Over a decade has passed since the gruesome, grub-killing gears were first unleashed. The first three instalments remain timeless classics that defined gritty third-person shooters and dynamic cover systems.
The series’s future seemed bleak after the release of the lacklustre Gears of War: Judgment. Unfortunately, Gears of War 4 also faced a similarly disappointing release. Under new developer The Coalition, Gears 4 featured a measly campaign and lootbox-riddled multiplayer.
Staying pessimistic about Gears 5 was easy during the E3 announcement as it followed a ridiculous trailer for Gears POP!. Thankfully, the series seems to be back on the rise at long last. Gears 5 finally provides a much-needed shake-up of the original formula. Gone are the endless linear level designs, as Gears 5 includes several large open areas for players to freely explore. Taking inspiration from Santa Monica Studios’s God of War, the environments in Gears 5 are much more intricate.
Despite the added scale, many of the campaign missions retain the same claustrophobic and chilling feel of the originals. Several levels transition seamlessly from vast open spaces to tightknit corridors and hallways ripe with enemies. Even within the more intimate areas, the level opens up for larger hostile encounters.
To further compliment the expansive world of Gear 5, the game runs incredibly smoothly and looks phenomenal. Graphics are usually a secondary commodity after gameplay, but the scenery in Gears 5 is simply breathtaking. The environments encapsulate the passage of time, showing nature reclaiming the war-torn cities of the past.
Revisiting familiar yet strikingly different locations from the previous games ties the series together. Even more impressive is the variety of set pieces within the game. Gears fans have typically trudged through dreary greys and browns with a dash of colour every now and again. Seeing those same areas revisited covered in luscious forests, icy glaciers, and blood-red sand is a feast for the eyes.
To swiftly navigate the open and treacherous landscapes, The Coalition has added a two-person skiff. The skiff skims across the barren wastes with ease and can even store multiple weapons for later use. One character drives the vehicle while the other windsurfs on the back with a cosy spot for the companion bot, Jack.
The greatest praise for this title has to be the implementation of Jack. In previous entries, the bot was used as a MacGuffin that unlocked doors or decrypted codes. Jack is now a fully fledged member of Delta Squad and can even be played as during co-op.
The combat feels faster and much more fluid just by utilising Jack’s abilities. The firefights are intense but can often become predictable. Encounters can usually be expected by a sudden influx of waist-high cover. Gears 5 counters predictability with fun as there is a multitude of ways to maneuver and flank enemies.
Enemies can be kicked, dragged, and stabbed if the player is feeling brave enough. Alternatively, Jack can be utilised to retrieve ammunition or flashbang enemies out of cover. Over time, players will be able to upgrade Jack’s abilities to take on different properties. The upgrades are littered throughout the world of Sera with a set amount in each chapter.
Beyond hidden modules for Jack, and as with any Gears title, this one is brimming with collectables. From COG tags to lore, Gears 5 is full of references to the wider universe and previous games. Among the collectables are the extremely rare relic weapons, which are essentially powered-up versions of existing heavy armaments. One of the earliest examples is the relic Longshot. Normally a Longshot has to reload after each shot, but the relic version gains an additional bullet each time the player achieves a perfect reload.
Further exploration is also a great way to learn more about the past and feelings of squadmates. Whilst out on the skiff or uncovering secret stashes, characters will chat amongst themselves about recent events. The dialogue feels genuine as it externalises how each person is handling the situations.
Each character feels fleshed out in Gears 5. Kait takes the center stage as she tries to uncover the nature of her family’s link to the Locust. Relationships become strained as even her closest friends begin to question her loyalties. As Kait learns more about herself she begins to realise that war is not always black and white. At her side is Del, an ex-military member forced into rejoining through necessity. Del understands better than anyone what atrocities both sides are capable of as he helps Kait uncover the COG’s past. Taking a backseat this campaign is the previous protagonist JD. Desperate to keep proving himself, JD often blurs the line between duty and what is right.
Even the older characters receive character development, especially former lead characters, Marcus and Baird. The audience gets to see a human side to the veteran heroes, and not all of it is pretty.
The care put into the story is clear, as the plot unravels many mysteries laid out earlier in the franchise. Gears lore has always been steeped in obscurity, with players finally getting a peek behind the curtains. With the longest Gears campaign to date, Gears 5 is jam-packed with callbacks, references, and fascinating revelations.
The improvements on the Gears formula seem to never end, from characters to combat to game modes. Gears 5 contains something for everyone. One rather important gripe with the title, though, is for those not familiar with the franchise. This game is very much a love letter to existing fans as it adds layers of highly sought after content. Newcomers to the series could easily be overwhelmed as the game focuses heavily on nostalgia.
To not end on a sour note, the game does offer a recap of past events, albeit a brief one. Gears 5 is a treat to any fan or gamer seeking a challenge.
To sum up Gears 5 in a word would be “satisfying”. From the combat, plot, and ensemble of characters, it all fits neatly together in a well-wrapped present.