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The irony of booting up Gears 5 on your Xbox is that you’re forced to play through 15 minutes of tedious tutorial to get you to remember the controls of this tight shooter, despite Gears of War being one of the most beloved video-game series of all time. We all know exactly how to play this game – shoot the shit out of every enemy in sight from behind the dubious safety of cover.
But once that hump has been mounted, and you’re comfortably curling your finger around the trigger of your revving Lancer Chainsaw-Rifle in the first mission, the loving rush of familiarity hits you like a BoomShot and you find yourself hip-deep in Swarm grunts, laughing maniacally and having a blast.
Gears 5 has been two years in the making and we really do think Microsoft and devs The Coalition have taken the time to push the game to its gory, satisfying limits. The controls feel tighter, the story more concise and the stakes higher than ever before – and we really dig it.
Marcus Fenix may be old and grey but the Gears series is pushing into its fifth game and looking as vibrant and supple as ever. It might even be the best game in the series… Read on to find out why.
Step down, Marcus. Step up Kait
Despite his monstrous size, Papa Marcus is looking a little aged. With grey hairs snow-flaking his cliff-face jawline, you might be wondering if the COG should start implementing a retirement scheme to at least stem the flow of old-aged pensioners being the last line of defence against the Swarm. Give the man a seat, for pity’s sake.
However, Gears 5 is no longer Marcus’ story. In steps Kait, a great substitute for a gruff lead character who is leading us through the blood-soaked campaign of the new game.
Gears 5 opens up with a 10-minute recap of the story’s key elements so far, though, if you’re a fan like us, you will only need a brief catch-up. As mentioned, you have to wade through a pretty boring tutorial to help you learn how to shoot, dodge, hide, slice and dice your opponents, but get through that chore and you fall headlong into a spectacular campaign.
Kait is your new hero, and she is battling through the guts and bones to solve the mysteries of her past, and its effortlessly told, without feeling forced. Marcus is, of course, there to give you a gravely-toned warning every now and then (along with the odd pun), but Gears 5 is truly a new story, with an exciting new lead who manages to revitalise the male-only club of killing monsters, without feeling like its pandering to an expanded audience.
The cast is exceedingly good, with Laura Bailey (Marvel’s Spider-Man, Uncharted, World of Warcraft) delivering a softer and more impactful voice of Kait Diaz.
John DiMaggio is the eternally gruff Marcus Fenix, and a selection of new voice-actors make the jump to video-games look quite easy. Rahul Kohli (iZombie, SuperGirl) is a wise-cracking cockney Fahz Chutani, and comedian Eugene Byrd picks up Del again.
We also had the news this week that wrestling super-star and now movie-actor Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, Spectre, BladeRunner: 2047) will be a playable online character at launch. Keanu Reeves isn’t the only movie-star to make the jump to video-games.
Gears goes Open World?
The game is much the same as you’d expect from the franchise, with four separate acts splitting up the game into various, linear missions that will have you hurtling through grunts and taking on big-bad enemies in the most satisfying ways.
You know how this works: Dash to cover, peak over the top and wildly fire at whatever sits in front of you. Are all the enemies dead? Good. Move on to the next section, please.
However, a new surprise that will get you all fuzzy and excited is the introduction of semi-open-world sections of the game. We’re being a smidge generous when we say open-world, but the latter acts of the game allow you to explore the world without being restricted to the paths created for you.
A giant boat will be available to help you sail across the world and discover the large-yet-sparse environment for secrets and items. And honestly, it is super refreshing to have a different pace to game exploration. The skybox is generally fantastic to look at throughout the campaign (this is one of the best-looking Gears games in a while) and you always feel like there are things to do, without being overwhelmed with icons to tick off.
Between breathtaking cinematics, slow-paced exploration and blood-soaked gunfights, Gears 5 manages to scratch several gaming itches all at once, without becoming tedious and raw on the skin.
The campaign is fairly short, but it stays tight and concise – which is perfect if you only have a few hours to spare to blitz through the game – and it will keep you hooked from opening to close.
Everything feels heavy and solid, with bullets actually having impact and movement feeling purposeful, but it doesn’t feel sluggish. You won’t be doing 360-jumping, prone no-scopes (sorry Call of Duty fans), but you will still feel like a bad-ass chucking frag grenades at Swarm holes while holding off Boomers under heavy fire. No, that isn’t an innuendo.
How’s Horde Mode?
We didn’t get a chance to play any of the online components of Gears 5, but there’s plenty to get stuck into.
Horde Mode, a multiplayer experience that put Gears on the map, has been upgraded and improved to make it a much more tactical adventure. Survive waves of increasingly difficult enemies all while collecting cash to upgrade your defences and secure victory.
Gears 5 will also introduce Escape Mode, which is a brand new option that has you planting bombs in Swarm hideouts all while escaping with you life.
As said, we didn’t get the chance to play these options, but all indications point to it being a super-engaging alternative to the short campaign.
If you find the always-online battle-royale shooters of modern gaming a bit tiresome, Gears 5 might just be the salve you needed to calm those Fortnite burns.
This is an excellent single-player shooter that stays faithful to the series and builds on a bunch of other compelling features to keep you feeling energised.
Seriously, you won’t be able to put the controller down. And when the dust settles on the closing mission, you will be restarting from scratch immediately, just to squeeze more gunfights out of the game, or jumping into the many, improved multiplayer activities like the revised Horde mode, or the new Escape.
While we all wait for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare to take over our lives, Gears 5 is a brutal, action-packed time-filler to keep you interested. Especially if you pick it up on Xbox Game Pass, as this could be among the top games of the year.
Gears 5 release date: September 6
Available on: Xbox One (tested), PC
Developer: The Coalition
Publisher: Microsoft Studios