Gamers would be forgiven for hearing that Gears of War was getting a tactical spin-off and thinking little of it. With the mobile game and plans for other mobile properties all tied up in a little bow, Gears appeared to be taking on a multimedia personality. So you can imagine my shock when I fired up Gears Tactics and found myself playing something that was not only a superior Gears of War experience to what we’ve had in recent entries, but also one of the best turn-based strategy games in years.
It’s very difficult to circumnavigate spoilers when dealing with Gears of War, but I’ll do my best. The game, to my absolute delight, starts around the time of Chairman Prescott’s infamous usage of the Hammer of Dawn on Sera. Your main character is Gabe, a once promising combatant turned mechanic. In no time at all you meet a few other Gears and add them to your squad, and then you hit the warzone. I will completely omit story from this review as a gesture of goodwill to all those interested in the game but believe me when I say the game is not fooling around and making a half-baked narrative to go with the tactical gameplay. This is a true Gears campaign.
As I mentioned before, the setting is one more familiar to older Gears of War veterans. E-Day, the hammer of dawn, the Locust… all present and correct. No Deebees, Swarm, or Pendulum wars to be seen. And from this moment you begin to appreciate how much Gears of War’s original setting contributed to the success of the franchise. The hopelessness, the darkness, the despair and sorrow… this is what made Gears of War one of the greatest games of last generation, and I am thrilled to be back here. All the older Gears of War weapons are here as well, from the original Gnasher to the classic Lancer and Snub pistol. Full marks for setting and authenticity.
Now let’s talk gameplay. If you’ve never played a turn based tactical game, the set-up is relatively straight forward. You move each of your units, and apply your tactical decisions based on the number of action points each unit has. In most games in the genre these options include things like attacking, taking point, reloading, healing, or hunkering. Most games of what you might call the XCOM genre, allow units to make 2 actions during their turn. From the off, Gears has a minimum of 3. Reloading has always been important in Gears, and it is here also. You’ll have a set number of rounds in your weapon, which act partially as actions, and once you’re empty, you’ll need to use the action, reload. But with these three moves, you could take cover, and shoot at an enemy. If you almost killed him and your magazine is still full, shoot him again! There are dials and metres absolutely everywhere indicating the percentage chances of landing a hit, or more on a target.
But Gears has more than just guns. Throwing grenades is also important, especially for clearing emergence holes. You also have stim grenades for your allies, and the ability to stick grenades to surfaces and leave a trap for your enemies. Overwatch is a useful technique for keeping your allies covered. Your unit will cover an area of the map with line of sight, and if they have a loaded weapon, when enemies come into that line of sight, they will unload at them, often cutting them down or interrupting their movement action. True to form, you can often put enemies in a ‘downed’ state, then rush over and execute them in a gory display of Gears at its best. And there is a fabulous array of enemies to face. Classic Drones, Snipers, Grenadiers, Guards, Wretches, and a host of familiar bosses like Brumaks and Corpsers. And make no mistake, this game is punishingly difficult. Being careless with line of sight or your health can be costly. One well placed shot from a Gnasher can put you down as easily as it can put an enemy down. You’ll die a lot, and you’ll scour the warzone for special crates to unlock weapon mods and armour upgrades. Some of these crates are in deliberately dangerous areas, but it can be so rewarding to get that upgrade you badly need.
But despite your tactical prowess, and your strategic brain, on harder difficulties you will die, and die a lot. This is why it’s always good to send troops out on side missions, or recruit and upgrade unit types from the pool of available recruits as it changes over the course of the game. Finding just the right addition for your team can be a real satisfying moment. Did I mention character perks and abilities? Believe it or not, every single character has their own detailed and rich skill tree of tasty upgrades and mods to change the tactical flow of the game. As you play with these characters, they’ll gain points you can spend to unlock these abilities. You’ll want to invest lots of time on the side keeping your support characters in check and making sure your main squad doesn’t get too far ahead in levels and upgrades.
It goes without saying, but the sound and music add a lot to the already apparent authenticity of the experience. Everything from the Longshot headshot ‘pop’ to the swooshing sound of twirling around a grenade is present and appreciated. The visuals are also the finest of any turn based tactical game to date, despite a few texture issues and pop-ins. There are also some known compatibility issues with the GTX 1080ti, but I found that updating the drivers fixed this problem for me. I preferred to play at 1440p to get the absolute most out of the framerate while taking the strain off the card a bit, but the game still ran flawlessly at 4K with unlocked framerate and ultra settings enabled across the board as well. Hopefully by time of launch this issue/non-issue will be all ironed out.
Gears Tactics is better than the sum of its parts. It recreates classic Gears in a reverent and relevant way and adds its own flavour with some great new characters and new mysteries surrounding the locust. I look forward to playing this on Xbox in the near future, but for now I can absolutely recommend the game on PC. It’s deep, satisfying, and incredibly faithful and authentic.
With such appreciation shown to the roots of the whole franchise, as well as the courage to take the old settings of emergence day and make it something we’ve not experienced before, Gears Tactics is a reminder that Gears of War is an excellent example of world building that transcends being genre specific, and despite borrowing some staple gameplay elements from XCOM and other turn based strategy games, is a blast to play and an awesome strategy game in its own right.
This game was tested and reviewed on PC (via Steam). All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.