Review: Gears Tactics (PC)by Adam Dileva
I’ve been a Gears of War fan since the beginning, playing not only every game and reading the various novels, but I even own a handful of figures and even a replica Lancer. Oddly enough, when Gears Tactics was announced I didn't follow the development very much, as I knew it was only announced for PC at launch, though all signs point to a console release sometime down the road. Given that Gears is synonymous when you think of Xbox we figured we would cover Gears Tactics. Why you ask? Well, to see how the franchise plays as a 'tactical' oriented game, and when it hits the Xbox platform, we will be able to compare it to its original PC counterpart.
When you think of Gears, you think of cover based third person shooters with lots of gore and soldiers with an unfeasible amount of time to hit the gym to bulk up with muscles. Originally released in 2006, Gears of War was an instant hit and became just as revered and tantamount as Halo was to the Xbox DNA. Years have passed and Gears has turned into a massive franchise, with numerous games, novels, toys and more over the years, but the gameplay has generally always stayed the same throughout; until now.
Gears Tactics completely changes up the tried and true Gears formula of cover based shooting and instead swaps it for a tactical turn based affair much like an X-COM style game. I wasn’t sure how the gameplay would transition with such a drastic change, but once I learned the mechanics and figured out some strategies, I’m elated to report that Gears Tactics still feels like a Gears game, even if the gameplay is completely different than fans are used to. Surprisingly, Gears really works well in this strategy genre, especially with the additions and tweaks they’ve made in mechanics found in similar games.
To say that Gears has a robust lore is putting it mildly. Simply check the wiki and you could read for hours on the history of the world and its characters. The core games have always had engaging narratives, constantly engrossing you into its world, and Gears Tactics is no different, even though it’s not one of the base games. Set 12 years before the first game, the world of Sera is under attack from the Locust Horde that are rising from beneath its surface.
You play as Gabe Diaz, and if you recognize that last name and look at the timeline it’s set in, that’s right, Gabe Diaz is Kait’s father, the protagonist of Gears 5. Gabe was a decorated Lieutenant Colonel for the COG, but after a mission that resulted in huge sacrifices, he demoted himself to Sergeant and and refused to work for the COG any further. This is of course was only temporary as COG comes calling, essentially forcing him back into action begrudgingly.
Gabe’s mission is to find the leader of the Locust army: Ukkon. It’s said that he’s the one behind the creation of some of the biggest Locust that Sera has ever seen, like the Brumak, so he must be stopped at any cost. Major Sid Redburn will fight alongside Gabe, a veteran who’s been on numerous top secret missions, as will other characters you meet along the way. Gabe can’t fight this fight alone, so he’s going to have to convince others along the way to help save Sera alongside, something only a true leader could manage.
Regardless of everyone’s reason to joining and helping Gabe in their mission, they all agree to Ukkon must be stopped, regardless of the cost. While Ukkon may not be quite as memorable as Skorge or General RAAM as a main antagonist, once his background and lore is revealed, he’s just as important to the overall Gears lore as any other main character, which is incredibly exciting for hardcore fans like myself that are enthralled into its narrative. Luckily, Gears Tactics’ narrative is very self-contained, so if you’re not completely up to par on Gears lore to this point, you can still enjoy an interesting story, though fans are going to get the most out of it when major plot points are revealed. I won’t lie, I had more than one jaw dropping moment watching the beautiful cutscenes play out between missions.
Obviously the biggest change for the series is that it’s ditched the third person shooter gameplay in exchange for a top down strategy tactic based one, much like an X-COM. You’ll need to think very strategically with its turn based gameplay as you’re given numerous goals and objectives in your missions. I have to admit, I honestly expected gameplay to simply be a re-skinning of an X-COM game, but there’s more than enough meaningful changes in Gears Tactics that lets it stand on its own legs. It would have been easy to simply copy gameplay from others in the genre, but thankfully they’ve added and tweaked a few features that I would argue is much better for the genre.
Instead of simply defeating all enemies on the battlefield, you’ll almost always have some sort of secondary objective you’ll need to meet before finishing a mission, such as destroying something or reaching an extraction point with all your team members. Most missions allow up to four squad mates, though some are designed for less. Even though the camera view and gameplay has drastically changed from what Gears fans are used to, the levels and environments still feel like a Gears game with its semi destroyed landscapes and rubble strewn areas.
Even with its isometric view, it’s easy to appreciate the level design and verticality when having to deal with a Locust sniper in a perch locking you down from advancing. While the camera isn’t always perfect, as it was sometimes a little confusing to figure out specific pathways your squad can maneuver without trial and error, there’s enough complexity to add variety to the gameplay where there’s not simply one way to defeat enemy Locust. Some players may opt for a more aggressive flank, while others may setup overwatch areas to prevent enemy advancement.
