NOTE: As we were unable to find any Ranked Versus, Escape, or Horde matches before release, we decided to break our review into two parts. Here you will find our review of the Gears 5 multiplayer. If you want to read our review of the campaign, you can check it out here.
Many games claim to have a multiplayer suite. Truth be told, though, a lot of games that claim this just have a couple of different multiplayer modes. When we say that Gears 5 has a multiplayer suite, we really do mean it. Alongside the regular Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Guardian, and the other usual modes, Horde is back, and we have a new experience called Escape. There really is more content on offer here than some titles that are fully-fledged multiplayer-only games.
We gotta get out of this place
Let’s take a look at Escape mode first. This is a 3-player, co-operative mode. After choosing one of the three Hivebuster characters (or one of the bonus characters), you’ll watch them be swallowed by a Snatcher. Then, once the game has loaded, you’ll burst your way out of the sack you’ve been dumped in. You find yourself in a hive. This basically looks like any sort of industrial underground complex. Your character plants a venom bomb, and off you go. The bomb you have planted goes off after a matter of seconds, and you need to stay ahead of the poison. This forces you to keep pushing forward with barely a chance to catch your breath.
This is a mode that requires a decent level of aggression. While Horde can be played somewhat defensively, Escape forces you to keep pushing forward. It is possible to avoid some enemies, but this can mean that you have to watch your back, as well as what is ahead. If you do succumb to the numerous enemies, you will respawn again in a sack (like at the start) and require your colleagues to free you. If you all die, then you start again as a team in a safe room. And die you might, as ammo is very limited. You start with just a pistol equipped with a few clips worth of ammo. Sufficiently arming yourself to make it out of the hive you will require you to pick up weapons from your fallen foes. This means you need to be a bit more adaptable with the weaponry.
There are currently only four hives to escape from. However, there is a creation tool to be able to create your own. It will be interesting to see how this mode moves forward. I already find it to be a lot of fun and something I keep coming back to. If the team at The Coalition can create some great new maps, particularly with slightly altered visual elements, this could become something really special. As it is, though, it creates a great option between Horde mode and the versus multiplayer.
Here comes the Horde
Speaking of Horde mode, it is back and better than ever. The first thing you will notice is that if you are unable to get a full team of 5 players, AI bots will fill the free spaces. These AI characters are not a patch on real players, but they do give you much more of a chance if you can’t find a full team, or if players leave midway through a match. You will also notice that character classes are back and more important than ever. It might be great being an engineer who can build fortifications. However, if your entire team are engineers, you’ll be missing out on the firepower that you will need to get to the higher levels. Alternatively, if everyone is an offensive player or tank, you won’t have access to the fortifications you will need.
Another new addition to Horde is the power tap. Make it through the first ten waves of a match, and you’ll hear about a power tap appearing on the map. To activate it you will need to stand inside the ring around it (like in king of the hill). This will make it a physical object on the map. Defend it for the round, and you can then hold ‘X’ to receive some power from it. You can continue to do this every round until it is destroyed. It will also upgrade over rounds allowing you to gain even more energy from it. You can also have multiple energy taps on the map. It becomes trickier to defend multiple taps, but the extra energy is very beneficial.
One interesting thing across both Escape and Horde mode is the way that you can improve your characters. As you keep using a character, they will level up. This allows you to equip perks for that character. These can be things like more health, the ability to carry more ammo, a higher team score, and many others. All of this progress is limited to each specific character. This does allow you to specialise your performance, but it can be a little sad when you don’t get to be your preferred character. You do get a chance in the lobby of each match to switch characters. However, if two players both choose the same character, one player will be automatically switched once the match actually starts.
Things get competitive
Of course, there is also a wealth of content available in the Versus multiplayer mode. Arcade mode makes a welcome return and is a great dropping-in point for all gamers. Whether you are a grizzled Gears veteran or a newbie to the franchise, there’s something for you here. Where you keep respawning (and near your team, so no spawn camping here), new players will find a place to be able to improve. More skilled players will enjoy the ability to rack up lots of kills in a shorter period. Another option for new players, or people fancying something a little more laid back, is the co-op vs. AI mode. This does what it says on the tin. It can be incredibly easy on ‘Beginner’ difficulty but ramps up quickly if you choose harder difficulties.
If you’re a more competitive player, then there’s still lots for you here. Ranked versus will provide you with the challenge you desire. While it will take a week or two to get everyone to the level they deserve, there is still a decent balance right now. There’s also the usual array of different game types for you to play. You can play, Arcade deathmatch, Arms race, Dodgeball, Escalation, Execution, Guardian, King of the Hill, Team deathmatch, or Warzone. These all play just as you would expect and offer enough variation to the carnage to keep players engaged.
Gears 5 multiplayer is a substantial enough package that it could have been sold as its own game. There is enough content here to keep you entertained for months and even years to come. The new additions fit in really well and Escape mode is an absolute delight. It may not change things as much as Horde mode did when it was released, but it adds a new, fun way to experience Gears. This whole package is almost perfect. In fact, my only gripe would be that the loading times can be really substantial. Despite being told while you’re waiting in the lobby that the game is loading the map, you still have to wait quite a while once you move on from the lobby. This is a little niggle, though, in an otherwise magnificent multiplayer suite.