There’s something about classic shooters that really appeals to the brutal animal instinct inside of us all. Y’know, that reptile part of our brain that just wants to hide behind some chest-high cover. You know you’ve felt it too! That urge to sidle up next to a ruined chunk of wall and hunker down! Don’t deny it! That’s an urge the Gears of War series has always been eager to fulfill, and usually has quite well.
But it’s 2020 now. It’s a modern era with modern sensibilities. We need a hiding-behind-cover simulator with a little more tact. That’s why we’ve got Gears Tactics, which is absolutely packed with tact that owes as much to XCOM as its namesake.
On the planet Sera, there’s a whole bunch of gray bald folks called the Locust crawling up from below the ground, ravaging cities, torturing people and basically just making menaces of themselves. The Seran branch of humanity is in a pretty bad state as a result. It’s up to the Gears, the armed forces of the Coalition of Governments, to fight the Locust back. We follow Sgt. Gabriel Diaz and his squad as they undergo a secret mission for COG leader Prescott, heading deep into enemy territory to battle a powerful Locust geneticist.
Gears Tactics is a turn-based strategy RPG that takes everything you love about the Gears series and makes it a little more think-y. Thinking makes my brain hurt, but Tactics does its best to keep things relatively understandable. Characters run on a simple three-action system where movement, attacks and skills each take an action. Attack performance is predicted using a percentage system a la XCOM, so you can enjoy the sting of disappointment when your 80% hit-rate gunshots somehow fly at a right angle out of the barrel and hit nothing.
It’s a setup that will be familiar with SRPG players. However, if you’ve played Gears before, many of the basic concepts apply here as well. For instance, that chest-high cover is just as vital here as in Horde mode, offering vital protection to ensure that your squad doesn’t get perforated, and likewise you’re rewarded for flanking maneuvers on enemies in cover. When you pull off one of those flanks and fill a Locust baddie full of holes, there’s a good chance that they’ll enter a downed state. You can then send up a squaddie to execute them, an idea that would be tactically foolish in most games…but here you’re rewarded for doing so with additional actions for your squad.
Naturally, the classic Lancer chainsaw bayonet is present, accounted for and ready to chop Locust into bite-sized chunks as well. It’s a tactics game that you’re encouraged to play as if it was a Gears game. What’s not to love?
Well…honestly, there’s very little that’s not to love. You can customize characters to your liking, building them up to form the squad of your dreams. There’s several classes with expansive skill trees that essentially act as subclasses, so if you were thinking this might be SRPG-lite then you’re bound to be pleasantly surprised. You’ll collect gear upgrades to further improve your team as you progress through the campaign, leading to a palpable sense of improvement as you go. On top of all that, the plot – while basically just a little short-story addition to the modern Gears games – is perfectly acceptable for what it is, especially given the generally likable cast.
I played this one on PC, and given it’s a native Windows 10 game, I wasn’t too surprised to find that Gears Tactics’ presentation and performance were all top notch. Environments and characters alike look great and everything animates with the gritty brutality you’ve come to love from this franchise. There’s a version coming for the Xbox One console, too,
The Xbox One X didn’t fail to impress as well, so if that’s what you’ve got you’re still going to have a good time.
The bottom line is, well…this is one of those Game Pass games. If you’re a rabid Microsoft gamer you should probably have Game Pass. That means that the only cost you’re considering is the time it takes to install and play the game. It’s a pretty low bar. Fortunately, it’s one that Gears Tactics hops over like a chest-high wall. Strategy addicts and Gears fans alike are going to find something to enjoy here, and they’re going to get it for cheap.