The Gears of War series is just over a decade old at this point and, yet, it remains one of Microsoft's flagship franchises, among the likes of Halo, Fable, and others. Since it made its debut on the Xbox 360, it has spawned five additional iterations, each bringing their own set of additions to a series that has largely maintained its core concept that offers third-person shooting thrills, resulting in over-the-top, gory fun. Gears 5, like the sequels and prequel before it, adds its own flares and twists to the series. Yet, like the rest, it is still, at its heart, a wildly entertaining and impressively polished experience.
An Evolution In Story
Gears 5 begins after the events of Gears of War 4, in which there were shocking revelations regarding Kait Diaz and her relationship to Queen Myrrah, who led the Locust horde in the original Gears of War trilogy. While this is the catalyst for events to come, Gears of War 5's campaign also has some very human elements, including JD Fenix's rebelliousness toward his father, Marcus Fenix, the protagonist of the original Gears of War trilogy. Of course, the game sprinkles in moments of light-heartedness throughout, even in situations that appear hopeless, including interactions with fan-favorite Augustus "Cole Train" Cole. In doing so, it strikes a great balance between taking itself too seriously and being entirely ridiculous.
As was the case with Gears of War 4, JD Fenix is still remarkably different from his father Marcus. Rarely cracking wise, Marcus Fenix was all about completing the mission at hand and saving humanity, while JD appears more determined to think of the next best joke as he goes about chainsawing apart countless enemies. Overall, the two are well-written characters, but it's difficult to believe the two are genetically linked.
Some new characters are thrown in for good measure, as well, including the hot-headed, Australian-accented Fahz Chutani, who is always eager for a good fight. Meanwhile, other old characters, like Clayton Carmine, return in some form to pay homage to earlier entries in the series. What is most interesting about the game's campaign is the shift in character dynamics from Gears of War 4, leading to moments of conflict all too uncomfortable to watch.
As Fresh As It Ever Was
The gameplay in Gears 5 remains as tight as ever, with solid third-person shooting and cover-based mechanics, which lend well to some incredibly intense firefights. Of course, weapons like the Lancer machine gun, equipped with a chainsaw bayonet, make their return, as do other weapons like the Gnasher shotgun, Snub pistol, Boomshot grenade launcher, and many more. However, Gears 5 brings in some new weapons as well, including a grenade launcher-equipped Lancer, the Talon Autopistol, and the Claw, which is a light machine gun used by the Swarm.
Of course, Gears 5 inserts its own unique features into the game's campaign as well. Most notably, this includes the player's use of the Skiff, a jet ski-like vehicle used on land to traverse open-world areas. The vehicle actually handles very well and is fun to drive. However, in the sections where the Skiff is used, there is very little action to keep the player engaged, making these parts feel dull and dry.
Gears 5 also has some very interesting and light RPG elements. Throughout the Gears saga, Delta Squad was aided by a robot whom everyone called "Jack." Jack makes a welcome return in Gears 5, with a variety of upgrades to boot. Jack can help players by stunning enemies and laying traps, as well as by healing players and providing shields. These abilities and more can be upgraded by using Components found throughout the campaign. Oftentimes, the Components are hidden in areas one wouldn't think to explore, which could be frustrating for some of the completionists out there. However, it does give players more reason to uncover every nook and cranny of the game's epic campaign.
A Master Of Presentation
As with all Gears games, Gears 5 stands as a giant in terms of presentation in the gaming industry. The game displays top-notch graphics, with amazingly realistic lighting and impressive armor reflection. Explosions and smoke effects are enhanced by the Unreal Engine, and character models have improved quite a bit from 2016's Gears of War 4. Texture loading is an issue in cutscenes at times, but it didn't remove me from the experience.
The variety of environments in Gears 5 is something to be admired. From overgrown ruins to urban chaos to icy tundras, Gears 5 is at all ends of the spectrum and constantly keeps things fresh as the story moves forward.
A nice soundtrack rounds out the game's fantastic presentation, with firefights and epic moments accompanied by frantic orchestral tracks and quieter parts that are accentuated by careful use of string instruments. Gears 5's score isn't leaps and bounds beyond other soundtracks in the industry, but it helps to provide a very appropriate atmosphere for the campaign.
In my time playing, Gears 5 appeared to be, as implied before, a very polished experience. However, there were a couple of snags in the campaign where I had to reload a save due to different technical issues. It definitely wasn't enough to sour the experience, though.
At The Top Of Its (Familiar) Game
Gears 5 is a game that builds appropriately and constructively on the already-solid foundation laid by the games before it. It never veers off too much, generally sticking to its guns where gameplay is concerned, though the light RPG element in upgrading Jack's abilities is a great touch. The attempt at a quasi-open-world experience didn't work out quite as well, as it lacks the intensity consistent throughout the rest of the campaign, though it is ultimately overshadowed by an incredible presentation and a story that is impressively well-written. For a series whose beginnings center around four comically muscular soldiers in impractical-looking armor, Gears 5 truly ups the ante, narratively speaking. With plenty of opposition in that area in the industry, Gears 5 manages itself quite well with a story of family and loyalty that is engaging the whole way through. It will be very interesting to see where The Coalition will go next with their Gears of War saga.
4.5 Out Of 5 Stars
A copy of Gears 5 was purchased by TheGamer for this review. Gears 5 is now available on Xbox One and PC.