NOTE: As our reviewer has been unable to find any Ranked Versus, Escape, or Horde matches to take part in, we have decided to break our review into two parts. Here you will find the review of the Gears 5 campaign. At a later date, we will publish a review of the multiplayer component of the game.
There’s no denying that Xbox needs a win right now. In terms of exclusives, things have not really gone that well this generation. I would go as far as stating that the only truly great AAA exclusives this generation have been in the Forza franchise. Gears of War 4 was good, but it was not great. My issue with that entry was that it didn’t really do anything to push the franchise along. Yes, it gave us new characters mixed in with older ones. Unfortunately, though, it just felt like an old game with a new coat of paint. So, how does Gears 5 stack up?
Well, I have to say that Gears 5 is an absolute triumph. The narrative focus has shifted from JD to Kait. This not only allows for a deep dive into her heritage and history, but it also gives us a far more interesting protagonist. JD Fenix was a likeable enough character. However, Kait is more of a tortured soul. She is committed to the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) but also understands and is sympathetic to the Outsiders. Her father was a high-ranking Gear while her grandmother was Queen of the Locust Horde. This duality provides her with a depth that JD never had. It also gives us some history for her to discover and a good excuse for a cracking yarn.
Story and gameplay
And what a yarn it is. There are moments of grief. We experience moments of tension, relief, and even a few rare occurrences of joy. I don’t want to go into too many details as I don’t want to colour it for anyone else. What I would say is there were a couple of moments that really shook me but for different reasons. One of these occurs in the last Act and left me genuinely gob-smacked and shocked for some time after it happened. The other happens early on in Act II and just handles a character poorly. It doesn’t really respect the fans’ love for this character and felt glossed over when it probably should have been given a little more time. I soon forgot about this moment, though, and the rest of the story is handled with real aplomb.
My biggest complaint of Gears of War 4 was the way that it was just so constrictive in its locations. It was one shooter corridor, followed by a small arena, and then back to more corridors. Gears 5 changes things up by offering something of an open-world during Acts II and III. These areas also offer up some optional side-missions. The way that the developers have added these elements while keeping them quintessentially Gears is a testament to their skill and knowledge of the franchise. It is during these sections that you use the skiff, and it is an absolute joy to use. It’s incredibly simple to control but gives you a sense of freedom you’ll never have encountered in the Gears universe before.
The sights and sounds of Sera
The team at The Coalition haven’t just done a great job with the story. Not only is this the best-looking game in the Gears franchise. I would argue that it’s the best-looking Xbox One exclusive. The developers may have had one eye on Xbox One X when they were making Gears of War 4. For Gears 5, though, it has always been in their mind, and it shows. For the first time, we get a campaign displayed in 4K at 60 frames per second. It is a sight to behold. And they have not compromised other on-screen effects to be able to hit this target. There are still plenty of lighting and particle effects happening. We also get numerous enemies appearing together and still the frame-rate is rock solid.
Special mention also has to be given to the sound in this game. The Gears franchise has always had great sound effects with great sound for both gunshots and bullet hits. Gears 5 continues with this by maintaining the classic sounds but never making them feel old. The surround mix is superb with such brilliant placement allowing players to know where they’re being shot from or where enemies are. The music is also a cut above the standard blockbuster fare. Game of Thrones, Iron Man, and Pacific Rim composer Ramin Djawadi does a superb job of translating emotions into music. His themes add tension, horror, and pathos in a way that should not be underestimated.
If Gears of War 4 were a Star Wars movie, it would be The Force Awakens. It took a well-loved franchise and just redid some of its greatest hits with some new characters thrown into the mix. If Gears 5 were a Star Wars movie, I would argue that it is The Empire Strikes Back. It respects what has gone on before and expands upon it. It deepens the lore of the franchise. There are moments of joy and of despair. The story doesn’t wrap up neatly and leaves some enticing strands to be resolved by later entries in the franchise. I also believe it to be the best Gears of War game, ever.
What The Coalition has done is shake things up just enough without changing the whole recipe. This is clearly still a Gears of War game but does enough to push the franchise forward. The open-world areas fit in brilliantly. JACK (your floating droid) is utilised as a much more essential element of your squad. The way you can upgrade him may hint towards RPG elements but, again, it fits in the world perfectly. Best of all, though, the shooting, story, sound, and visuals have all received improvements that make them leaders in their class. These changes and improvements have given the franchise the shot in the arm it needed to keep it an essential part of the Xbox brand. I can’t wait to see where they take it next.