Much of your time in Gears Tactics will be spent moving characters behind various objects before firing on a familiar bestiary of Locust hordes. Which fits, as Gears of War has always been about firefights playing out from behind waist-high cover.
Gears Tactics certainly captures the look and feel of Gears, from the gooey chunks of flesh that hammer home its violence, right down to the way the camera positions itself behind each character’s shoulder as they pepper grubs with hot lead.
What separates Gears Tactics from other games in the genre isn’t as immediately obvious as all the Gears-y stuff. Each unit in your four-person squad has three action points available to them at the beginning of every turn that can be spent on movement, shooting, and abilities.
The success rate of each bullet you fire is governed by a percentage, and abilities range from skills like Overwatch to the inherently satisfying bayonet charge. All of this is built atop the foundations that XCOM: Enemy Unknown set in 2012, but it doesn’t take long before its own nuances begin to reveal themselves.
Gears Tactics is all about giving you the freedom to approach skirmishes in any way you see fit. There’s no movement grid restricting your ability to traverse the battlefield, nor is there a stagnant turn order preventing you from responding to threats as they emerge. You can even shoot an enemy before moving or using an ability, ensuring that a gun-shot doesn’t immediately signal the end of your turn. The game’s beating heart, however, are the executions.
Damage an enemy enough, and they’re likely to enter a downed state in classic Gears fashion. If you can get a unit close enough while an enemy is writhing around on the floor, you can perform a brutal execution that grants your squad members an extra action point, prolonging your turn. This allows Gears Tactics to throw Locust hordes at you by the dozen.
You’re nearly always outmanned and outgunned, but rack up enough executions in one turn, and the odds can quickly flip in your favour. Your plan still needs to be smart, but there’s a palpable sense of forward momentum that latches onto the series’ action-oriented approach.
This is a fast and aggressive tactics game that only falters when it loses its impetus. Your time in-between missions is spent equipping bland ‘loot’ that does nothing more than raise numbers on the same weapons you’ll use for the entirety of the game. The inclusion of mandatory side missions also disrupts the campaign’s pacing, forcing you to replay the same repetitive mission types multiple times.
When propelling you forward at full speed, the ebb and flow of Gears Tactics presents a cerebral marriage between the genre’s brains and the series’ brawn. Some of the combinations you can pull off with your squad are exhilarating, and it rewards you for being bold and aggressive in a way other tactics games would never dare.
Nothing speaks to Gears Tactics’ focus on action quite like its implementation of the Overwatch ability. Rather than being a purely defensive tactic, you can use its cones of fire to create deadly chokepoints and rapidly dispatch a group of encroaching enemies in one fell swoop.
A fast-paced and aggressive tactics game that only falters when it tries to breathe.
Genre: Turn-based tactics
Format: PC (tested)
Developer: Splash Damage, The Coalition
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Release: Out now