Gears 5 is third-person shooting game developed by The Coalition. It is playable in co-op and online multiplayer. Gears 5 is available on Xbox One and PC including game pass. Joseph Pugh conducted this review on a standard Xbox One console.
Unless you have been living under a rock or are completely new to gaming, you have at least some idea of what the Gears franchise actually is. The Gears games have been a staple of the Xbox dating back to the original in 2006. The high octane and very violent third-person shooters with a focus on big Hollywood style moments and gunfights.
Gears 5 does very little to change the formula, if you have liked other Gears of War titles, you will enjoy Gears 5. If you didn’t, Gears 5 isn’t going to win your heart and mind now. It’s that simple. The game does, however, have a lot of content, a lengthy campaign, an improved horde mode, versus and a new mode called escape.
Gears 5 does bring some new systems to the table, some of them welcome, others less so. Unfortunately, I ran into many bugs, glitches, and disconnects early on. Frozen checkpoints in the campaign, disconnects in co-op, stats, and rewards not dropping in multiplayer and more. These issues have slowly and thankfully been ironed out over time, though some may still persist.
The game is beautiful to behold, even on the standard Xbox One. By and large, its performance held up, even in intense firefights. Something that seems to be less and less common as this generation of consoles nears its end.
Gears 5 Campaign
The campaign is lengthy and features some pretty noteworthy moments, however, it is a predictable Gears outing. It’s solid, but I am somewhat disappointed in the lack of newer enemy types and weapons. There are a few new ones, and the boss battles do stand out but the newness feels rare. For the most part, the campaign feels like an extension of any other Gears game. I don’t at all believe a game has to innovate to be good. But I do feel like the formula has grown somewhat stale this many games into the franchise.
The story is average, storytelling has never been a Gears strong suit but the characters are interesting and likable. The main focus this time is on Kait Diaz who is voiced by the talented Laura Bailey. Laura and the rest of the cast go a long way into making the story interesting enough to pay attention to, even if the writing itself is ho-hum. Special shout out to Baird, who has always been my favorite!
Two notable changes in the campaign are Jack and the skiff. The former is quite interesting, the latter is, less so. Jack is a robot that assists the squad, in co-op a third person can actually play as Jack. The handy robots playstyle is a great deal different than a normal COG. He cloaks and zaps enemies, doing a small amount of damage but can stun them. He can revive, fetch weapons and be upgraded with an array of abilities, such as laying traps or even hijacking an enemy. Jack fits a support playstyle and is an interesting gameplay change.
Without a third player, Jack still engages the enemy and the players can command him to use his abilities, it adds a bit more strategy to the pop and drop cover shooter. The skiff is a kind of wind sled you drive around the new semi open-world hub areas.
In these hub areas you can move between the main objective and discover side ones, usually rewarding you with components that you can use to upgrade Jack. It’s a neat idea but fits Gears poorly. The coolness of the skiff wears off quickly as the open world is nearly featureless and empty. It becomes a simple time-waster of moving between locations with very little to actually do in it.
The basis of the game is picking up weapons, getting behind some cover and taking down hordes of bad guys. It’s solid, the guns feel powerful and they all have unique recoil patterns and situational uses. If the fight gets up close you can melee attack or utilize the much-beloved chainsaw bayonet for a gruesome finish. You can execute downed enemies or use them as a shield against gunfire.
Movement in Gears 5 has weight to it, sometimes to its detriment, it isn’t uncommon to accidentally stick to a piece of cover when you were trying to roll away. The game features several difficulty modes, and the higher ones do indeed provide a satisfying challenge.
If you or your allies go down, be they player or AI you can revive each other. Teamwork is somewhat central to the game, even if it’s as simple as flanking the enemy. Some baddies can grab and kidnap you, leading to your eventual death. If your squad is quick enough they can save you. Gears 5 actually features quite a bit of instant death attacks, so you need to stay on your toes. I do enjoy the lethality of it and the focus on the squads needing to have each others back. At the same time, some deaths can feel cheap.
One thing I dislike and have always disliked in Gears is the lack of reaction from the enemies. Bullet sponges work best when there is feedback to what the player is doing. The enemies flinch occasionally when shot. But it isn’t uncommon for a shotgun carrying grunt to rush you while you put an entire clip into their face. It doesn’t feel good when it happens.
Gears 5 Multiplayer
The game is largely multiplayer-centric. You can play up to three-player co-op in the campaign, shockingly, you can play in split-screen on the Xbox One. Escape is up to three-player co-op, Versus pits you into five on five action and Horde is up to five-player co-op.
There is a lot of variety in how you want to play Gears, you may play every mode or stick to one and they each feel fleshed out. I do however worry that the Gears 5 multiplayer community is stretched far to thin. Versus has several modes, both escape and horde have 7 difficulty’s, each with their own matchmaking. That’s a giant split and I worry about how difficult it will be to find a game in each niche several months down the road.
