If you’ve been missing that little bit of gory, chainsaw impaling, bullet flying action in your life, wait no more. Gears of War is back with Gears 5 and after getting some hands-on with the game, I can say it’s just as brutal as ever. Gears of War is definitely one of Xbox’s most defining franchises and it’s safe to say that the team at The Coalition would be feeling incredibly proud of what they’ve achieved with the game. It feels like the biggest and most expansive Gears game yet, with new ways to play as well as the modes that you know and love.
Gears 5 is all about Kait and follows on from where we left off at the end of Gears 4. I was dropped into Act II (which takes place four months after the events of Gears 4). The demo started with Kait, Del, JD and Jack (our support both) all exploring the outsider township. The town felt big, but not overwhelming, with many little buildings and places along the way to my first objective that encouraged me to look around for collectibles and components (used for unlockables). As I walked around the town, I listened in to the townspeople’s conversations; some discussing local news, bits and pieces that felt like throwbacks to previous instalments and/or events prior to this part of the game, and their not-to-happy feelings towards the COG entering the town. This area felt inviting – I wanted to explore, I wanted to search every nook and listen in to find out more about what was happening around here.
I finally reached my objective and spoke to the head honcho of the town, Oscar, Kait’s Uncle. After a back and forth from Kait and Oscar about fighting the enemy together and Kait not wanting to lose him to the Locust like she did her mother, an explosion goes off in the distance. It was time for some action.
Things heated up quickly, and as you’d expect, I was straight into some combat. I was playing on Experienced, which was challenging, but didn’t feel cheap. Wave after wave of varying Locust hit the town hard and it was a great opportunity to try out different weapon load outs (like the ever popular Gnasher shotgun, the new Lancer GL, Markza MK I and Longshot sniper rifle) and new combat mechanics like Jack, which I’ll delve into a little later.
After many exploded enemy heads, and a couple of shameful deaths, I got a glimpse of what the element driving the Gears 5 story was – and it was indeed all about Kait and more importantly her family (which I’ll let you experience for yourself). It’s very clear at this point that the Gears 5 story will circle around Kait’s background and what it means for the world of Gears. It’s a story which I felt had this very well balanced structure to it – I empathised with Kait, felt connected to her through the story that was unravelling and the gameplay I was experiencing, but I didn’t feel like it was just a standalone Kait story. It was still very much a GoW storyline and supporting characters like Del and even JD still felt like they were a big part of it. In other words, I still felt like a team that was on a journey together.
Only only are the story and protagonist a change up from other games in the series, there’s also a number of other ways to play that keep the game feeling fresh.
First let’s talk about Jack, the squad’s support bot, and someone on the team I was very glad was there to help out in the gun fights. Jack has been given RPG -like abilities which helped create different play styles for myself as Kait during the campaign. I could choose to equip and upgrade different weapons and tactics for Jack via three different categories: assault, support and passive. There’s 11 abilities to unlock in total, with each ability having three upgrades available to unlock through spending components found out in the world and a fourth ‘ultimate ability’ unlocked by completing side missions.
I felt in control of my play style the whole time, as these abilities for Jack were not in the form of an upgrade tree, but much more reminiscent of the way The Division 2’s skills system worked, in that I could choose what I wanted to unlock, when I wanted to and could easily switch between those unlockables during combat simply by holding the left bumper and tapping the directionals.
With Jack, it meant I didn’t need to rely on just running and gunning it, I could be tactical with calling in flash bangs or stealthy by having Jack cloak the team or get a much needed health boost when things got real hectic. These new combat abilities partnered with Gear 5’s new player initiated combat system meant I had time in some situations to scout out and plan how to attack, instead of just being rushed by Locust like in previous instalments. Jack is also a playable character. The campaign is 3 player co-op with one of those players being Jack and he’s great way for returning players to invite new players to experience the greatness of Gears of War without the “OMG I’M DYING ALL THE TIME! WHO’S SHOOTING ME FROM WHERE?!” or, for returning players to try something new.
Exploration and discovery is a huge part of how Gears 5 moves the series forward, with numerous points and items to find across the map. From main and side missions, to points of interest (where I found anything from collectibles, ammo and weapons), as well as components to upgrade Jack and Relic weapons. These relics weapons are specifically customised with certain attributes, skins and attachments to add to the gun fight chaos like sniper rifles that shoot two bullets at a time. Some relic weapons are also “easter eggs weapons” which returning players to the series will enjoy uncovering. The greatest and most enjoyable part of the open world nature of Gears 5 was sledding and sledging the terrain in The Skiff.
The Skiff is the ultimate vehicle when it comes to traversing the map. It has somewhat of a metal sleigh contraption for passengers with a wake-boarding/windsail element for steering. It was easily manoeuvrable and took me around different locations in no time at all. The best part about the Skiff was that I could hop on and off it whenever I liked, which greatly added to the exploration and the swaying from just wanting to progress the story. I could be making my way to a side mission, but pass by an abandoned train tunnel that I’d check out first for any spare loot, or be on my way to a main mission, see a old boat house across the frozen lake, which I was sure would have some goodies inside, and quickly pull a Fast and Furious like manoeuvre to divert my path. And yes it did have goodies in the form of a Relic Weapon sniper. Obviously with things like weapons to find out in the world, especially relics, the question that comes to mind is how do you choose what to keep on your back or throw away? This is where the skiff adds to more than just traversal.
At the front of the skiff, on each side, is a weapons locker that allowed me to stow two weapons (one on each side) for combat later. I really appreciated the weapon locker mechanic, but more specifically that it was with you on the skiff and not in some main or checkpoint hub. I could have a different load out and play style ready and easily accessible at a whim.
It’s these types of things that will potentially make Gears 5 the best one yet. Jack, the skiff and the open world elements are great, but things like the environmental changes in the terrain (I played a snowy environment in Act II and a dessert terrain in Act III) and how there’s changes within each of those that had me seeing things differently. Even the addition of the accessibility features within the menu that helps open up the series to even more people as well as cater for different preferences in things like subtitle sizes, colour blind controls and the ability to turn off things like the gore or camera shakes.
The Coalition has taken the approachability focus as far and wide as they can with a total revamp of their difficulty system too, which no longer places players into buckets of what kind of gamer they are (casual, hardcore etc), but instead with their tenure within the Gears series (beginner, intermediate, experienced etc). They’ve also created a dedicated boot camp mode (which I didn’t have the chance to play) for new players to get focused time to develop and nail all the great gameplay mechanics Gears has to offer, instead of rushed through in-game tutorials.
I really enjoyed my time with Gears 5. The Coalition has done an amazing job in reflecting on what makes Gears of War great as a series, but also in how it needs to progress forward to further its greatness. From what I experienced with the campaign, it is an arch that I think returning and new players alike will be drawn to. There’s so many different things for players to do and I can say with absolute confidence that gamers will spend hours and hours with the huge amount of content that Gears 5 has to offer.
JAKE FLEW TO THE COALITION STUDIOS IN VANCOUVER TO GET AN EARLY LOOK AT GEARS 5. FLIGHTS AND ACCOMODATION WERE PROVIDED BY MICROSOFT. GEARS 5 RELEASES ON XBOX ONE AND WINDOWS 10 ON SEPTEMBER 5TH.