Publisher: Xbox Games Studios
Developer: The Coalition
Platform: Xbox One, PC
Preface: I have just finished the campaign and after writing this review, will add more info about the multiplayer modes and co-op.
Gears of War 5 or as it's called now Gears 5, is not the kind of game I expected to enjoy yet be confused about it. The Coalition, developer behind the game with Rod Fergusson as director had almost 3 years to work on it after Gears of War 4. What they delivered is pretty amazing yet a bit vexing.
The 5th installment(not counting Judgement) is packed with content. Alongside Versus and Horde mode, there's Escape. It is also the last Gears game for the Xbox One family before the next iteration comes for another generation.
So the big question beckons. Did this title succeed any of the Gears game before this? Judging from someone like me who has played all the Gears title(including Judgement). I'd say not quite, let me get into why that is.
The storyline for Gears starts off not long after 4, you play once again as JD with his merry squad heading to Azura in order to find the long-lost tech that made the Hammer of Dawn. The same weapon that ruined cities in the prior Gears game. So with some reluctance, they've decided to use it as a last resort against the new threat that is the Swarm. Little did they know, things are about to change a whole lot.
After Act 1, you play through the rest of the game as Kait. By that point, it becomes a tense and gripping story which also reveals more secrets about the villain of prior games as well as her connection to it. Unfortunately, the game's arc loses its luster as soon as Act 3 starts. With a rushed ending in Act 4. I was confused by it overall till I managed to get my head around it and figure that the story was great, the storytelling structure was a bit dilapidated. There are two different endings based on the choices you make in Act 4, the only way to know good from the bad is which one doesn't play the climactic music Gears is known for.
Of course, if you've played Gears, you'll know which will be canon in the next game, which renders the narrative junction pointless. This was the reason why I was perplexed and it feels like Microsoft is playing a hand on the story decisions just like they did with Halo 5. Act 4 was over very fast, which made the ending feel anti-climactic in a sensible way.
But, you still have great comradery with your teammates' with well-written dialogue exchanges that keep you busy even if you're just cruising through chapters in the open-world segments.
The gameplay, of course, is a different story. There have been a lot of good changes and some new introductions that give a fresh experience. The game is now more versatile, you don't always have to pump up a shotgun to get easy kills, that's because now, you have weapons that fire in burst rates that do the job. An old friend of last trilogy Gears also returns, Jack. Instead of helping you with locks, hacks, and breaches, Jack can now assist his crew with newfound abilities. These abilities include giving you a shield, makes you cloaked and scan for enemies in the area. They're upgradable by collecting components with some requiring you to do side tasks in order to unlock special bonuses for each ability.
Combat is fluid and versatile, while shotgun blasting Swarm seemed like a good idea earlier, it no longer seems to be always the case here. There are so many varied weapons to choose from, each with their own merits and flaws. The Lancer mark 3 fires in rapid-rate while also firing flying grenades that drops from high altitudes. Talon pistol fires in burst, with too much recoil but used properly, can instantly get you kills. The Claw is a machine gun with high ammo count that fires accurately until a certain point when it chokes. These weapons provide more meat to the game that already has more polish since Gears 3.
Of course, through some point, the game will force you to use Jack's abilities in order to adapt in certain situations when the stakes get really high. They feel contrived at first, but once you get the hang of it while unlocking their bonuses, combat gets easier. Most of the weapons don't have the same feel as they did in 4, which is kind of trademark Gears thing to do as they make certain variations while the formula mostly remains the same.
Not everything is hunky-dory, however. In the 2 Acts in between, you explore two different open-world areas, cruising around in your skiff(a sled without dogs, using winds for velocity). They are enjoyable to drive, that's mostly of how beautiful the landscapes are. Gazing on the snowy outskirts of New Hope or crimson desert of Vasgar. Problem is, you don't do much cruising around, especially in co-op. The mission types behind these usually involves going from area A and B for main mission objectives, with C, D and E being side objectives that you finish with little to no tangible connection to the main story or being interesting on their own but are there so that you get rewarded with parts for Jack's ability upgrades. When playing co-op, manning the turret from the skiff is pointless because nobody used it, at all. There are times this aspect felt like a missed opportunity and somewhat detracts me from the overall campaign.
Gears 5 does what a Gears game do best, provide hectic combat sessions with intense set pieces and likable banter between characters. While I could understand that Coalition tried to experiment with the game's open-world concepts, even though it didn't deliver well on the experience, I will admit I still enjoyed playing it, there's a lot to admire about the game, including the part where you find documents that draws out more of the lore in detail. Still, I wish the storytelling was better. This new trilogy is behind last gen's deep and engrossing narrative.
