt that there was a stealthier approach to fights this time around as opposed to just running in guns blazing. This gave you an opportunity to scout the battlefield and position yourself better, sometimes able to use finishing moves on one or two of the enemy before the fight erupts. I also loved the banter between JD, Kait, Del and Marcus, with Baird on the radio and enjoyed seeing the Cole Train again.
The first Act played true to form for the Gears series, with some heavy emotional scenes at the end of Chapter 4. The voice acting for all characters was top notch and they had you right there with them feeling their pain or triumphs. I loved watching the different dynamics and banter between the characters, especially with Marcus and his son JD. It was good to see some new types of weapons, such as the Talon Autopistol and Lancer GL Assault Rifle, but I felt most at home with the regular Lancer and the occasional chainsaw kill. It was cool to pick up the Retro Lancer from time to time too.
Once Act 2 came around, we switched to playing as Kait and this is where the story started to bring together the outcomes of Gears 4 and puts you into her mind and thoughts. The snow/ice theme was a good change of scenery as we helped a local village with a familiar chieftain. It was also cool to be able shoot thin sheets of ice to drop the enemy into the freezing water. Full credit to the design team at The Coalition here because once you shoot a hole in the ice, the water freezes back over after a short amount of time. Really cool stuff.
Not long into Act 2, you are thrust into an open-world area to explore, and it’s so large that you need a skiff to traverse the icy plains. This is where the game starts to take on an RPG flavour, as side missions present themselves as you discover points of interest such as train tracks and crashed condors. These are short optional missions that offer a small variety of combat scenarios, and upon completion will reward you with upgrade modules for the robot Jack. Later on, you’ll be able to find ultimate modules which make Jack’s skills very versatile. These side missions are optional and once you progress the main story to a point, you’re asked if you’re ready to leave this area. As I’m a quest/mission completionist, I just had to find all the locations, complete the missions and retrieve ability upgrades.
As you find new abilities for Jack, the next area you come across will require you to use that skill. This is a great way to learn how to use each ability, rather than leaving you to figure it out. Later in the game, I appreciated this method of forced learning because often in games like this, I’ll get used to and rely on one or two favourite abilities and not want to change them. As you progress through the story, you’ll come across situations that call for previous abilities and you’re thankful you were taught their use. As an example, when I discovered the cloak ability, I thought it sounded cool but didn’t want to drop the pulse and stim abilities. However, we needed to use cloak to get past two sentry guns that can’t be shot down. The next area had us pinned down by multiple snipers and we were hiding behind ice structures that were destructible. We cloaked and sprinted behind them to take them out.
With the Xbox Play Anywhere functionality, I was able to swap between playing the game on Xbox in my home theatre system when my daughter was awake, then switch to playing PC when she went to sleep and seamlessly continuing my story campaign. This became a godsend as I started to struggle with boss fights with the Xbox controller, especially the boss of Act 2. I couldn’t aim quick enough with the controller, whereas on PC I’m a deadeye, so there were certain sections where I kept dying over and over and getting frustrated, then ended up switching to PC and finished that section first go. Act 3 was a similar open-world area, this time it was on a red-dust desert planet with the occasional super storm of fiery tornadoes and lightning bolts that would cause crystal shards to shoot up out of the ground. Later, these crystals became cover you could hide behind when in combat situations.
The final Act switched back to the linear gameplay as the pace quickened to an inevitable epic end fight. Again, I struggled using the Xbox controller for these battles so had to switch back to the PC. The story was emotional and at one point you must make a heart wrenching decision. After that I was a little numb, wondering if anything else would happen to Delta Squad. There were a few heart-in-throat close calls towards the end which got the blood pumping and then we finally triumphed. The closing scenes reveal the path to Gears 6 and after I checked my stats, I had clocked 12 hours in the campaign. I was reluctant each night to have to logout of the game as I just wanted to know what would happen next, and therefore I feel this is the best Gears game in the series to date. I cannot wait to see how The Coalition can improve this formula for Gears 6.
Outside of the main story campaign, there are three multiplayer modes available – Versus, Escape and Horde. Versus is the standard multiplayer option which has arcade mode and ranked mode. There are ten game types utilising classic maps and some new ones added for this game and is a great competitive option. Escape is a new addition to Gears multiplayer and is a survival mode where you need to outrun the Swarm and escape the hive. It’s built for 3-player squads who must work together to take out enemy hives whilst staying out of reach of a deadly cloud. Horde mode makes its return from Gears of War 3 and is 5-player survival mode against increasingly difficult waves of monsters and bosses, earning powerups and defence abilities to help your odds of survival.
With Escape and Horde modes, there is a difficulty slider before you start queuing for a match that adds certain modifiers to make the enemy more difficult, and in turn increases the chance of better rewards that you can earn. There are eight difficulty levels and I bow down to anyone that can play at the Master difficulty. Our man Royce Wilson got hands on in The Coalition studios in Vancouver with Horde mode. You can read about his experiences in this fantastic multiplayer mode here.
The only real negatives I can give to the game has been the connectivity issues of this early release period and occasionally having my progressed rolled back. However, the engineers at The Coalition are working like Delta troopers and posting regular fixes and updates, so I’m sure these will be non-issues shortly after the official launch on September 10.
Overall, I gave this game a 9.5/10. Gears 5 is the best game in the Gears of War series for me. The Coalition have done an amazing job in making Gears veterans feel at home whilst also welcoming newcomers to the series. The graphics are stunning, the voice acting is top notch and the addition of open-world exploration and upgrades for Jack gave it a personal experience at your own pace. I loved being able to switch between playing on Xbox and PC seamlessly continuing my story campaign.
Coming September 15th in the US is something fans have been wanting to see for a long time, Dave Bautista wearing the Gears armour. He will be a playable character in the multiplayer modes to coincide with the WWE Network’s “Clash of Champions”. To unlock Bautista, simply play any version of Gears 5 beginning September 15 and the promotion ends October 28.
This review utilised a game code provided by the publisher on Xbox One and PC via Xbox Play Anywhere. Gears 5 is rated MA 15+ for Strong Bloody Violence and Online Interactivity. It’s available on Xbox and PC through an Xbox Game Pass subscription and is also available on PC through Steam.