Thursday, 19 September 2019

Gears 5 ★★★★☆

Gears 5. It definitely rolls off the tongue easily, but has the gameplay been butchered to match the new streamlined name? 

Three years have passed since the release of Gears of War 4, and the Xbox has been crying out for new AAA experiences in the meantime. Microsoft is banking on it being a success, so much so that they’re letting Game Pass Ultimate members download it four days early in a bid to boost subscriptions to the service. It’s sure to add a significant amount of users in the run-up to Christmas, and the attention is well deserved.

Single-player is where the brunt of the focus lies with Gear 5, with the campaign coming in at roughly 10-12 hours. The player takes control of a new(ish) character in the series, Kait Diaz, as well as the returning JD Fenix. Narratively, the game is more layered and serious in tone, with more attention paid to the alien threat and the Gears themselves. You’re also paired with a drone called Jack, which can be upgraded with active and passive perks throughout the game as long as you pick up enough components. 

It’s been described as open-world, but Gears 5 is more like a quasi-sandbox with limited larger elements thrown in. You’re eventually given a vehicle to traverse valleys and deserts in later chapters, but the core gameplay loop of rolling, hiding behind cover and spamming the shotgun is still a trademark of the series. There are new weapons and enemies, and even more collectables, which can help to stretch out your time in single-player or co-op.

They’ve added a host of multiplayer options as usual, including Escape Mode, Arcade Mode and traditional multiplayer. Escape Mode is probably the most interesting, despite a simple premise. You’re split into a team of three rather than five, and it’s a struggle to survive on higher difficulties. You simply have to plant a bomb and escape, but the prospect of player-built maps means that you’ll never want for more maps.

It looks incredible even if you’re not playing on an Xbox One X, full of meaty action sequences and incredible lighting. It’s highly polished in most respects, and the voice cast only improves it further. Some users have reported save file corruption, and I faced everything from randomly getting kicked from any sort of multiplayer to having problems with the pathfinding for the robot companion. The bugs are being patched slowly, although that’s not helpful if you want to play it today.

Despite a few bugs, Gears 5 is much improved, dragging the series into 2019 with a range of changes that don’t spoil the overall experience. A heavier story helps to keep you invested throughout the campaign, and it hasn’t lost any of the unique flavour throughout multiplayer. For now, microtransactions are limited to skins, while they offer a free battle pass and free DLC maps, which is better than most. There’s enough familiarity to sate fans of the series, while the changes do help to make it more accessible tor everyone else.

James Millin-Ashmore

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