The Gears of War saga began in 2006 and already has numerous titles. After fourteen years, the series is transformed for the first time into a game other than a third person shooter. Gears Tactics opens a new door in the franchise and takes a chance on a more strategic style. Will the usual adrenaline and intensity of Gears get lost a bit with this change? Yes, maybe. But it’s also true that all the slaughter is still going on, such as the famous executions with the various weapons, including the epic chainsaw to Locusts! Yes, it continues in all its glory and it feels as good as ever!
The Gears Tactics narrative takes place twelve years before the first Gears of War events and focuses on Gabriel Diaz (yes, Kate Diaz’s father), a Lieutenant Colonel enshrined in the Pendulum Wars. After refusing certain services, he was relegated to Sergeant and put to work on something “less reputable”. This until the day he is called into service to eliminate a new threatened one called Ukkon, a terrible enemy who is creating a race of Locusts. He is joined by Sid Redburn, a Veteran used to the highest secret missions of the COG and with a peculiar personality. From here follows an adventure with some interesting revelations, as well as some (perhaps) unexpected twists in the story. In general, I liked the way the story was told, although they could have gone a bit further in the background of these characters.
The core of Gears Tactics
As I said, Gears Tactics has a very different approach than usual and we are now facing a turn-based strategy game. We control a set of characters and there are five different classes (Vanguard, Sniper, Support, Scout and Heavy), each with different skills. Within each of these classes, there is a skill tree with four possible specializations. As an example, the Support class, by Gabriel Diaz, offers the possibility to focus on Surgeon, Paragon, Combat Medic or Strategist. The game allows you to choose a little from each of them, but if you want to fully specialize the character, then it is advisable to follow a single path. Fortunately, the game allows you to reset your skills, but only when you get a certain item, which is easily obtained throughout the campaign.
It’s also with the progress of the campaign that we get the opportunity to recruit new soldiers and choose to specialize them in the best way we can. As I said before, each class has four specializations and can apply each one of them to four different soldiers, thus always having all the options available. Of course, some of them then begin to have a lower level than advised and then you can simply discard them and recruit better ones. With every new mission completed, the game always makes new soldiers available, so there are plenty of options.
As couldn’t be otherwise in a game like this, there are a huge amount of upgrades to weapons and armor. The loot is immense and can be obtained with the progress in the campaign, as well as in loot boxes scattered around the maps. Each quest has an optional goal, which also gives a loot box as reward, if you can complete it. However, it’s not only weapons and armour that can be customized.
The game also offers incredible visual customization of the characters, from the colours and patterns of clothing, to headwear, scars and tattoos, colour and hairstyle, facial hair, and many other options. This allows to create quite unique soldiers, but this major visual change is only available for the non main characters. Either way, you’ll want to equip your soldiers with helmets to give them more life or protection, and that will eventually hide all the changes you make to the head. Still, the offer is there for anyone who is interested and that is very welcome. I myself ended up putting a helmet on my heroes, and since I stopped recognizing them on the ground, the solution was to change the color of their suits and weapons, which gave them a very special touch.
Lots of freedom in the field
One of the things that differs Gears Tactics from other games of the genre is that the characters movement is not made through a grid. The game has the usual three possible moves, but offers greater freedom when it comes to movement in the ground. To counterbalance this freedom, the game puts many more enemies on the field than usual in the genre. And when I say many more, in many situations, there are clearly many more. I’ve even had tickers and wrenches (five or six of each) right in front of me and don’t think they’re easy targets to shoot down. In fact, they can be quite dangerous because, in many cases, they end up obstructing our movements. Above all, I liked this change that allows more freedom and gives us a lot more options in the field.
Your favourite arsenal is back, as are the famous executions!
When it comes to the available weapons, it’s nothing new for those who have played several games in the saga. We have the famous machine gun with chainsaw, the shotgun, the boom shot, the torque bow, and many more. Something I really liked about this part was the fact that by defeating the Boomer or the Theron Guard, we can use their weapons. This gives a huge advantage in combat because their arsenal (boomshot and torque bow) is extremely powerful and deadly, and can easily clear three or four enemies at the same time. Contrary to what it may seem, this is a game that also encourages us to be aggressive in the field. This is due to the fact that by executing enemies, in many cases, we can win an extra move for our soldiers. That said, if you see someone down but not out, don’t hesitate to go there and do one of those famous executions from the Gears world. These are just like we’ve seen in the other games and never get old.
Several types of missions
Regarding missions, there is some variety and it can range from eliminating all enemies, saving companions, collecting loot or even defending certain points on the map. During the first hours of the game they are fine, but I have to confess that after some time, I started to feel some fatigue. It’s not that it was a big problem, but it’s directly associated with another point that didn’t make me very happy. At certain moments of the campaign, the game forces us to play secondary missions and only when we finish a certain number required, which can vary between two and three, only then we unlock the next main mission.
