Part of what makes Gears 5 so superb is how it successfully evolves on everything it has done so well in the past and delivers it in a fresh new way. Its campaign is bigger, darker and more immersive than ever before. The Horde Mode is as challenging as ever but with its new layered progression system and the fresh new enemies gives you a reason to go back. Escape, the new game mode delivers a challenge never seen before in the series and the iconic PvP mode will force me to go back to rank up for seasonal rewards well into the months ahead.
Gears 5 Story Trailer
The magic of it all is how brilliantly Gears 5 has been delivered. It is one large package with all of its game modes offering layers upon layers of content for you to digest one by one. Out of everything I played, the campaign had to be my favourite but the Horde Mode kept me busy for three-hour bursts as I attempted to get to wave 50 by using everything at my disposal. With Gears 5 being so huge, this review will break it all down for you.
I think the biggest thing to take note of throughout this review is how “different but the same” everything is in Gears 5 including the campaign. Sure, it does not do much to evolve on the genre and the cover-based combat is still a thing throughout the experience but the in-between of it all makes the game so wonderful. The campaign kicks off a few weeks after the ending of the last entry and spans across four acts.
For those new to the series, Gears 5 offers two options to catch up on the past events. In the Extras Menu, you will find a “Previously on Gears” and “State of the Universe” which offer a rundown on everything from the previous Gears of War games including the original three. Think of it as a refresher and even if you have played the past entries, I recommend checking them out as they make for a great way to pick up on the smaller tidbits the Gears 5 campaign throws at you.
After a stunning tutorial dubbed the “Boot Camp” that sees you complete various tasks on an ever-changing mechanical structure, you are introduced to the world of the game and it is something gorgeous indeed. On the Xbox One X alone, the game runs at 4K 60fps (finally) and with HDR on my Samsung QLED, the world came to life in ways my R40k gaming laptop would never be able to compete with. It is truly one of the most gorgeous games I have ever played on a Microsoft platform and a feat in video game design.
The campaign is a must-play for all fans of the series as it lays down the foundations for the other modes in the game. Enemies you encounter, guns you use and all the new game mechanics are introduced in this mode and if you decide to jump into the Horde Mode, it may spoil some of the biggest “wow” moments in the campaign especially when you come face to face with a new deadly boss fight.
Picking up where the last game left off, the campaign follows Kait, JD, Marcus, and Del as they all get tied up in the fight against the Swarm. This time things are different as the campaign’s story touches on the past and reveals a lot about the secrets of the COG, Kait’s past and how everything we have known up to this point has been covered up in some massive secret. No spoilers but this does indeed change everything.
The campaign also offers new ways to experience the game. You can now play the game with another two friends expanding the co-op even more. Of course, the campaign has two major new features which make the experience feel like something brand new. Jack and the vast new open-world hubs that saw me spend hours upon hours exploring every nook and cranny for secrets, components and learning about all the great narrative undertones the game has to offer.
Jack is now fully by your side throughout the campaign. He can also be controlled by another player. This cute robot helps you fight in combat, explore the world and solve puzzles. While this sounds simple, these three new features expand the gameplay more than you could ever imagine. Jack now has abilities which can be found throughout the campaign. The first chapter is linear but as you reach the second chapter the world opens up as Kait and Del explore a vast frozen tundra.
This large open-world lets you take your time and drive around on a Skiff venturing to the mountain passes, frozen forests and abandoned mines. These locations are outside of the main objective and all contain puzzles and collectables to hunt down. One of these types is the components used to upgrade Jack’s abilities. Throughout the game, Jack obtains new parts which give him cool things to do in combat and while you explore the world.
He can make you invisible so you can sneak through turrets in a heavily-guarded compound or behind enemies during combat. He can freeze enemies with a flashbang which then can be upgraded to an ice flash which freezes enemies in place and you can kick them broken. Apart from exploring the areas, Jack’s abilities are the driving force of these open-world hubs as every new mini location has a key item which is used to upgrade the robot or unlock the ultimate ability.
These areas are never too hard to get through either and often just contain some tough enemies or a puzzle or two. It was quite scary facing down against a Warden, a new massive club-wielding freak enemy that bashes your head in, in order to get Jacks new zapping attack unlocked.
It was a fun past-time and something I never expected from a Gears game which had the tendency to be quite linear. This approach to its level design constantly left me in awe as the two chapters were so different and the secrets so interesting to discover and of course, rewarding. But the fantastic game design is not only felt in those acts as the game breathes this fresh new air throughout the story.
If it was not riding a rocket-propelling mech suit called the Silverback through a village blowing all the Swarm to pieces, it was the intense boss fights that had my heart racing like no other Gears game before. The characters you meet are not just your average boring NPCs. Instead, they will be remembered as funny or annoying as all hell.