The campaign flows very well in the beginning, that is, until you hit the required side missions. At first I was fine with having these added in, but it eventually started to feel like filler between campaign missions. As a huge Gears fan, I wanted to experience the campaign for its narrative quickly, but was arbitrarily slowed down with these side missions that can’t be skipped. These missions aren’t bad per-se, but have simple objectives compared to the core campaign missions.
Gears Tactics is a very aggressive game, not just in its violence, but its gameplay as well. You rarely get to take a breather and relax, as reinforcements are almost always a turn or two behind any Locust clearings you manage. Even if you clear the battlefield, there’s almost always an emergence hole or new swarm of enemies en-route to your position, so you must always be maneuvering with purpose.
Most games in the genre allow you one maneuver turn and another for actions like shooting or defending. Gears Tactics changes this up and not only adds three actions per character a turn, before any extra bonus actions which can be augmented with gear and abilities, but they can be used for any action. If you want to use three action points (AP) to move your squad further ahead or away, you can do so, you’re not restricted to a move action then combat separately. Conversely, if you’re in position, you can utilize AP to fire at enemies each time as well if you wish. This adds a ton of utility, and it wasn’t until the first boss fight where I realized I could swap between characters between AP use.
For example, you may become trapped behind cover with enemies using the overwatch ability. You can flank with one character, disrupt their overwatch, then change back to your hunkered down squad mate and return fire before going back to your flanker for more AP actions. I fell in love with the overwatch system as you can essentially setup kill areas for any Locust crossing your observed path, but keep in mind that each attack is utilized as one of your ammo rounds, as reloading takes one AP as well. You'll also have to consider that there are other ways to add more actions and abilities that open a variety of different gameplay options, and you can start to see how robust the tactical side of Gears Tactics truly is. In true Gears fashion, executing a downed enemy will reward you with a bonus action, so there’s always a risk versus reward in your battle strategies.
Gears is also known for its epic and intense boss battles. Hell, I still remember the General RAAM boss fight after all these years. Gears Tactics is no different, as at the end of each act you’re going to face off against a massive boss. I won’t spoil what you’ll face off against after your first Brumak encounter, but you’re in for some surprises. Boss battles not only have you utilize different strategies from regular missions, but you’re going to have to constantly adapt and adjust based on what the boss is doing or what reinforcement Locust arrive to the battlefield.
While these boss battles are much more drawn out than those found in regular Gears gameplay, they almost feel like they have a puzzle element to their strategy. For example, the Brumak can launch rockets which will explode on the marked areas on the next turn, so you need to balance not only moving out of rocket range, but being in position to attack the Brumak itself and defend yourself against Locust reinforcements. Just like most videogame bosses, you’ll need to generally deplete segments of health to trigger each section of battle, forcing you to adjust. Factor in that Locust reinforcements constantly arrive, and emergence holes can appear at any time, and you’ll have to constantly adjust your strategies, not only for your current turn, but for those turns that are yet to come.
An unexpected surprise was how much customization Gears Tactics allows for your squad. Not only can you change and customize your gear (pun intended) visually, but you’ll also earn statistical mod upgrades for your weapons and gear. If you want Gabe to rock an all pink suit of armor, go ahead. When you start to earn new armor pieces with different stats and abilities you can really start to customize your squads to suit your preferred play style. Each character has a set role and abilities, so some missions will favor more ranged weapon characters, where other missions will be much tougher and require Gabe to use his med-grenades to heal the squad.
With a decent and robust skill tree, you can customize each character how you like, and even respec if needed. While I’m glad tons of work went into the customization, it’s a little monotonous to constantly check and rebalance teams between each mission. Missions will grant loot chests, and if you’re able to grab chests strewn around the missions, you can earn bonus packs. Thankfully there are no microtransactions, so these loot boxes are all earned by simply playing, even if their rewards seem completely random at times.
You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned any sort of co-op, skirmishes or multiplayer at all, and that’s because Gears Tactics is solely a single player experience. While there are multiple difficulty options ranging from Beginner to Insane, there is also an Ironman Mode for those that want an extreme challenge where no deaths are allowed throughout. I can see myself playing through one more time on a harder difficulty when time allows me to, but with no multiplayer component, some may complete it and never touch it again, even though its campaign is a decent length.
Gears Tactics is obviously a shock to the franchise’s core gameplay, but fits within this completely new strategic take. Even though it plays nothing like a traditional Gears, it manages to keep its franchise's essence and feels like it fits within the Gears universe without being forced. Even though side missions pad gameplay time and makes for some jarring pacing, the writing and visuals are on par with what any fan would expect from a titular Gears of War title. Super fans will obviously get the most from its narrative as it has deep ties into the series’ overall narrative, but strategy game fans can jump in and still enjoy the experience without being a Gear-head.
Overall Score: 8.5/10