REVIEW: ‘Gears 5’ Lives Up to the Franchise’s Legacy (Xbox One)

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Gears 5 Multiplayer

Gears 5 is a third-person die shooter developed by The Coalition and published by Xbox Game Studios. With The Swarm still threatening humanity, Kait and Del set off to uncover the secrets of the nightmares that plague Kait. Finding out how they are connected to her past, and more disturbingly, how they connect Kait to The Swarm. The Gears of War franchise has always been best known for two things: its superb set-piece moments that test a player’s reflexes and skills and it’s willings to devastate you emotionally. Both of those hallmarks are more than present in Gears 5. 

As the campaign of Gears 5 opens things seem to be mostly business as usual for our favorite COG troopers. The exception is that Kait is plagued by nightmares associated with the death of her mom in the previous installment of the franchise. When a mission to reactive the Hammer of Dawn satellite weapon system goes horribly wrong, the group finds itself splintered. Fast forward a few months later to Kait and Del reaching out to some outcast human settlements. During these outreach missions, a Swarm attack convinces Kait that her recent nightmares are deeply connected to The Swarm. With her mind being made up to pursue the truth of her nightmares, she and Del set out to a remote COG outpost they are led to by Marcus Fenix. From there, things get complicated.

Tight, claustrophobic corridors leading into large shooting galleries of enemies seeking to overwhelm the player have always been Gears signature style. Managing your position, keeping the enemy on the other side of cover, while also getting the best lines of fire for yourself, have always been key components to the gameplay. It’s balance of both tactical thinking and outright chaos is a thing of beauty. Add in Gears’s trademark Active Reload System, which turns even reloading into something that requires attention and timing to maximize, and there is never a moment wasted in the polished and anxious gameplay of Gears 5.

The action in Gears 5 takes all the great cover-focused gameplay and cranks it up a notch. This is primarily due to the introduction of several new weapons to the already impressive armament from previous Gears games. In fact, and as a long-time Gear myself I never thought I’d say this, the Lancer might not be my go-to gun in the series anymore.

Just as the weaponry is more diverse, so are the enemies. With encounters shifting between hordes of melee swarms to mid and long-range threats, Gears 5 keeps you guessing. What will wait down the next corridor is never sure. The only place where I felt a couple of encounters lacked was with some boss battles. Initially, these questionable boss fights were very cool. But, they tended to drag on long after the pattern had been discerned and the moment had lost its shine. These couple of fights, coupled with one unfortunate escort mission are the only blemishes I can lay on the Gears 5 campaign.

As Kait’s journey for answers takes her across Sera, the player is treated to a couple of new locations. The icy tundra featured heavily in the trailers is just one, though, it is the best. Some of the environmental kills that are capable in this setting are ingenious and add a new layer to the tactics the player can employ. Also new to Gears 5 are some open areas the player can choose to explore. While I would never call Gears 5 “open-world,” they do allow the player some opportunities to explore. The two biggest fruits of this exploration are components, used to upgrade your handy robot companion Jack, and glimpses into the pas of the Gears story through where you go and what you find there.

Gears 5

The last big addition to Gears 5 is the greater presence of Jack in the game. Long-time COG troopers will remember Jack as the helpful robotic sidekick who was once relegated to nothing more than opening doors. Thanks to upgrades from Baird throughout the game, Jack is transformed into a variable Swiss Army knife of usefulness. Zap enemies with electricity? Check. Provide a stamina boost to aid the party? Check. Through the acquisition of components, these abilities and others can be improved.

The Gears of War franchise first debuted in November of 2006. A lot has happened on Sera since then. While many may bemoan the stories moving forward and the relegation of some of its original stars to supporting roles, Gears 5 takes full advantage of its history. So much of what you see and where you go gets tied back into those earlier stories. Plus, by having so much of the supporting cast be the former stars of the franchise their are few characters the player doesn’t genuinely care about.

Perhaps my favorite such moment came when Kait and Del came across one of the launcher vehicles used to initiate the COG invasion of the Locust home territory in Gears of War 2. Upon seeing it Del states, “ Oscar always said the ride down was the worst part.” Which caused my audible replay of, “Oscar and I clearly remember that invasion very differently.” Gears 5 gives the player numerous opportunities to remember all the fights that have come before.

The developers at The Coalition also took the opportunity to use traversal moments to flesh out the already rich history of Sera. As the world’s is explored by Kait, and the rest of the current generation of characters, much is told to them by the older supporting cast.  Players get to treat themselves to lessons about the COGs history, particularly the Pendulum Wars which preceded the first Gears of War game.

The campaigns in the Gears game’s have always been what, to me at least, makes it such a stand out series from the other shooters on the market. Gears 5 more than lives up to that legacy. With only a couple hiccups, Gears 5 delivers a nearly flawless campaign I cannot endorse more wholeheartedly. This one is amazing. I cannot wait to see what comes next.

Gears 5 is available now on Xbox One and PC.

Gears 5
  • 9.5/10
    Rating - 9.5/10
9.5/10

TL;DR

Gears 5 more than lives up to that legacy. With only a couple hiccups, Gears 5 delivers a nearly flawless campaign I cannot endorse more wholeheartedly.