In 2006 Gears of War revolutionized the shooter genre with a dynamic cover system that quickly became the norm for the entire genre. Since then the series has introduced small changes, but stuck roughly to the same formula overall, that is until Gears 5. At this point it’s clear, the series needs to keep evolving in order to thrive as a premiere exclusive franchise for Xbox.
This all comes with a caveat, however, as parts of Gears 5 are wildly different, while others are pretty much exactly the same. It’s a mixed bag, but let’s get something out of the way first; Gears 5’s gameplay is the smoothest and most responsive the series has ever been, and on a sheer technical level it’s a marvel.
This carries over to the game’s multiplayer which runs at a crisp 60fps. The problem is, outside of those technical improvements, Gears multiplayer is pretty much what we’ve been playing for years.
The same can be said for Horde mode, which follows the exact same format used in Gears of War 4, outside of a couple new weapons introduced to the game in general.
While this isn’t necessarily a problem, two other aspects of Gears 5, campaign and Escape, show just how much the series benefits from experimenting.
Gears of War has always felt like a pulpy action movie, but Gears 5 shifts the tone to a much more emotional take. Surprisingly, the game also asks some seriously complex questions about the nature of military states, decisions made under pressure, and the true toll war takes.
The topical themes present in the game are definitely not what you’d expect from Gears of War, but it works, and works well. There’s so much more that the campaign does to shake things up, though.
A much more fleshed out and realistic feeling world, a partner and upgrade system with Jack, the open world segments. Not all of this works incredibly well, for example the open world segments feel a bit hollow, but the point is that it’s different and refreshing.
It’s easily the most engaging campaign Gears has ever had, and the chances that The Coalition takes pay off more than not. Even better, the entire campaign can be played in co-op, with one player even taking control of Jack.
Similarly, you have Escape mode, which also tries to shake things up in a big way. A team of three players is put behind enemy lines with only a pistol and a knife, and have to scramble to survive in the first phase, before going into an all-out assault in the second phase.
Escape has some balancing and fine-tuning that needs to be done, but again it’s how different it is to that typical Gears experience that makes it so refreshing.
It’s tense, and in a way, appeals to those survival horror elements that were all but absent in Gears of War 4. Escape also helps serve as an option for small groups of friends that might not want to jump into competitive multiplayer, or don’t have enough people for a round of Horde.
With all this in mind, I just wish Gears 5 took more chances with its multiplayer and Horde. When you levy those two modes against Campaign and Escape, it just feels like there’s a disparity.
The latter feel bold and ambitious, really treading new ground, while the latter simply feel safe.
I get it. I get that Microsoft doesn’t want to take too many chances with one of its flagship series, but the chances Gears 5 does take make it all the more obvious that the series really needs to change.
The landscape of multiplayer gaming has changed drastically in recent years what with all the looter-shooters like Destiny, hero shooters like Overwatch, battle royales like Fortnite, and entirely unique experiences like Rocket League.
Gears of War basically invented horde mode, but now countless other games do it. Gears 5’s version feels a bit stale for anyone that played hours upon hours of Gears 4.
The best aspects of Gears 5 are the ones that dare to be different, and it only highlights a series that’s trying to find a new identity, much like Halo is right now as well.
If Gears of War wants to keep thriving, compete with the great exclusives Sony has put out over the years, and bring in new players at the same time, it needs to keep trying new and different ideas, even if those ideas are taking big chances.