It seemed like Marcus Fenix and his pals had earned a well deserved break, but the events of Gears of War 4 meant that all the years of peace were coming to a swift end. Our group of bodybuilders and the next generation of gym enthusiasts must now come together to face yet another lethal threat in the fifth title simply named Gears 5.
Don’t worry about the lack of war in the title of the game. It’s business as usual, as JD Fenix and his friends come to grips with a setting that is all too familiar to the previous generation. Admittedly, the game does follow-up with the idea of introducing new mysteries to figure out, that made most of the story in Gears of War 4 seem compelling in a way that felt fresh. The next generation of soldiers is sent on a mission to find a way to get one of those destructive Dawn of Hammer lasers that rained destruction from above. With Marcus on dad duty for most of the story, it means that players can get a better idea of what society was like before the pesky pale creatures decided to try to wipe them out.
It turns out that humanity has a few embarrassing skeletons in its closet and it’s down to outsider Kait Diaz to play detective and uncover them all and their connection to her. In a way it’s fascinating that Kait not only becomes the main protagonist of at least this title, but also is a key player in how the story plays out throughout the game. Her unique perspective means that players see this kind of story in a way that doesn’t merely boil down to a basic us versus them mentality. What is disappointing is that it was deemed necessary to do so at the expense of a complete personality overhaul for some characters. At one point it becomes so clear how underwritten these characters are in Gears 5 that it feels like the equivalent of whiplash when they suddenly change their way of thinking after disappearing for most of the campaign. Gears 5 also thinks that it’s being clever by letting players make mostly superficial choices. Whilst most of these are harmless enough, there is at least one that comes off as manipulative and unearned. At least it might be interesting to see what the development team does with the next chapter regarding this.
In a way, it’s a shame since not only having a female lead, but one capable enough to make her own choices is a credit in a series filled with macho men who tend to let their guns do the talking. At least it’s good to see that the actual shooting is still entertaining. New abilities are implemented in a manner that feels natural. Although it can initially feel confusing to try to use them in combat due to having to press combinations of buttons. It also definitely feels good to see the end of constantly mashing buttons to do the simplest of actions.
The integration of robot Jack means that he becomes a playable character, but only when another player is using one of the human characters. This brings the total number of players that come together to a somewhat unusual three. Although rare, the dodgy A.I behaviour resulted in some disastrous results during certain times. For starters, A.I controlled characters are not always quick enough or for example get stuck and cant help the player’s downed character. During a particularly frustrating mission, Jack was carrying an explosive substance and yet insisted on waltzing right next to enemies rather than keeping a safe distance. At least the addition of Jack also means that players can now make use of handy abilities in combat.
Yet despite all the inconveniences mentioned Gears 5’s campaign is still a decent effort and Kait as a protagonist works well for the franchise. This entry attempts to show off more appealing parts of the world and create the illusion of open world exploration with success. Still, it’s not a surprise that it feels like the multiplayer side of the game was given more of a focus.
The original Versus mode where players go up against each other is still just as bloody as ever. Although it does feel unfair at times to usually end up facing more skilled opponents when not taking part in ranked matches. At least there are some honest good ideas in this mode, such as using earned points to gain more weapons. There is also a decent amount of options to ensure that players can play around and see what works best for them with this mode. Even if they are not overly different from each other and it can be confusing to try to understand how they work.
The much touted Escape mode is a… thoughtful experiment that occasionally works as intended. It’s certainly not easy for all three players trying to escape one of the new horror shops, where humans are literally turned into new versions of the pale monsters, as a team when it’s not always clear what needs to be done to escape. The idea of Borderlands style damage isn’t exactly doing it any favours when players start off with a puny gun and some ammo. The whole experiment makes more sense when playing on easier difficulty settings though. It makes it more clear that killing enemies is good for survival and taking their weapons or finding some, but sometimes just rushing for the exit can also work, although this makes it harder to keep enemies at bay whilst waiting for the rescue helicopter. This mode just comes off as something that seemed like a better idea during development.
Fortunately Horde mode is back for more fun and it’s just as bloody as ever. If anything, the waves of enemies just waiting to be blown into pieces is a worthy match for the horrors awaiting in Campaign mode. This mode continues to build upon what was already there and it is easy to spend hours playing wave after waver without realising it. Perhaps part of the reason why such a mode works better than Escape is that it’s always clear what needs to be done.
Creative types can dabble in making and trying custom Escape rooms/maps, but the choices of tools is limited. Whilst new content for the multiplayer side of the game is expected to drop on a regular basis, it still doesn’t feel like it can be enough to keep the attention of most players for long.
Gears 5 is definitely not the horror show that Kait and her companions must witness throughout the campaign, but it’s also not on the same level as the early titles. It’s worth the admission ticket to get to experience it and some ideas do work, but just don’t expect too much from it.