Although Gears of War 4 might have left a lot to be desired as far as evolving the gaming franchise for the next generation, I was modestly in-anticipation of its sequel Gears 5. No longer “of War,” the latest iteration is firmly dedicated to mechanization and cogs (or something). The third-person shooter was developed once again by The Coalition and published by Xbox Game Studios in September 2019. Conveniently, it was released on-launch for the Xbox Game Pass subscription service. I knew something was afoot with Gears 5 in the early offset.
The way the cover artwork had the previous games’ main-protagonist nowhere to be seen. On inspection, I noticed he was, in-fact, featured, only with a new haircut and facial blemish. The new game, instead, focuses on Kait Diaz,voiced by Laura Bailey, a supporting character from 5’s predecessor, who has been having headaches and hallucinations stemming from her unknown ties to the Locusts.
The story sees her and Del in their attempts to bring the Hammer of Dawn back online and to find ways of combating their adversaries. This is a welcome change in my opinion. The characters in Gears 5 have more intricacies and complexities than they did prior. J.D.’s had been little more than a balls-to-the-wall action-hero archetype before. The character felt superficial and cliched, whereas, Kait’s character and her plight against the locusts feels more layered and emotionally driven. Kait’s character alone isn’t enough to right the ship, bu that’s when other decisions come into play as well.
The Coalition’s latest outing with the series has newfound depth, tapping into the surprising emotional depth the series has become known for. The boldly illustrates the wrinkles forming in J.D.’s character, brought on by the decisions he has had to make, whether he feels they are morally just or not. This creates ripples in the player’s perception of him, and the perception had of him from other characters, including his best friend Del.
The differences between Gears 5 and Gears of War 4 are a lot like how I felt when I played Gears of War and Gears of War 2. After ironing out the kinks, The Coalition feels more confident and driven to create an epic. The score composed by Ramin Djawadi (same as Gears of War 4) is high-scale and, even though its the same composer, it feels like more is brought out of it this time around. Perhaps, its the sum of its parts, everything working together to feel more just and warranted, and thereby, more effective.
The graphics and game-play remain as polished as where we left off. The Gears series is a tried-and-tested formula and, for the most part, we haven’t seen very many deviations from its method since the series began. In Gears: Judgment, they added new objectives to the equation, and, in Gears of War 4, they added “Horde”-esque waves to the campaign. Gears’ biggest implementation is Jack and the skills you’re able to upgrade and collect. Jack takes a lot of the load off in-terms of the campaign’s difficulty, which could be to its benefit or detriment, but feels other-wise inconsequential and unneeded. A comparison I find myself making is with PlayStation controllers. Jacks’ inclusion feels like the Touch Pad added with PlayStation 4 controllers. It’s cool in-theory and it has an initial novelty, but, other-wise, it’s unneeded. Fortunately though, it doesn’t hurt either.
The environments and enemies in Gears 5 are a head-and-shoulders improvement from its predecessor, harking back to its roots – blending shades of horror and science-fiction in a similar vein as Gears of War 2 (my personal favorite of the series). The tight hallways and monstrosities are where things are really allowed to shine, whereas, I believe the predecessor felt more like an action-army game than anything else. This might not apply with what you’d heard about Gears 5 though, and it certainly wasn’t what I had been led to believe in the early-going. I’d been told many times upon the game’s release of its open-world elements and all their grandeur. As complimentary as some might have been toward the idea, I didn’t like the idea of it being stretched so thin. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen, and what had been said had been simply overstated.
The open-world segments are small and straightforward. Kait and friends drive around icy terrains and desert wastelands that other-wise empty, aside from the occasional side-mission and the main-story objective. What I said about Jack earlier applies with the open-world aspect. Good idea, cool for a bit, but unneeded. The only difference is these aspects do work to the detriment of the games’ momentum. In-fact, one of the reasons I think it has taken me as long as it has to write a review is because of how long it has taken me to finish the campaign. It felt like every time I found myself engaged, it’d be hit with the latest lull.
Thankfully, when it shines, it shines bright. Gears 5 has the best overall game-play since Gears of War 3, incorporating new weapons and an array of enemies to battle off. It may not be the exact standard set by Epics, but it’s close. If there’s anything to take away from this review, it’s that I like Gears 5 a lot. I thought the story-line was an improvement over Gears of War 4 and was solid. The graphics and score are at a high standard as usual, but also feel more effective and inspired. The game-play is more explosive and, as I’ve said prior, delivers on a more epic-scale. There might be a few snags, a couple of parts that are rough-around-the-edges, but it’s a high-quality Gears game. I’d definitely recommend it.