Gears 5 review | Covers all the bases

Waste-high walls are back with a vengeance in the shooter-sequel, Gears 5. Here’s our review of a solid action-fest…


 

The men are walking walls with bean-sized heads, the women far more realistically proportioned (relatively speaking), for some reason – but everyone has massive feet. Seriously, this lot wouldn’t be able to pop into Clarks and pick up their loafers off the rack; we’re talking at the very least a special order placed in the shop, maybe even some boots made for them bespoke. They’re some big feet.

Which masterfully segues into the fact that Gears 5 – we’ve dropped ‘of War’ – has some huge shoes to fill, literally and metaphorically.

The Coalition has been in charge of the series for a few years now, remaking the original game for the Xbox One, then getting a crack at a proper series entry with 2016’s Gears of War 4. But it feels like this time around Gears 5 is where we’re seeing Rod Fergusson and co hit a more comfortable pace.

The last game was the furtive poke, testing the waters and seeing what the appetite was like – this time, it’s the bold new move into reinventing an Xbox legend for an audience that may not have even been born when the first game came out. Just don’t tell PEGI that.

It all starts out as you’d expect – the bean-head crew stomping their massive feet around on a mission to destroy anything that moves, gruffly barking that they’ve seen nude drones on the horizon as said drone itself barks something in half-English and it all ends up with a big, semi-static firefight. You hide behind a lot of waist-high cover, engage in some responsive, satisfying gunplay, and quips litter the battlefield almost as much as the quite ludicrous amounts of gore.

It’s Gears of War as you know it, and it’s not long before the prosaic feeling washes over – we’re doing the same activity we’ve been doing for 13 years now. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not evolved as much as those hybrid-beast enemies you’ve been fighting for over a decade now have.

But then Gears 5 throws you a curveball: it opens up. You retrieve a skiff and begin sail-skiing around a contained-but-large open-world region, on your way to your next objective. Along the way, you encounter side missions; things you don’t actually have to do, but if you do, you’ll get some extra treats and bits of narrative. There are random caches and battles in the few large, open maps to discover. It’s… different. And it works.

It’s hard to say there’s actual innovation at play here, but adding a bit of myopia to things and ignoring all other games, it’s a bold step for a series that’s been set in its A-to-B ways for many a year, and shows The Coalition is willing to experiment with an established format.

Even so, it still ends up treading the same worn path for the most part, with this opening up of things taking a backseat to hiding behind walls and shooting the big bads.

Every now and then, an encounter is mixed up, usually by offering a stealth option. Sometimes it’s actually quite satisfying, like when it presents your way through almost as a puzzle, or maze, with a definite correct route available to get through, ripping batteries out of corrupted robots and without raising the alarm.

Most of the time it’s just a bit messy, though, with wilfully blind enemies allowing you to work around the clunky mechanics that simply aren’t suited for graceful stealth manoeuvres. Well, wilfully blind at least until one of them sees you behind something that’s served as impenetrable cover for the last five minutes, just because the game’s decided it’s time for another firefight. It’s… mixed.

Another way Gears 5 feels mixed – actually, more surprising than ‘mixed’ – is in its story. I’d struggle to say I liked it, but it does have its moments. By now, we actually expect chunks of pathos to worm their way through the mindless action, and some of that witty banter is, dare I say it, on the wittier side of the banter spectrum.

References to the COG – the authoritarian governmental entity of the series – being ‘fascists’ is touched on, though doesn’t really go anywhere, but you can’t have everything, can you? Maybe Gears 6 or whatever they end up calling it will just be a bundle of anarchist propaganda, with the bean-heads going around smashing up space McDonald’s with their massive boots.

There’s a lot to say for the steps The Coalition has taken with Gears 5, especially when compared with another of the core Xbox franchises and its shift in tone since moving to a new developer. While 343i has opted for a bewilderingly safe approach, making Halo a dull slog through meandering, unmemorable setpieces, The Coalition has stamped its own brand on Epic’s original series, and that is to be applauded.

But as brave – in its own way – as it might be to push and develop a major franchise beyond its original mechanical boundaries, the simple fact is even with some tweaks and tucks to the formula, Gears 5 is still essentially more of the same. It’s good fun – great, even, with a friend or two in tow – but there’s nothing of any real consequence to keep you playing, and those looking for real depth… well, they won’t find it.

For all the new directions Gears 5 hints at going in, it still ends up as predictable as the outcome of a chainsaw running through a barking, nude drone.

Highlight

It may seem a bit rich to criticise the game for being samey then praising this element, but the fact of the matter is the active reload system is absolute perfection. It makes a microgame of the simple act of reloading your weapon, and is still as captivating as it ever was.

Verdict: 68%

Takes a bold step forward, then safely retreats to waist-high cover. Gears 5 is a fun, brain-off shooter. Par for the series, then.

Genre: Cover-’em-up
Format: XBO (tested) / PC
Developer: The Coalition
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Price: £49.99
Release: Out now

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