The Coalition was kind enough to invite to their Vancouver studio to check out the highly-anticipated Gears of War 5. The long-running franchise is, arguably, the most “Xbox” IP outside of HALO, and after taking over the series in Gears of War 4, the Coalition is ready to go bigger…much bigger, with their next entry.
Rather than simply sitting through pre-recorded segments and speeches, we actually got to spend quite a bit of hands-on time with the game. Journalists got to try out Acts II and III of the Campaign and finished the day by playing a big ‘ol game of Horde mode with each-other. The Coalition said they wanted to make this game the most accessible yet, but also something that long-standing fans of the series will also really enjoy. Speaking from a personal perspective, what I got to play was a blast. The gameplay was tight as hell, it looked stunning in 4K and ran smooth as butter at a very steady 60FPS, and the level design and biomes have done away with the browns and greys of days past, adding some much-needed vibrancy and colour to the series. Fear not though, the game is still an ultra-violent, head exploding, and chainsaw shredding adults-only experience that will leave you wanting more.
Let’s start with the basics, and talk about the five gameplay modes will be available to players when Gears 5 drops in September.
You’ve got your campaign mode, which according to Coalition reps is the biggest Gears of War ever, featuring a semi-open world with plenty of traversal (via kite sledge) side quests, hidden weapons and secrets, and much less-linear corridor maps. The voice cast is stacked as well, with returning cast members including Laura Bailey (Kait Diaz), Liam McIntyre (JD Fenix), Eugene Byrd (Del Walker) and John DiMaggio (Marcus Fenix).
What we got to play in Acts II and III had various sections that could be tackled from different angles, providing more of a case for intelligent and tactical flanking over the classic cover-shoot-run-cover gameplay of the past. The levels we got to play were an icey-snow world, complete with giant falling icicle stalactites and windy open-canyons, and a desert level, where the sand was blood red and found us blasting Swarm soldiers through abandoned missile facilities and broken-down buildings. Using a kite-powered, snowboard-esque sledge to traverse the levels was pretty fun and allowed us to venture off the beaten the path and nail some side-quest action. The combat instances also featured a lot more verticality than past entries, which made combat a lot more tactical and engaging—it’s still a cover-based TPS, but rather then moving down a flat hallway hiding behind barriers, I was able to get above the enemies and take them out, rather than simply popping up, shooting, and running to the next spot.
Next up was Horde mode, a tried and true classic with a new twist: One player is able to take control of Jack, everybody’s favourite floating robot companion. While Jack wasn’t the most devastating when it came to actual combat, his various abilities (like cloaking, stunning, reviving downed characters, highlighting enemies etc.) made the MVP by general consensus. Every member of the press that played horde mode had nothing but praise for Jack. There are also some bonus characters from other franchises, including some homies from HALO and Sarah Connor herself. Each character has different abilities that can be upgraded throughout the matches, and fills a different role, ensuring that proper teamwork and coordination is the only way to succeed.
The other game modes include Escape, where players must outrun a bomb and escape the Hive. Escape is a new co-op mode featuring a three-player suicide squad that “must work together to take out enemy hives from within,” and Versus, that includes a variety of different PvP match types for players to enjoy and kill their friends. In addition to all these different ways to play, the Map Builder also makes a return, allowing fans to create their own playable content. One of the coolest new features for Gears 5 is the 3-player co-op, split-screen or online, where one player gets to play as Jack. While we didn’t get to play that mode, if Horde is anything to go by, having a Jack on the team will prove to be incredibly useful in sticky situations.
With the Xbox Game Pass opening these classic franchises up to new players, The Coalition has done their best to make sure anyone, no matter how fresh, can jump in and enjoy the game. There are several difficulty options, and updated accessibility features, including full controller remapping, single stick movement, Adaptive Controller support, narrated UI and menus, improved subtitles and more. I played on the 3rd highest difficulty mode, Experienced, and it was definitely the way to go. Challenging enough where I did die a few times, but not to the point I ever got frustrated. Snapping off multiple clean headshots in a row and clearing an area always felt satisfying and I never wanted to throw the controller at the screen.
All in all, I walked away pretty impressed with what The Coalition had on offer. While I’m definitely not what one would consider a longtime player of the series, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game and can’t wait to play more. The Campaign had some gorgeous set-pieces and great encounters, and Horde mode was just a blast to play, even with people I’d never met. Stay tuned to CGM for more Gears Coverage before the game drops next week.