Let’s talk about cover shooters! The first one wasn’t actually Gears of War, if you can believe that. It’s generally held to be Kill.Switch, a PS2 game with similar mechanics that feels shockingly ahead of its time. Naturally, once Gears of War hit it big, dozens of similar cover shooters flooded the market, but it’s hard not to come back to the series that made the concept seem to revolutionary.
They’re still cranking them out, of course, and now we’re up to Gears 5. We’re not worried about the “of War” part anymore because everyone just called it Gears anyway, right?
After pushing the Swarm back at great cost in the previous game, the plucky second generation of Gears heroes introduced in Gears of War 4 – JD, Kait and Del – are once again dragged into conflict after a new Swarm attack. When things go awry, Kait goes on a quest to discover the secrets of her lineage and defeat the Swarm once again. Most of her problems are solved via copious application of ammunition.
This is all kind of a secondary concern, of course, because the most important thing about Gears 5 is that you can now play as Jack the Robot in cooperative play. Yes, yes, the classic Gears gameplay is still here so you’ve got waist-high cover, active reloading, chainsaws and so on…but you can also talk one of your teammates into playing as the drone, forcing them to fetch guns for you, keep track of buffs and, if they aren’t doing other menial labor, maybe taze a guy or two. It’s great. For you. Maybe for them too if they’re into that kind of thing. Fetch me that gun, robo-servant!
What if you’re not playing as the drone? Well, that means you’re running around, blasting away at baddies while hiding behind cover to avoid taking too much fire yourself. You’ve got a fairly varied selection of weapons, with the best options continuing to be the classics like the Lancer and Hammerburst and newer Gears of War 4 weapons feeling a bit lackluster. New options include another flavor of Lancer, an ice gun and an auto pistol, so you’ve got more to choose from if the good ol’ Gnasher shotgun isn’t doing it for you anymore. You can stealth kill enemies and pull them over cover as well, but typically this is a secondary concern to just blasting away. Bottom line: it’s Gears.
So you’ll Gears your way through a standard ten-hour AAA campaign, ideally doing so with a coop partner or two; if you’re invested in the Gears of War plotline this might do something for you, but for my group it was just a selection of high-budget setpieces to blast and obliterate enemies in. You’ve also got the return of the Horde and Versus modes as well as a new option called Escape, which randomly generates maps and enemy encounters for you to deal with. This is an interesting idea that mostly plays out like a more mobile version of Horde mode, which continues to be the best way to play Gears. Don’t @ me.
Meanwhile, card packs and other such nonsense have largely gone by the wayside, so while microtransactions and lootbox-style mechanics aren’t entirely gone, they’re now pretty much relegated to cosmetics. Either way, do you really need cosmetics when you can play as the Terminator? Because you totally can because there’s a new Terminator movie on the way. Welcome back, Linda Hamilton!
From a presentation and performance perspective, well, it’s Gears. It’s one of Microsoft’s heaviest-hitting franchises. It looks and runs absolutely fantastic on PC and console alike. That fact is of greater importance than usual as Microsoft is positioning Gears 5 as a premium selling point for their Game Pass service, and unlike the embarrassing disparity we saw in console-to-PC versions of Crackdown 3, this game runs astonishingly well on all platforms. From a purely technical aspect, the fact that Gears 5 runs about as well on an Xbox One X console as it does on an expensive PC is very impressive. This is the type of parity that Microsoft promised with their 4K-powered console, though rarely delivered.
That said, Gears 5 is also one of the buggier entries in the franchise. Setpieces will break on the regular, impeding progression, menus sometimes break entirely, and it’s not uncommon for characters to be stuck on geometry. This becomes almost infuriating after you’ve won a drawn-out battle, only to have an enemy disappear or progression-necessary moment glitch out. Only a hard checkpoint-restart and battling all over again will do the trick. This will inevitably be addressed over time with patches, but another week or three in the oven might have done Gears 5 some good.
That said, Gears 5 is still Gears. It’s more of what fans of the series know and love. Gears 5 doesn’t do much to break new ground – cutesy additions like open-world segments in the campaign still just lead to more cover shooting in the end, but it’s damn good cover shooting. It turns out that a softer, more sensitive Gears is still very much Gears, even with the abbreviated name. If that’s what you’re after, then pony up your dollar or whatever for Game Pass and get to blasting!