Overall - 85%
Everything about Gears Tactics screams quality, and it's easily one of the best debut titles this genre has seen in years. It's nearly time for X-COM to step aside - this genre just went up a Gear.
The Gears franchise has long been at the pinnacle of the third-person shooter genre. However, in a rare move in today’s industry, The Coalition opts for a change of pace and looks to bring the mayhem and carnage to the turn-based, squad tactics scene with Gears Tactics. Promising a brand new style of game for the franchise alongside series staples, Gears Tactics hopes to bridge the best of both worlds. Did they pull it off?
Gears Tactics Review – Taking The Genre Up A Gear
The story in Gears Tactics is one that’ll no doubt be familiar. A small unit of COG soldiers is tasked with recruiting more units before taking down a key player in the enemies battle for supremacy: Ukkon. A mad scientist of sorts, he uses a powerful compound called Imulsion to create new and powerful Locusts unlike the world has ever seen.
In a last-ditch attempt to clear the Locust swarms from the surface, The Coalition of Governments authorizes a global strike with the Hammer of Dawn satellite weapon, leaving the COG clean up crews to wipe out the remaining enemy forces. Sergeant Diaz is given the near impossible task of hunting down a valuable target, with little more than the signature Lancer and over-the-top thick thighs to carry him through.
Branching away from the genre’s traditional demographic is often followed by a safe approach to delivering the narrative. Avoiding any huge conflicts or changes in story through the fear of franchise regulars missing out on key points. While I won’t go into spoiler territory, Gears Tactics does conform to that trope. There’s some big moments to enjoy here, both for franchise veterans and those diving in for the first time, but it doesn’t make huge strides for the narrative of the franchise.
The squad-based tactics genre has long been dominated by independent developers, with the AAA industry seeming to lack any interest. The crown, belonging to Firaxis Games’ incredible X-COM series, has seen brief glimpses of competition with the likes of Snapshot Games’ Phoenix Point and The Bearded Ladies Mutant Year Zero, but, for the most part, X-COM remains atop the mountain.
While many comparisons will be made, and fairly so, Gears Tactics takes a more linear, narrative approach to a genre otherwise dominated by free-forming stories and randomization of objectives and progression.
Linearity is not always a negative aspect of a game. Removing some of the more random aspects from the genre helps deliver a more consistent and higher level of quality throughout the experience. The campaign, which is approximately 20-25 hours, is supplemented by additional missions post-game, but it does suffer from a lack of longevity when compared to other titles in the squad-tactics space.
Gears Tactics does exactly what it set out to do: It blends the iconic aspects of the Gears franchise with a new genre, adding some exciting twists and turns along the way. Missions allow for one to four soldiers, each equipped with multiple weapons and equipment. Mission objectives are varied, keeping the experience fresh and rewarding throughout. Sometimes you’ll send in a small team to rescue some potential new recruits, other times you’re charging in with your best squad to collect supplies while avoiding enemy airstrikes from above.
The good variety of missions and regular additions of new enemy types keeps the game challenging throughout, and the combat is arguably the greatest this genre has ever seen. On a player’s turn, each soldier is granted Action Points (AP), which can be spent on a combination of movement, abilities, and shooting, in any order and as much as the game allows. It’s not as simplistic as moving units into Overwatch and watching the fodder approach; it offers far greater depth. As a result, it’s bloody great fun.
A combination of singular, powerful enemies and multiple horde-like enemies that rush requires new tools not often available in this genre. Placing a unit in Overwatch grants as many Overwatch shots as the unit has AP, allowing for single units to decimate entire squads of enemies if placed correctly and buffed at the right time. There are five classes in total, with each class having four distinct paths of progression available. Focusing entirely on a single path or mixing and matching the best from each tree is great system, and it really lets you pull of some amazing sequences.
One of the biggest struggles facing this genre is the ability to connect the player to the soldiers they send into battle. Gears Tactics’ overarching story is very enjoyable, but it pales in comparison to the potential stories each player creates. Anyone whose spent any serious time in X-COM and other games will have stories to tell.
Legendary soldiers that pulled off that impossible shot, the utterly insane Hulk Hogan-looking character that joined your party before blowing his team up with a misplaced grenade. Gears Tactics’ random character generation and huge arsenal of customization options does a great job of creating those bonds, those stories, but it falls short in a few areas.
The constant micro-management of character equipment becomes needlessly frustrating in the later stages of the game. Gathering loot crates in missions provides random weapon attachments and new armor, but with a roster size of over 20 soldiers at the end of the game, keeping them all equally geared is more trouble than it’s worth. Compounding that issue further is the lack of incentive to stick with soldiers. Tyrone, an early heavy unit I recruited that turned into a Locust-slaying badass, was quickly out-leveled by random units available for recruitment.
It was only my bonds to characters that kept them in my primary part, as it was almost always more efficient to ditch lower level characters in favor of ones you can instantly recruit of a higher level.
If you sat down at a table with a group of Gears fans and tried to create a concept for a squad-based tactics game, it wouldn’t be far off what we’ve got here. The iconic Lancer, Gears’ legendary assault rifle with a chainsaw attached, provides dominating attacks and fatality opportunities that award other team members with additional AP.
The chain grenades, the gritty world building, the bulky as hell men – the Gears inspiration is clear to see, and it stands proudly at the forefront of Gears Tactics. I won’t go into detail on the boss fights, as there are only a few, but these larger-than-life encounters are some of the most challenging battles in the game.
Everything about Gears Tactics screams quality, and it’s easily one of the best debut titles this genre has seen in years. It’s nearly time for X-COM to step aside – this genre just went up a Gear.
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