Initially, progress was made quickly and the narrative was still in early stages. The problem was when everything started to get more intense with the unfolding of the story. I was very interested in what was going to happen next, but this imposition of the secondary missions ended up slowing down the intensity of the campaign. Compared to Gears 5, where there are parts of the world that are open and where some exploration is possible, I found that Gears Tactics can’t perform so well outside the narrative. Obviously the type of game is different and that doesn’t help either, but I can’t help but show my disappointment with the breakdown in the narrative. It all gets worse when many of these side quests start to be somewhat repetitive over time. The positive point of these is that they help to get more and better gear as well as evolve the level of Gears.
One last detail about missions, some offer some handicaps. They can range from limiting the use of a few specific soldiers or a certain number (preventing a maximum of four), such as reducing the amount of ammunition in the weapon, or not being able to use grenades, among many other possibilities. This adds an extra challenge in difficulty and makes things more interesting in combat.
The bosses remain as intense as ever
Boss fights are something normal on Gears of War and that couldn’t go away in this new game. Without wanting to reveal too much, there are some moments like this and they are very well executed. Get ready for long lasting and mentally demanding battles. To make the challenge even more difficult, Locusts appear during the confrontation, making things much more chaotic.
These missions can be very intense and require a very calculated strategy. Each boss has several types of attacks and weaknesses, and the game makes a point of lifting the veil on some of these aspects. I don’t mean to say that they make everything easier, as they only give a small idea of how we should behave on the ground. I’d even say there’s a big disparity of difficulty between normal missions and these boss missions.
At one point I felt surrounded by enemies and could barely try to do any damage to the boss, as I also had to be careful with so many enemies around me. During the first boss, things still went acceptably well as the combat zone was large enough. I can’t say the same for the next boss, where the space was much smaller and the amount of enemies much higher. Anyway, the pleasure of facing and defeating such bosses is enormous. As far as the enemies are concerned, there are some new features and variants of some better known names, such as Kantus.
Extra content after the end of the campaign
Gears Tactics is a totally single-player game and that’s new to the franchise. However, when you reach the end of the campaign, the game continues to offer the famous “end game content”. Once the main course is finished, new missions continue to appear within a concept called Veteran Mode. The goal of these is to continue to improve the soldiers and get new equipment, especially legendary pieces. In fact, there is an achievement that asks us to apply legendary mods to all pieces of the main weapon of the various heroes. (Get ready for the grind!) This turns out to be an excellent option for those who want to keep playing, without having to restart the campaign. It may even prepare us for a possible future DLC where the required level is much higher.
Visuals and Audio – The usual quality of Gears
Let’s talk about the visuals then. In terms of cutscenes, the game offers the same kind of quality that we are used to in the series. This is a high level production that will not disappoint the fans of the saga. When it comes to the level design and visuals, it’s a bit like what we’ve always seen in Gears of War. We have maps in a more “city” style, but then some in a much more desert visual. The levels are quite detailed and some decorations can be destroyed with explosions or certain movements of Gears and Locusts. In audio terms, if you’ve played Gears of War before, then you know what kind of sound the weapons make, the grunts the Locusts emit, the sound of the torque bow being fired, or even the famous shouts of the charismatic Cole. With regards to voice acting, nothing to point out as it’s still excellent as ever.
When the gun jammed…
Unfortunately, this is not a problem-free game. In fact, I had already mentioned the fact that we’re forced to play side quests, resulting in a huge break in the narrative. Another of the problems I’ve encountered several times has been certain animations being obstructed by walls on the map. This is because these animations use a camera closer to the character, often resulting in direct contact with a wall in front of them. In these cases, the game camera was not adjusted at all so that the animations could be made anywhere. I sincerely hope that this can be corrected in future updates.
Regarding bugs, nothing special to point out as the game almost always ran impeccably. There was only one situation where it wouldn’t let myself shoot with a soldier, even though I had ammunition and enemies at a distance that allowed me to do so. This happened during several rounds, but as soon as the game saved automatically, everything went back to normal. The worst part of this was actually the fact that it happened during the battle against a boss…
From a general point of view, Gears Tactics ends up offering the experience I wanted in this new and risky entry in the series. In terms of narrative, it ends up completing the world of Gears a little bit more, and we learn new stuff related to other characters already known in the series. I confess that I would have liked to have seen a little more about the main character’s story, but who knows, maybe in future DLC’s or sequels. Unlike the usual franchise, the game does not offer any kind of multiplayer experience, being totally focused on single-player. However, I think I’d like to see at least one possibility for a cooperative experience, perhaps with Horde mode? It’s an idea. Despite the small problems I mentioned, if you are fans of turn-based strategy games like XCOM for example, then this is a title I would strongly advise. If you’re a fan of Gears of War, but not this kind of game, my opinion remains and you will certainly feel at home.
Narrative introduces new characters and revelations in the world of Gears
The executions continue as glorious as ever
No microtransactions of any kind
Well implemented RPG elements
Five different classes, with four specialties within each one of them
High level of customization
Some camera problems in certain animations
Secondary missions break the rhythm of the narrative
Release Date: 28 April 2020
Developer: The Coalition Studio, Splash Damage
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Genre: Turn-based Tactics
Platforms: PC (Xbox One later this year)
Review copy provided by Microsoft Portugal.