“It’s time to introduce the new COG to the old COG.” Marcus Fenix says those words in Gears of War 4. Those words are a potent reminder of just how much has changed in the Gears of War universe. Oddly enough, even though things have changed, in many ways they’ve stayed the same. Gears 5 is an evolution of the franchise’s signature gunplay, level design, cover mechanics and gameplay modes. However even though improvements and adjustments have been made, this is still the same Gears of War that people have grown to love since 2006 when Marcus Fenix made his debut.
Return To War
The campaign starts off with a bang, literally. Throwing you into the action almost immediately, while showcasing gameplay and graphical improvements. At times, Gears 5 is one of the outright most gorgeous games of this generation. Especially during the second and third acts of the game when Gears takes on an open world quest structure that’s similar to last year’s God of War. You see some stunning vistas and the weather effects and their impact on the environment are second to none. However open worlds areas aren’t the only new thing here, your AI companions are much imporved in terms of general usefulness. Especially your companion Jack, that has an upgradable skill tree that allows you to tailor the game to your playstyle. If you want to freeze enemies in place and make them easier targets, you can do so. If you want to reveal enemy and item locations, you can make that happen as well. Jack can even be upgraded to revive you. He can also heal you if you get wounded and fetch ammo and weapons if you’re running low on supplies. Jack and his usefulness serve to augment the gameplay so no two experiences will be alike, and that’s a good thing, because Gears 5 is a wild departure from the typicaL Gears of War formula.
Not As It Seems
People see characters like Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago and Agustus Cole as nothing more than musclebound meatheads, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. These are men that had their entire lives changed because of a war they wanted no part of, and had no choice but to fight in. They’re just as tender as any other man, but they’ve never gotten the opportunity to show it, because they’ve had to fight to survive every day since the Locust appeared on the planet Sera. Gears of War has always had moments of levity and moments of genuine emotion buried under the surface of the trauma and tragedy. Gears 5 is no different, serving up an emotional tale of a son trying to live up to the expectations of his father, a friend trying to save another friend and a daughter trying to find out exactly who she is and the meanings of the visions she keeps having. Gears 5 is well written, well animated and most impressively well voice acted by both supporting and main cast members. Which makes the 10-15 hour run time of the game that much more enjoyable.
The gameplay of Gears has changed because of the Coalition deciding to throw the safe approach that they took with Gears 4 out the window. Instead of using targeting reticle bloom, guns have recoil that differs for every weapon. Perfect reload timing and animation has been changed and again varies by weapon. Enemy variety is large which keeps things fresh and the action frantic because you constantly have to switch tactics depending on what you’re fighting. Some enemies are best approached from a stealth perspective because they explode when they’re shot, other enemies are best cleared out with the typical gunplay. Some enemies like the Warden can only be taken down in one specific fashion. Having to worry about multiple different enemy types is part of the fun, and when you’ve got Gunplay as good as gears, it’s some of the most fun you can have in a shooter. Even the melee and cover mechanics got a rework so meleeing an enemy can be a viable combat strategy and cover can be used for more than just avoiding damage.
A New Direction
In terms of the world you’re playing in, Gears opens up in a big way. One of the biggest criticisms leveled at games like Gears has been linearity. People call Gears a corridor shooter because you’re moving from one linear environment to another, mowing down everything in your path, then rinsing and repeating. In acts 2 and 3, Gears 5 takes a semi open world approach where you can go wherever you like in the zone you’re dropped into. There are optional side missions to complete, upgrade parts for Jack to find, and powerful weapons known as relics, that are modified versions of existing weapons that have special abilities, like firing explosive rounds. Exploring every nook and cranny is a delight both visually and gameplay wise because you never know what you’ll find. Even the enemy encounters have been changed because now you can apprach on your terms, using stealth, flanking maneuvers, or even destroying the ground underneath an enemy to cause them to fall into a hole and never be seen again. The Coalition threw everything and the kitchen sink at Gears 5 and it shows.
Chainsaw Your Friends
Multiplayer as well has received significant upgrades. The game mode runs at a constant 60fps across all platforms which leads to a much smoother and more reactive experience. Versus multiplayer plays even faster than before. Skilled movement and gunplay is key, ammo is limited for powerful weapons so every shot has to count. When you’re just starting out you’ll get more than your fair share of shotguns to the face but as time goes on and you learn how to move quickly and efficiently through the map, you’ll be slaying your opponents in no time. Classic and ranked multiplayer and their progression systems make a return, just like arcade mode which is for people that still want to play multiplayer without it turning into a total sweatfest. The map variety is also top notch, taking influence from Battlefield 4’s “levolution” concept, by having different gameplay mechanics unique to each match that can totally change the way a match goes.
Horde mode has new improvements, taking the fabricator from Gears 4 and turning it up to 11 with the amount of things you’re able to craft to defend yourself. While also increasing the enemy variety and difficulty of the enemy AI as you get closer and closer to wave 50. The wild thing about it is the game never feels stale, even after your run ends in the mid 40s, it’s always easy to say “just one more round” even at 3 in the morning. Last but not least is escape. A much faster game mode than horde that sees you trying to escape a hive full of enemy creatures on a time limit. It’s fast, chaotic and unpredictable fun because enemies, weapons and spawn locations vary from playthrough to playthrough so you’ll always have to be on your toes. Gears 5 is the quintessential Gears of War experience to date, and I genuinely can’t wait to see what kind of experience The Coalitiion gifts us with for their next outing in the franchise.