Now, the real reasons why most people buy Gears is because of the multiplayer and that is sadly a subject I don't have much to say about. Reasons for those being, the servers are unstable and there aren't many players online to play with. I have yet to try Horde mode, though I have played Escape and Versus for a marginal amount and I have good things to say about those. But first, let me segway to the co-op for the campaign.
The game features 3 player co-op, either in split-screen or online. This feature is also available for the PC version. Neat. You can also play as Jack, deploying abilities whenever you see fit. However, playing him is buggy at the moment as having him carrying out mission tasks often end up getting bugged where you have to restart checkpoint to redo them.
Versus mode comes with all your favorite modes from Gears of War 4, with the addition of arcade classic mode. Now again, the number of new weapons and adjustments made help you to be more versatile with more diverse range of scenarios in combat. No longer will players keep Gnasher blasting everybody by default. Also, flashbangs do a lot to clear out defensive covers of enemy team. Repeatedly firing at the head with sustainable damage, makes them explode with any weapon.
Though I have complains about some of the modes, for example: King of the Hill. Each round lasts 8-10 minutes, in order to win, you have to beat the enemy team 2 out of 3 rounds. Which make the match lasts over 30 minutes. This changes the casual style play session which is supposed to last around 10-15 minutes tops.
Escape is this maze run mode, of which you have limited ammo and play with 2 other squadmates. The goal is basically to be captured by a snatcher and be in a pod before you get out and set a timer for a venomous cloud to poison and destroy the Swarm nest. Your job is to basically make a run for it through the maze before the cloud catches up to you and evac by helicopter. It's like Doom's Snapmap where the community gets to design the map and publish it, the ones that are popular gets to be recommended. It's a fun distraction from the main course.
Horde mode has new additions, whereas you kill waves of enemies, collecting power, you can spend those for increasing attributes as well as expenditures from your Fabricator. You're at your best when you play with your teammates with proper communication or keeping up with proper defenses as much as possible. The attributes could make some players greedy often, leading your team to doom in tougher waves but as long as two players are able and ready to set up proper defenses, you're mostly good to go. Unless playing in higher difficulties, which requires real tactics and proper coordination.
The two new integral things that Horde mode and Escape feature is the difficulty modifier and character ability. There are 6 difficulty ranges to pick, the hardest ones get you rarer supply drop packs. Character ability depends on which characters you pick, this no longer makes them just preference for appeal but also have use cases. Such as the ability to make everybody head-shot no matter which body they aim at or replenish ammo at deployment circle.
Gears 5 really did push the envelope when it came to visuals, in fact, it's probably the most visually appealing game for the Xbox One. Even if it doesn't look that comparatively good from PS4 exclusives, I give credit where it's due because it has bigger areas with large sense of scope than any of the Gears game has given. Including the open-world segments.
As much as the game looks and feel like a high-quality AAA title, it's not without its bugs, graphical oddities and performance issues. Of course, all of this should be patched out by now since the early access was us adaptors testing the product out.
As for sound, what else should I say? This is a Gears game. You can hear the loud, short blasts from Gnasher, cling-clang from the terminator models walking on multiplayer and other various noises that are intuitive for a third-person shooter. All especially thanks to Dolby Digital's involvement, making the sound as cinematic and explosive as it should be.
The soundtrack is scored by Ramin Djawadi of Game of Thrones, Westworld and Prison Break. Nothing new, but mostly the familiar yet eclectic music of his past work and of Gears of War. I loved the fact that my skirmishes in the campaign were accompanied by his breathtaking work. It kept me invested as well as enveloped with it.
The game definitely didn't seem like it spared budget to make it one of the best entry for an exclusive(Am well aware by now it's no longer an Xbox exclusive).
Am not discouraged to play this game once again, it has its high and low moments. Am still left quite disappointed with the story however and wished it was following the same standards as the first trilogy. But at the end of the day, it's still a good Gears game with wonderful character moments and highly intense gameplay.
But, it needs to be said that the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate early access was a way of us testing the build of the game which didn't receive the technical proficiency it deserved. My game crashed several times running in the Xbox, I missed certain cutscenes thanks to it. Not only that but the servers aren't upto snuff all the time. A lot of bugs were encountered playing the campaign. This made the experience quite infuriating at first and so it took a few days before it was fixed somewhat and there are still issues that need to be resolved as of now.
Gears 5 as a whole is an extraordinary package, while the sum of its part doesn't deliver well as much as it should, by the time you're done, you have so much to lose yourself in. I can't dismiss the polish this game has, despite its bad reception at first. So my score for this is a definite...