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Gears 5 Review | MojoPlays

VOICE OVER: DT WRITTEN BY: Kurt Hvorup
Each new Gears entry has to ride the line between honouring the gore-heavy warfare of past titles and venturing into new territory, lest it find itself spinning its wheels. So it is that we are faced with this latest instalment, a game pondering this dilemma at every turn – but how well can it manage the balancing act? Welcome to MojoPlays, and this is our review of “Gears 5”.
Transcript
As one of Microsoft’s biggest and most well-known franchises, “Gears of War” has found itself positioned as quite the influential property in gaming. Yet the further into expanding its internal history and universe that “Gears” has gotten, the more challenging it is for the wider franchise to retain a sense of freshness and relevance.

Each new entry has to ride the line between honouring the gore-heavy warfare of past titles and venturing into new territory, lest it find itself spinning its wheels. So it is that we are faced with this latest instalment, a game pondering this dilemma at every turn – but how well can it manage the balancing act? Welcome to MojoPlays, and this is our review of “Gears 5”.

Picking up not long after “Gears of War 4”, the campaign of “Gears 5” opens with a rather careful laying of groundwork for the plot’s overall trajectory. Our central threads this go-around: newcomer Kait Diaz experiencing bizarre visions implying connections to the villainous Swarm, and the procurement of an old weapon with the potential to curb the Swarm’s encroach. Things seem to go in a promising direction... until a significant status quo shift that makes clear “Gears 5” is more immediately keen on Kait’s journey.

We’re trying very carefully to avoid significant spoilers on this, so suffice to say the middle two acts of the game take a turn into a much more freeform style of world exploration than “Gears” games typically offer. More than half of the campaign playthrough is centred on Kait and her various squad mates traversing two impressively expansive maps – one a frozen mountain range, the other a red-hued desert wracked by storms. While we did find wandering the various wastes and engaging with side missions to be engaging, the tradeoff is that the main plot’s pace slows to a damn crawl.

Calling the campaign a mixed bag would be fair, though when it works it’s cooking with gas. There were a handful of firefights sprinkled throughout that felt decidedly unfair and infuriating, usually whenever a shielded enemy cropped up. Boss fights tend to either be pleasant shootouts in a creative space, or aggravating in the precision and multi-tasking demanded of the player. And certain plot reveals seemed heavily telegraphed in advance, to the point that it’s kind of astounding no one in-universe said aloud “Yeah, you know, in retrospect that’s not so surprising”.

What elevates much of the material is the same mix of squad comradery and brutal shooting action that made past “Gears” titles work so well. Kait, as portrayed by Laura Bailey, fills in well as the de-facto main lead and is bolstered by a personable bunch of allies. The moments of banter in and out of battle keep the tone just light enough to balance out the plot’s more grim ruminations on the cost of war. Meanwhile, the combat delivers on heavy blows and bloody encounters as expected, only occasionally hampered by some obnoxious enemy combinations and less-than-optimal distribution of cover.

The campaign’s not all that “Gears 5” has to offer, of course. Besides the genre- and series-standard Versus online multiplayer suite – with its persistent levelling system and solid lineup of modes – there’s a couple other options for players. Horde Mode returns, its emphasis on surviving waves of Swarm and corrupted robotic enemies present and in admirable form. There’s the newly-added Escape, in which up to three players break out of a Swarm nest while trying to outrun a toxic gas cloud of their own creation. Lastly, players can tinker with their own custom maps for Escape, which can be accessed by other folks online.

It’s a fair bit of content, basically, and woven together nicely with the aforementioned levelling which persists across all modes save for the campaign. Given the lack of players during our review period, it remains to be seen if all of it holds up under scrutiny, but our experience suggests a solid foundation. That said, it’s hard not to feel that the absence of plot or any kind of thematic depth to most of the content will turn off players who aren’t interested in online competition.

Where presentation is concerned, “Gears 5” more readily illustrates its value and competency. Save for very rare glimpses of stuttering, the game runs consistently well and looks excellent in motion. The characters move in relatively plausible fashion, their animations smooth, their designs detailed yet coherent. The sheer scope of the environments, particularly in the quasi-open world sections, is truly incredible and feels well worth admiring in itself. Little details like characters’ footprints in sand, larger spectacles such as the desert tornados – let it never be said that “Gears” developers The Coalition can’t make a handsome game.

Similarly, whatever ludicrous sum of money was spent on sound work proves well worth it. Ramin Djawadi returns as composer, his score switching between melancholy and tense determination with great skill. Each weapon in the arsenal, every cry and groan of the player’s adversaries, it all sounds appropriate to its given context. Performances across the board range from solid to quite charming indeed. While this is indisputably Laura Bailey’s show and she nails Kait’s unique blend of internalized torment and moderately snarky resolve, co-star Rahul Kohli also stands out as the sardonic soldier Fahz.

Parsing the worth of “Gears 5” is tricky, without a doubt. Players seeking more “Gears” content, more opportunities to cut down Swarm drones and feel like a badass, are likely to find this game thoroughly satisfying. Yet there’s frustrating elements and annoying half-measures baked in, a feeling of being so close to brilliance while falling short that never goes away. “Gears 5” manages an extremely likeable form of adequacy, but it teases at being so much more.
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