One of the bigger surprises from Microsoft’s E3 2018 press conference was the reveal of Gears Tactics, a new turn-based strategy game based on the Gears of War franchise that looks to borrow heavily from XCOM. While some hardcore Gears of War fans may not have been sold on the concept at first, anyone who gives it a chance will quickly discover that the Gears of War franchise lends itself well to a turn-based tactic that game.
Set before the events of the first Gears of War, Gears Tactics follows the exploits of COG soldier Gabe Diaz, father of Kait Diaz from Gears of War 4 and 5, as well as a scrappy veteran who named Sid Redburn. The two of them are tasked with collecting information on a powerful Locust scientist named Ukkon, who created some of the most memorable and dangerous monsters of the Gears of War series.
The first act of Gears Tactics will be very compelling for fans of the franchise. Not only does this give them a chance to meet Gabe Diaz, and therefore learn a little more about Kait’s history, but it also sheds more light on the origins of the Locust creatures. There are some pretty interesting twists and turns, and the story of each mission bleeds into the next in a way that gives it a lot of momentum. And while Gabe and Sid aren’t exactly the most complex or deep characters, they’re a nice change of pace from the games that constantly revolve around Marcus Fenix.
In Act 2, Gears Tactics loses momentum in terms of story, as it fills things with side missions, and even some of the main story missions lack cut-scenes to provide more context for the tasks at hand. Anchoring the campaign by forcing players to complete side missions causes some pacing issues with the story, and can make players lose interest in the plot until things inevitably pick up again next time.
Even though Gears Tactics struggles with delivering a consistently engaging story, it never fails to deliver entertaining gameplay. Each Gears Tactics mission acts as an XCOM level with a Gears of War skin, where players choose their squad and then complete various objectives while having to take into account enemies, impact on status, and environmental hazards. Anyone hoping to just get ahead of encounters will struggle, as the game requires real strategy for players to get through most of the levels and enemy encounters.
Gears Tactics manages to replicate the visceral combat of the main Gears of War games by focusing on cover-shooting and gory, over-the-top executions. Players are able to pounce on enemy Locusts and chainsaw them in half, just like they can in other games, and are rewarded with an intense, close-up view of the action. Gears Tactics doesn’t shy away from the blood and gore that helped establish the core series’ identity, and players will find themselves demolishing countless Locusts throughout Gears Tactics’ lengthy campaign.
One of the big reasons why Gears Tactics manages to be so intense is the game’s incredible sound design. Each gunshot is delivered with increasing authority, and the explosions literally shake the battlefield. Squad chatter often offers helpful hints in the middle of battle, and all the classic Gears of War series sound effects are present and accounted for as well. Gears Tactics’ incredible sound design is combined with better-than-average visuals that occasionally suffer from texture pop-ins, but otherwise look just as good as the main series.
One thing that might frustrate players as they play through Gears Tactics, though, is the repetitive level design. There are some levels that almost feel like replicas of each other, and there isn’t a ton of visual variety in the stages, either – an issue that’s exacerbated by the forced side missions.
However, Gears Tactics players will probably enjoy the gameplay enough that the repetitive missions may not bother them much. Additionally, side missions give players a chance to collect more loot and level up their characters. And this is where Gears Tactics gets even harder to get down. The game is generous with its loot, meaning players are always looking for new armor and weapon attachments to improve their soldiers. Each class also has its own skill tree with no wasted space. Each new skill opens up many new strategic opportunities on the battlefield, and this development is very useful.
As the playable characters in Gears Tactics keep getting more powerful, the game needs to do a few things to stay challenging. For one, there are many missions that restrict who can be used, and when players do side missions, they can only use each character in a mission once until the main story progresses. This forces players to use some of their lower level soldiers instead of their most powerful allies. Second, Gears Tactics is constantly adding new enemies to the mix that will make players change their fighting strategies.
Combat battles in Gears Tactics start out simple, with players going head-to-head with standard Locust soldiers. However, they soon have to deal with Boomers, armed with deadly explosives that can wipe out an entire squad in one blow, and Snipers that can pin soldiers in place. But regardless of whether players are fighting Boomers or Wretches, every enemy in the game can be a headache if players don’t approach each battle with a plan in mind.
Speaking of enemies, a highlight of the Gears Tactics experience is definitely its boss fights, which play out as sort of puzzles and feel different than the usual fights. Some players may find the initial boss fights in Gears Tactics frustrating, but there are usually ways for players to make the fight easier. It’s just a matter of figuring out the appropriate squad composition and where they need to send the characters on the battlefield.
Gears Tactics proves that there’s more to the Gears of War IP than just third-person shooters. The game has some pacing issues and some repetitive missions, but it’s otherwise an engaging turn-based strategy game that should please both genre fans and Gears of War.
Gears Tactics launches on April 28 for PC, with an Xbox One version also in development. Today Technology was provided with a PC Steam code for this review.