Hunkered around hot metal pipes, gunshots flew overhead as the soldiers ducked down. Sgt Diaz yells to his team, “Dig in!” Major Redburn charges at locust, ramming his bayonet through the monster’s back, “Let me show you out!” Reyna stepped out from her cloaked position and threw out a frag grenade, “got a present for ya!” The explosion parted the enemy party. Mikayla spun on her heels and faced the final monster, loaded up a final shot, “GIVING IT ALL I’VE GOT” The rifle shot the last bullet. It screamed fast across the battlefield, the giant hulking monster let out a roar and exploded into a fountain of blood and toxic gas. The mission was done. I sat back, the credits scrolled by and all I wanted to do was jump back in for more.
I should preface this review with a shocking revelation; I have never liked Gears Of War (a real game, about real men, about a real war, with real guns) Despite trying to play through every iteration both in co-op and solo, I’ve never found the combat or visuals all that enjoyable. The idea of a tactics game based on the franchise isn’t exactly what I expected to be my cup of tea at all. Unlike other strategy games, Gears Tactics is typically played from a higher view point and the more I played it the more I feel like I was moving miniatures around a board. It really can be satisfying in a strategy game to have everything play out as you planned but is it worth giving Gears a go? Even as a player with zero interest in the lore and world?
Gears Tactics works a lot like XCOM: Enemy Unknown but with a lot less of the management faff. Each combat turn works with your units going through 4 action points and using skills and weapons until they’re spent then the enemy monsters do the same. Sometimes when your soldiers fire the camera will zoom in so you can see the action as it happens. You manage a squad of Cog muscly soldiers and play through a surprisingly enjoyable story campaign with each level being a clever arena to complete an objective. Once it’s over you’ll upgrade your crew’s equipment and weapon using the parts found in chests for each level. You’ll also unlock extra gear if you complete optional objectives or find them on the levels. Unlike XCOM the focus is less on your customised crew and more on the main 4 story characters. Customised characters either tag along on the story missions or venture out on the side ones, should they die you can easily swap the space with a new body and the final mission only uses the 4 story characters.
The story campaign is what shocked me the most as it manages something no other Gears game has ever done for me, it’s actually interesting and enjoyable. There’s something light and easily accessible in the telling of the how Gabriel, Sid and Mikayla navigate the twists and turns of Ukkon’s story. How Reyna never really explains anything and how they interact together is fantastic. Each main story mission will have at least one incredibly well animated in-game engine cutscene, an objective to complete and will be packed with little voice line back and forths between the characters. Between the story fixed missions are side missions giving an option of which soldiers to take with you and complete before continuing the story. It’s these choices that allow you to focus on your favourite characters and level them up over others.
The voice work and presentation of Gears Tactics is simply incredible. Although you’ll be eventually forced into using the story characters, every class of soldier brings their own personality and will have dialogue during missions to match. Everything comes together amazingly well in Gears Tactics. Unlike other % based tactical strategy games, Gears Tactics manages to walk a fine line between actions based on chance and feeling fair. Almost every shot that’s missed you’ll look at and think, “yep fair enough” Balancing the use of skills and keeping track of ammo in your gun (it’s infinite overall) You’ll be dealing with flanking enemies, super soldiers and various types of enemies that all blends into a fantastic experience. When you’re in the thick of it, making the most of certain attacks and squad classes to wipe out as many locust as possible before they have a turn, it feels amazing.
For a universe which previously was coloured in brown and grey, set in so much mud and dirt, Gears Tactics absolutely shines. Targets are bright bold red, the enemy overwatch sights layered over the floor, COG soldiers a brilliant blue and the world humming with life all around. The benchmark option is listed front and centre when you load the game and it’s best to push to the best you can. Although the main game camera will be zoomed out for the most part, the cutscenes are rendered in engine using the same settings. Metal looks shiny when polished chrome, puddles look muddy and the gibbing locusts look visceral. It really is shocking how good this top down strategy game looks. If I were playing this in VR I’d be leaning over to move the characters as if they were figures on a table being played through a storm.
For a single player story that’s 3 acts Gears Tactics doesn’t feel short by any means. It has taken me a considerable amount of time to get through everything and despite my best efforts I still lost soldiers along the way. Once the end credits are rolled you can jump back in to try the harder Vanguard missions. The pacing is fantastic and the difficulty curve matches it really well. Later missions and bosses pushing the player to take a few resets because you’ve rushed for a crate instead of being tactical and paid for it with dead cogs. Gears Tactics is now on Xbox One Game Pass as well as PC so now is the perfect time to give it a go. Grab yourself a carrier, load up on a ton of armour, pop a handful of steroids and go blast some locust scum into oblivion. Just be sure someone has your back when you do.
9/10 – A real game, about real men, about a real war, with real guns and real tactics.
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