I will start by saying that I am a huge fan of the Gears of War franchise, so I was just as excited for Gears 5 as one could get. The Coalition blew my mind when they took control of the iconic franchise, and rebuilt the first game from the ground up, and continued to do so when they released the fourth installment of the series. They proved that they were worthy to build on the franchise that so many people are very passionate about. You can definitely say that my expectations for the fifth installment were high (maybe a bit too high), but Gears 5 certainly does not disappoint. My review will mainly focus on the campaign of Gears 5, but I may touch up on the other modes throughout. I have to give huge props to The Coalition on the way they handled the launch of this game. It suffered from many hiccups, as most games do during their opening hours, but The Coalition was with us every step of the way. Tweets would come out almost every hour of the day, addressing problems and explaining the fixes for these problems. This level of interaction is all too rare to find these days.
Gears of War on the surface, is a story of a squad of heroes that fight off hordes of enemies in an attempt to save humanity; but the story runs much deeper and is more personal than that. There are many other themes hidden in the game, but the one that stands out the most is the bond between father and son, and the importance of friends and family. Throughout the first three installments, there is a lot of emphasis on Marcus Fenix, and his relationships with his father, Adam Fenix and his best friend, Dominic Santiago, as well as the rest of his squad. Gears of War 4 follows a similar path, but through the eyes of Marcus’ son JD, and his relationships with his father and squad-mates. In Gears 5, you explore similar themes, along with some new ones as JD Fenix and Kait Diaz. While you try to discover Kait’s connections to the Swarm and how that affects her relationships with friends and family, you also get to explore a flawed JD and how he chooses to redeem himself from choices that he makes throughout the game. Gears 5 is a roller-coaster of emotion and it’s obvious that a deep, emotionally invested story is on top of the priority list, just as it has been in previous installments.
Gears 5 is the smoothest gears to date. The cover to cover movement system is the cleanest it has ever been, and the gun-play is phenomenal. One of my favorite additions is the health bar for enemies and bosses in the Horde, Escape, and Campaign modes. It is a small, basic feature that many other games already have, but definitely is a quality of life improvement. Another one is hit-markers. I can not tell you how many times I have unloaded into someone in MP, thinking I didn’t hit them for very much damage, just to find out that I hit them for upwards of ninety percent of their health. New guns and enemies have been introduced for us to mess around with, providing new opportunities for us to learn a new way to play the game. I did experience some hiccups in my time playing the campaign, but nothing really game breaking and I’m sure are easily fixable. I experienced one glitch, where I commanded Jack to open a safe and he teleported inside the safe, unable to open it, and forcing me to revert my checkpoint. I am not sure how bots act on lower difficulties, but on Insane, they are borderline useless. There were many, many, many situations where I could have avoided a checkpoint restart if the bots were just a bit smarter, or pro-active.
Without a doubt I can say that this is the best looking Gears game to date. The in-game visuals are astounding, it’s hard to believe that the cut-scenes take it up a notch. My absolute favorite cut-scene is towards the end of act two. The borders are cut so it is almost like watching a movie, an almost dreamy filter is applied to the graphics, and it just looks absolutely beautiful!
The audio is crisp and very well mixed. The soundtrack is also top-notch. In my opinion, the Gears of War soundtrack is a large part of what makes Gears, Gears.
The campaign offers a lot in player choice, which is a first for Gears. There are situations in the first part of the game where the player is in need of reinforcements, and has the ability to pick from the reinforcements that are available. On top of that, their is a much bigger choice to be made at the end of the game that affects the ending, offering at-least a second play-through. But the Gears 5 experience doesn’t stop at campaign. There are four other modes that you can sink your teeth into, two of them being brand new. You can endure wave after wave in Horde, compete in Multiplayer, race through enemy territory in the brand new Escape mode, or build your own hives for players to race through in the Map Builder mode.
What It Could Have Done Better
Let’s talk about Insane mode. Now, it could have just been me, a glutton for punishment, hopping into the game for the first time ever on the hardest difficulty, but I really do think that some things could be toned down a bit. For instance, the enemy accuracy. I can not tell you how many times I died to an enemy that came out of a full sprint, just to leap over cover and hip-fire instant kill me. I also found myself hiding behind cover for extended periods of time while an enemy continued to shoot at me through the wall, even though he couldn’t see me anymore. Another issue I had, was how single minded the bots were. Their one and only goal, was to kill me, which I admit, makes sense. I understand, it is in their programming, but it got kind of ridiculous when they would sponge all of me and my teammates’ bullets while running full sprint towards me and kill me. Even though it is beatable (because I did it), I do think Insane mode could use a bit of a nerf. On a completely unrelated note, the final cut-scene song should have been “Mad World”. It will make sense after you play the game, and you will probably agree with me honestly. If they had played “Mad World” at the end, I would not have been able to stop crying… seriously.
All around, the game is phenomenal. Sure, the launch was kind of bumpy, and there are definitely some bugs in the game, but what game doesn’t have bugs? Every detail of the story and characters is built with such thought and consideration, it is hard not to get sucked in to the campaign. Multiplayer is as competitive as ever. Horde is not just any wave survival mode, it offers so many ways to play and improve as time goes on. The brand new Escape mode makes the game even more refreshing, as this is the first time it has been introduced, along with the Map Builder. This is truly a game that has been curated by the fan-base, and was built by people who are truly passionate about what they do. I can not wait for the next installment, but at the same time, really don’t mind waiting.