Publisher: Microsoft Xbox Studios
Developer: The Coalition, Splash Damage
Platform: PC, XB1(soon)
Genre: Turn-based Tactical
Yeah, am pretty much done with Turn-based games, but this last bit left me off pretty excited for the spin-off series. Gears Tactics is much like XCOM yet unlike anything I've ever played in a turn-based strategy game. It takes the fundamentals from anything XCOM 2 has thrown and put a great Gearsy spin to it, with so much of promise for the future installation. Forming a solid bedrock of this TBSG title.
Tactics expands on the turn-based genre using physics and A.I behavior in favor of the player and against them as well as providing much needed verticality to the genre. Though it falls short even with a robust campaign mode with deep customizations, as the game only comes with that even if it missed the mark by not letting you at least play as the locusts as well.
However, it delivers superbly with execution with great gameplay mechanics and challenging enemies. Part of me even enjoyed playing this more than Gears 5. That's actually saying something.
Here's the thing though, there's not much of a story here to talk about. This game stars Kait Diaz's father, Gabriel Diaz. As he demotes himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant. Decides to take the peaceful approach of starting over, he got pulled under the rug by Prescott into neutralizing a Locust scientist, named Ukkon.
Most of the time in the cutscenes and dialogue exchanges it's Ukkon this and Ukkon that. The name now gives me daytime nightmares of Ukkon repeating marathons in my head. The main plot has nothing much to venture out of besides maybe expanding on the main Gears lore but that's just about it. You do eventually see some of the characters connected to the second trilogy as well as the New Hope facilities that started the Locust invasion in the first place.
There are badass cutscenes, pretty much the standard for every Gears game, they fall short due to lackluster presentation and quasi feeling.
But yeah, besides all that, it still comes off barebones. I do have some criticism of the dialogues as well but hey, I guess storytelling wasn't much of a priority for this game in the first place.
One big reason why you should play this game, it's how everything goes when planned pretty well. Gears Tactics removed vertical grids and instead let you place your squad wherever you please. The main focus is to eliminate the Locust with utmost punitive damage but also great strategy using area of effect damage and crowd control abilities while pulling off sick combos.
While it seems like a lot of fun and easy to get lost into how much you can do with your gears squad, this game can be quite challenging. Especially during the last act. Tactics lets you put your thinking caps on this time and go full-frontal while learning what the enemies can do. You have normal grunts, who'll just go forward or flank, and they mostly tend to stay in overwatch just so you don't easily catch them off. Then there're the wretches who come in numbers, you can just throw a grenade and off they go but the minute they attack you, you're exposed from cover and is easily targeted by the grunts. You can even bait them into following you till they reach proximity of your planted grenade traps and blows into smithereens.
But there's a lot of Locust types like Theron Guards, Tickers, Boomers including the newly added Disciples and Zealots. Kantus can power up Locust troops, adding more armor defense. Not even grenades can kill them off which requires that you can kill him first before tackling the rest. While Theron and Boomers once dead, will drop their special weapons which brings new tactics to play considering how powerful they are for the player characters.
In the game, you pick 4 different squadmates between 5 different classes for each mission: Vanguard, Scout, Heavy, Support and Sniper. Each of them while using non-changeable weapons come with different set of gear, weapons add-ons, and skills. Vanguards can toughen up from large firefights while Scout uses more mobility to closely take out enemies with their shotguns. Each of these classes have their own unique purposes in the battlefield much like what XCOM 2 does. What doesn't come similar to XCOM is the turn row. Each of your Gears has 3 action points, usable for anything including shooting and ability usage. You can switch between squad members without any turn order for the remainder of the round. Downing a Locust trooper allows you to execute him grub style as is tradition but it also gives the rest of your squad members extra action point per execution with the exception being the one who performed it.
Since this entire game is comprised of 3 acts, most of the time you'll get to do one or two side missions before you head out for the story mission for each chapter. Optional objectives grants you rewards as well as the main missions. You get loot items ranging from rare(blue), elite(purple) to legendary(yellow). Some side missions involve you playing only one or two squadmates for the sole purpose of freeing imprisoned mop up crews for recruitment. Permadeath is also a thing but unlike XCOM, the main heroes don't get to die, just the recruits.
Gears Tactics offer robust customization and itemization for your team. You can change the components for each of their guns for higher stats and added passives. You can even change their garment gears providing the same bonuses as well as letting you accessorize by changing their texture and color scheme. It's as robust as any Tactics game can be with great appeal put into them.
Lastly, there're the skills. These are important as they make or break every fight in the battlefield. You can combo-chain these alongside your other squadmates creating sound tactical scenarios. While grinding for these in missions in order to unlock can get pretty tedious especially if you're using one particular teammate far often than the others. At max, you can earn upto 18 skills and pick from their large skill tree pool. It's easy sometimes to screw up your selection of skills, which is why you get granted skill reset tokens coming in limited quantities.
With only the main campaign, you're thrown into lot of crazy scenarios fighting against different type of Locusts. Thankfully your Gears have the 4 lives chances where they can be revived once after losing a bar of health, if all 4 is gone then they die, period. So while you can afford to make a few mistakes, you still need a game changer in order to recover and follow up with that. There's 4 difficulty levels going from starting from beginner to insane. There's also Ironman toggle which does not allow you to restart missions and if your hero dies, you have to start campaign all over again. Knowing that this is a game that does not let up from the middle of the act, you're poised to think about your every move. Everything is challenging but it's also fair game once you've figured out how to get around. That includes closing emergence holes with planted grenades.
Boss Battles do come around, but they mostly show up at the end of each act. The time it takes getting there can be little jarring but least allows you to experience with different gears and skills as well as the different classes.
This will take given 25-30hrs to finish. My issue with this is that while it does provide enough to experiment with along with fun gameplay, some aspects of it like the recruited crews leaves flaws where at the later acts you can't bring crews whom are 2-3 levels behind. Thankfully through the recruitment system they're replaceable, hiring level 4-6 crews while keeping the ones who've progressed from the earlier missions, even though they can be also replaceable if have no use. Other part is you can't play as the Locusts, these days games come out rich with new ideas as well as experimentation while this left out something with so much potential. Still, I had fun and I can't wait for the next installment offering much more of this.
The spin-off is quite the looker, especially since it was developed using the UE4 engine. Though I've noticed some lackluster details like with characters and some debris textures. But most of all, it is popping. I can't say much about the Xbox One version because that is yet to be released. So far, this is mostly a PC exclusive.
Coalition brings forth what they did best for the audio of Gears 5, it's high quality enough to get you noticing the fine details. Music, well it's alright for a Gears game, fits the theme and all, doesn't get overbearing nor does it try to shine past the game.
But yes, we're in this para now and that means bugs and glitches. Yes, this game has weird assortments of bugs like that one time I've closed an emergence hole with planted grenade, the game got stuck. One of my squad mate tried charging against a drone only to be stuck in a loop where he is moving back and forth. There are others I couldn't mention but enough to indicate that this got a buggy release or Game Pass version still just acts up as always.
I should give this game tough love, not only does it skim out on content but it gets a bad release as well as being a full priced triple AAA title? That sure does grind some gears (no pun intended).
But, the main takeaway is that this game offers something pretty unique. Enough that it got me more invested than say XCOM Chimera Squad. With a solid foundation for gameplay, it can go a lot further when the sequel comes out. Hopefully with some co-op modes and maybe PvP included.
Plus with the game currently out in Game Pass, it opens up new avenues to Gears storytelling for Microsoft. Just hopefully not like this.