Gears of War is one of my personal biggest surprises. When I got my 360 late in the console’s life, I reluctantly gave it a try as it came free with the console and I couldn't have been more shocked to find how much heart was in this game. The American Football sized soldiers that pack more bravado clichés in than I should be able to handle, over the series turned into surprisingly deep and likeable characters, quickly becoming a favourite in Microsoft’s lineup, so I was excited to check out the latest chapter in the series.
Gears 4 campaign wasn’t the best received, but I enjoyed it enough. The beats weren’t always the best but it at times felt a bit confused or rushed, Gears 5 picks up right after 4 but instead of being more of the same it manages to tell a story that is as bombastic as you would expect from the series, but feels more constrained and coherent. If you want to avoid playing Gears of War 4 then Gears 5 gives you a brief synopsis of the story so far before it kicks in with the story.
As with the previous title it kicks off with you controlling Marcus Fenix’s son JD as he and his team are exploring an abandoned station to try to relaunch the powerful Hammer of Dawn weapon. This time instead of the area feeling like 50 shades of grey, blue, and orange, the abandoned base opens to a scene of colourful blue water and greenery everywhere, more akin to some of the imagery used in The Last of Us. Immediately this gives the feeling that you are playing something different to the series so far. The first act feels much like the series to date, as you take JD and the team through a succession of levels killing the masses of locusts in your way.
When the second act kicks off after a big finale to the first, you control Kait and this is where the plot gets good. Kait, who is returning from the last entry, has throughout the first act seemed to be struggling because of the consequences of her mum being destroyed by the locusts in Gears of War 4, but by the time you are controlling her she has more to deal with as people and locust alike aren’t on your side. I won’t touch the plot any further because I enjoyed it and I don’t want to ruin any specifics for you.
Gameplay wise this is the same Gears of War combat you are used to. The cover shooting mechanics still feel fantastic to play as your shaky camera has you moving from cover to cover trying to take out the many enemies the game throws at you. The biggest change is there is a little bit more open world action in the middle where you can complete side missions, as opposed to the usual linear corridor nature of the series, and your new robot companion Jack. Jack is initially useful for providing a way to be sent instructions from Baird and sending him over to grab things from hard to reach places, but you quickly accrue upgrades so Jack can be more useful in combat whether it is by giving armor, making you invisible, blinding your enemies, or allowing you to see enemies hiding behind walls. Given the series’ consistently good combat, this is the best kind of update as it adds to the game without detracting from what the game has done so well before.
When it comes to multiplayer, I am a casual fan at best, but I was keen to give the new Escape mode a go. With this one you are put into a short mission where you along with two other players have intentionally got yourself caught, and you need to plough through the Hordes base killing them en masse to get to a helicopter in time to be air lifted to freedom. Matches don’t take that long, besides it is a fun enough premise and execution, but it’s the kind of mode I would at best play as an on the side diversion to main multiplayer modes Horde or versus, which are both as fun as they have ever been.
On the whole Gears 5 is an excellent entry to the series which tries some new things without losing what we have come to love about it. I did have the odd freeze where I had to restart my console, but I am still using an original XB1, so it is likely chalked up to that. Overall it is easily worth your time, and given the way games pass works, easily worth the few bucks it would cost to play.