The combat in Gears remains mostly untouched and that is okay. The cover-based gunfights still hold up today as some great fun. There was no better feeling pumping two Botlok bullets into a Swarm and watching his head go boom! The new enemies kept things fresh throughout the game too like a giant swarm of leeches that flies through the air or the crazy rejects robots which are DeeBees but now infected with Swarm. They just run at you and explode.
New guns like the Lancer GL lets you target a spot and shoot a grenade into the air that breaks apart and drops down from the sky dealing massive damage. The Overkill shotgun shoots a slug when you press the trigger and another when you let go. This forced me to be aware of what I was shooting and how many shots it would take to kill it often leaving one for when I let go of the trigger.
Of course, Jack’s new abilities make the combat even better. By the end of the game, I could send Jack into a group of enemies to freeze them, grant me invulnerability from damage and grab a weapon on the floor next to him and fly it back to me so I can loot its ammo. It might sound like a small detail but it opens so many doors for new ways to approach the combat.
Rarely, does a game make me sit back and say “wow, that was epic” and Gears 5 constantly delivered these breath-taking and window-shattering moments in the most glorious ways both visually and with some superb audio design. The sheer amount of love and variety of it all made this the best campaign in the series to date.
The campaign is then a stepping stone for the other modes in the game. Horde is the classic survival mode which saw me spend three hours at a time trying to reach wave 50. Every now and then a boss would appear from the campaign and I would have to put all my skills to the test to down him. The weapons you find throughout the mode are from the campaign and can be mastered the more you use them.
The main drive for the Horde Mode is the new selection of playable characters. Mostly everyone from the campaign can be picked except for the Escape characters. Each of them then has their own unique skills and upgrade path. Sarah Conner (a DLC character) which I played a lot has a Shotgun perk that let me increase damage using points I gained from the waves. Marcus focuses on assault rifle damage. Each character can then also upgrade movement speed and health during the mode too.
Each character can then have perk cards slotted into them and upgraded as you level them up. These perks are all reliant on who you are playing as each character has a separate upgrade path. After one Horde Mode, I reached rank 6 with Sarah Connor and was able to slot a melee resistance and a shotgun stopping power card into her loadout.
The system works as it lets you look after your favourite characters and watch them grow and mould into your perfect playstyle. The Horde Mode can get intense but once I got my grip on things it got easier. You can select different modifiers that increase your XP and “Master” sees you get five times the amount but the challenge will be harder than anything else.
New additions to the mode come in the form of currency mining which you set up at different times and locations on the map. Defending these will grant you more points to use on the Fabricator to purchase weapons and items like decoys and turrets.
Versus is a lot more streamlined than the other game modes. You drop in with one of four loadouts and complete the match depending on the mode. I played a couple of these during the review process and it was enjoyable. It was nice to see shotguns are not as overpowered as the past games and the pacing similar to Gears of War 2 days. Modes range from the classic TDM to King of the Hill which is mostly what I played.
As for the maps, these were a lot bigger than past games and featured some interesting high-ground locations including one museum map where the control point was up a flight of stairs. A laser appeared at times while you were standing on the point and would one-shot you if you got hit by it preventing you from camping the point.
Lastly, we have the new mode called Escape and it could be the best addition to the series to date. This mode sees you and another two players head into a Swarm Hive with one weapon and a timer. The main goal is to escape the Hive by any means possible before the poison gas kills you. Collecting weapons and making use of safe houses along the way make things easier.
How you go about this is up to you but no matter how much I tried, it was hard to go the silent route. Think of Escape like the dungeons of the game where each Hive is unique and offers a range of challenges that requires teamwork and using your character’s super abilities like spawning ammo and deploying a defensive shield at the right time.
The mode is fantastic and honestly one of the most creative ways to spend your time. It also features its own three playable characters with their own unique levelling system as you rank up and unlock skill cards specific to the mode. The faster you complete the Hive, the better your rewards but the fun is all about teamwork and the challenge that goes into it all.
Gears 5 does feature microtransactions in the form of Iron. This material is used to purchase cosmetic items and can be bought for real money. The game also features another in-game currency which is used to upgrade skills without having to level them up first. This currency cannot be purchased (well, at the time of this review anyway). Iron is only obtained through in-game purchases which means specific cosmetic items can only be obtained through microtransactions.
The magic of Gears 5 is how all this comes together to offer the best entry in the series to date. Right from its exceptional campaign mode all the way to its new simple but effective Escape mode. The Seasonal Ranking ties everything you do across the game together to always deliver new challenges and rewards for completing them. It is simply one of the best games Microsoft has ever released.
This Gears 5 review was based on a code sent to us by Microsoft
Available On: Xbox One, Windows 10 | Reviewed On: Xbox One X + Windows 10 | Release Date: 6 September 2019/10 September | Price: R959
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