Escape needs people to play with, Bots are featured in horde and versus but are a poor replacement for actual humans. If you have a band of friends you can consistently play with, this is a non-issue. But if you rely on randoms, it may become a problem quicker than you think.
You can unlock cosmetics for multiple modes and upgradeable skills for Escape and Horde. Duplicate cosmetics get converted into scrap that you can use to upgrade a skill, if you already possess a duplicate of the same skill. Microtransactions are present, but only for cosmetic items.
In Versus it is the COG versus the swarm in multiplayer combat with a variety of modes. Or as I like to call it, shotgun hell. This complaint isn’t unique to Gears 5. It has been that way since the very first Gears game and it has made its return here. I call it shotgun hell, because roadie running into your enemy with a shotgun and insta-gibbing them is the most popular strategy. It is popular, because its the most effective.
In my opinion, its a waste of the tactical cover system and weapon variety when the most effective thing to do is shotgun rush. You can counter it of course, with a shotgun. You can use other weapons, but they are a sidekick to the shotguns unrelenting fury. My very first versus match consisted of a teammate screaming into my ear for not rushing with my shotgun.
I think its an unbalanced mess, but this game-play has had its fans for several games now, so it is an intentional one. It might be for you, but it isn’t for me.
Escape pits three players into a maze-like level armed with only a pistol and knife, from there they must scavenge weapons and ammo while pressing forward as a venomous gas closes in behind them. It’s an interesting concept somewhat in conflict with the usual nature of Gears 5. It is a fun one though.
Escape characters are separate from Horde ones, though some special characters such as Sarah Conner do cross over. Each character has a class and ultimate ability that charges up over time. The escape levels change weekly and most interestingly, you can create your own.
Gears 5 features an intuitive in-game level editor where you can craft and play your own hive escape, I was surprised just how easy it is to use. If you have that creative itch, but also want to chainsaw some monsters, your gonna love this. You can design the layout, enemy and weapon placement, it is nifty.
Horde mode is easily my favorite part of Gears 5. Each character has a class and ultimate ability, and as I mentioned earlier you can acquire and upgrade skills for each one. Your class also influences what fortifications you can build and what perks are available to you.
You earn power when fighting each wave. You can spend this power to buy weapons, ammo, fortifications or perks for yourself. If your feeling generous, you can give away power to teammates or in the fabricator to be spent by others. The engineer class has access to all manner of fortifications, but no personal perks.
While other classes such as offense or tank have their own strengths and perks they can buy, they can’t build as much. You can move your fabricator around each level, picking where you want to hole up while you fight wave after wave of the swarm. Every ten waves is a boss fight and generator point appears on the map. Placing a generator on these spots passively grants more power, but it stretches the amount of area you need to cover and defend.
Jack is playable in horde as the sole support class. Jack plays so differently to the rest of the cast that I feel having one player play is Jack is super important to victory. The robot is fast and nimble, able to scour the field for power pickups. He can repair and build, stun enemies and heal teammates. His ultimate ability lets him hijack and control an enemy for a short time.
Horde is an absolute blast to play and incredibly intense, it is heavily reliant on teamwork as each class has its own strength’s, for example, giving spare power to the engineer is a very good idea.
Gears 5 Verdict
Gears 5 is a Gears of War game through and through. Its gameplay is solid and satisfying if a bit clunky at times. There is a multitude of modes to choose from, and even though I dislike the versus mode, your mileage may vary.
The campaign on its own is lengthy and the ability to play jack in co-op or horde is really neat. Jack and his upgradeable abilities, in general, add a bit of strategy and progression to the campaign that Gears games have traditionally lacked.
Most of the weapons and enemies have been seen before in past games, whether or not that’s a problem is up to you. If you’re new to the series, I’d say this is a great starting point. There is an in-game recap of Gears 4 and the story is shallow anyway.
I do worry about how stretched the community will be in more than 14 different instances of matchmaking, but you can’t say the game doesn’t give you variety. It’s a solid title, just not a perfect one. If you enjoyed previous titles in the series then Gears 5 is an easy sale. If you are new altogether, well, there is a ton of stuff for you to dig your chainsaw bayonet in!
Enjoy third person shooters? Check out my review of The Division 2.
- Beautiful visuals and solid performance on the standard Xbox One.
- Variety of game modes and lengthy campaign.
- Split-screen co-op available.
- Difficulty modes present.
- Jacks game-play is a welcome addition in both campaign and horde.
- Improved Horde mode and new Escape is a great new addition complete with level editor.
- Great voice acting.
- Most weapons and enemy types are not new.
- The open world hubs feel like empty time wasters.
- Controls can be clunky at times.
- Versus mode boils down to shotgun rushing.
- Lack of enemy reaction can make the bullet sponge aspect stick out.
- Multiplayer community is stretched out, may lower shelf life of certain multiplayer mode niches.
- Encountered several bugs and disconnects, most seem to have been ironed out by time this review was published.