This review is based solely on the campaign. Once the game goes live for all we’ll be digging in and testing out the online functions, with a follow up piece to come as soon as we feel ready to assess them.
I never thought that a Gears game would hit me right in the feels. I’ve always been a huge fan of the over the top action and gore, but never have I truly connected with the characters in any real way outside of the sheer power fantasy; all impossibly bulky armour moving around with the grace of a bus, whilst brutalising anything and everything in the way. While there’s still plenty of that in Gears 5, there’s also a heartfelt tale that kept me hooked to the end.
For the majority of Gears 5, we control Kait who, after the cliff hanger ending of Gears 4, is in search of answers as to her heritage. I’ll naturally avoid spoilers here, but along the way there are some genuine moments of pain, loss, elation and anger that I couldn’t help get swept up in. Despite some of the newer crew being on the… shall we say trying side to begin with, by the finale I grew to really care for each of them and relished with them in victory, as well as share their pain in loss. All are performed brilliantly, maintaining that Gears gruffness, but with much more humanity than before. Across the 4 act story, I never came across a moment that felt off or out of place.
And what a set of acts we have here. After a slightly weak campaign in Gears 4, The Coalition have hit their stride here. From the bombastic opening act, through to an amazingly epic finale, the pace is almost perfect. Sure, at times it is a little predictable in it’s set up – did you really not expect this area made of chest high walls to be used for a fight – but it never feels as if it’s going by the numbers. For the most part, levels are well designed, keeping you moving without too much hassle and occasionally punctuated with huge set piece battles that caused me to audible gawp at the sheer size/scale of what was in front of me.
Boss battles have been a bit hit and miss in the past, but outside of one tough entry mid game, they are just what I want from Gears – huge, spectacular and visceral. Occasionally we find ourselves fighting along side more than our core crew too. These moments feel epic, the sense of you helping in a war effort heightened as you see COG pushing up with you as you quell the oncoming Swarm. Helped by an excellent score, these have an air of action movie turned up to 11 – and then some. The word that just comes to mind over and over again is -somewhat ironically -epic.
Besides, any slight downers in the set up are more than made up for in the sheer brilliance of the combat.
While much is the same as before, everything has been refined to within an inch of its life. The classic roadie run is as snappy as ever, allowing you to quickly retreat to safety – or charge the Swarm head on. Every weapon has some serious heft behind it too. While I’d always revert to the brilliant chainsaw lancer whenever I could previously, here I actually found myself using all of the available arsenal across the game. The Overkill quickly became a favourite due to its sheer Ooomph and power, but just as often I’d pick up the Claw for some rapid fire damage. Enemies splatter into chunks that seem even more meaty than before, with appropriately squelchy sound effects to go along with it. Explosions, chainsaw revs and gunfire all have depth to them too – especially if you plump for Dolby Atmos – with even the smaller fights sounding and feeling like epic wars at all times. Sometimes the voice work can get a little lost in the shuffle at default settings, but this can be adjusted in the settings of course.
I think it’s fair to say that Gears has always been somewhat of a technical showcase for Xbox too, with the original selling other studios on the power of Unreal. Gears 5 does that tradition proud. I’m still rocking that launch model Xbox, but even so, it looks absolutely incredible. The quality of the mo-capped cutscenes, sheer size, scale and detail of the levels as well as everything in between is absolutely top notch. A brilliant use of colour helps distinguish each area and act, and the visual carnage on screen during fights is something to behold. Gears 5 definitely holds it’s own as one of the best of the generation.
It’s not all hyper violent roses though. Aside from the aforementioned boss battle, where it’s all too easy to be insta-killed right at the end, my main gripe with Gears 5 are the newly added hub areas. I know that change is good and all that, but I absolutely had the most fun while playing the more traditional linear areas and levels – which in themselves are often quite large and open.. See, a couple of the acts find you placed in what is effectively an open world, and to progress you’ll be sent here and there to various locales. While at first I quite enjoyed sliding the Skiff about, itself handling in a rather fun way, by the end of Act 2 I had had my fill. The problem I found is that while there are side objectives to hunt out on the way to the mission, they weren’t varied enough to keep me interested in doing them – even if the potential for upgrades for Jack, our constant robotic friend, was there. While I don’t want to call it padding, all I found these sections do for me was delay in getting back in to the action.
It’s a shame, as I admire them for trying something new with the series. If they were smaller, or more densely packed with things to see and do perhaps they’d feel more relevant, but as it is I soon stopped hunting out side mission, sticking solely to the goal at hand.
I can say with absolute certainty that Gears 5 is an astonishingly fun video game. The excellent flow of combat established in prior entries has been implemented here almost flawlessly, the audio/visual feedback is intense, and there’s even a compelling, touching narrative in there to boot. The open world areas let the pace down a bit, and some difficulty spikes can frustrate, but overall if you’re after an action experience, you cannot go wrong here.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.