Gears of War sits comfortably towards the upper echelon of my all-time favourite game series. After being there from the very beginning with the first title back in 2006 all the way through to Judgement, there’s something about seeing The Crimson Omen logo once more that gets the blood pumping. To lead into playing Gears 5 I finally found the time to play Gears of War 4 for the first time in order to get myself up to date and ready for next go around with Lancer in hand. It’s a mad world and will The Coalition succeed in delivering on the hype?

Now, for a third-person shooter that features a ton of gore, larger than life characters and bad-ass ways to execute your enemy, it’s the story that takes centre stage. It’s a shooter with tons of emotion, charm and above all, heart. Kait was first introduced in Gears of War 4 as part of the core squad, this time around she leads the squad and plays a pivotal role in the events of the game and the overarching Gears universe, if you will.

Number 5 follows the events of the previous title closely and directly deals with the final moments of GOW 4, Kait after losing her mother seeks to uncover the origins of her family and of the Locust. She finds herself a part of the very thing she used to fight against, The Coalition of Ordered Governments, also known as COG. Joined by JD, Del and Marcus who along with Kait reform Delta Squad, which is just a nice call back to the OG team.

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Start to finish each mission serves a true purpose, there aren’t any throwaway objectives or battles and all aid progression of Kait’s goal to find out what the hell is going on. Whether it’s traversing winter terrain in the hopes of uncovering the location of a comm tower or putting together a rocket in the harsh dessert, there is a sense of importance and urgency in everything you do that doesn’t overdo it or come across as cheesy. Throughout there are specific moments that add weight to the story and show the real danger present in the world of Sera. Whether it’s sweet victory or a bitter loss, I’m invested and celebrate or mourn each one respectively.

Something that has always stood out to me when it comes to these games is just how distinct and somewhat unique the gameplay feels. The series that popularised cover-based action has this gravity about it that makes it feel not only slower but heavier too, which is weird to even comprehend. If you take the gameplay and transfer it anywhere you could identify that this is straight-up GOW.

Weaving from cover to cover whilst trying to protect my skull from the impending sniper round eager to spread my brains all over the floor is exhilarating. The stakes in battle are very real where wrong moves can easily spell the end and even though respawning is a thing, I didn’t want to get that point. Shooting from cover requires strategy and awareness of your surroundings as the Swarm often flank or aim from afar, especially those with the torque bows that can be crazy accurate and frustrating to come up against.

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Sight and hearing go hand in hand when it comes to combat, using both simultaneously to keep track of any enemy movement and action. Picture this, you’re in cover, pinned down by several assault rifle toting swarm. One by one, you start picking them off, only to hear the distinct clicking noise in the distance, in that moment you swap to your Longshot sniper rifle, and with the flick of the thumb stick you scope in on an enemy looking to hit you with the torque bow and take his head out before he can let go of the shot, I love it.

Something that lets the gameplay down is the gunplay that feels in a way too slow when it comes to aiming and sensitivity that it causes plenty of missed shots, wasting valuable ammunition at sometimes important moments. The reticles feel a bit too big almost as if they were designed in a way for you to miss shots, like there is a smaller invisible reticle inside the one displayed on screen. I hope I conveyed that in a way that made sense to you, if not, well that is the best your going to get I’m afraid.

But to bring it right back around something to commend is the variety of enemies on offer that make every encounter have this sense of eerie wonder. The thought of not knowing which type of enemy will pop up next is unsettling, considering the widely different tactics needed to overcome some of them and the difficulty they offer. If you aren’t prepared for opponents like the Carrier or Snatcher then you’ll be in for a tough fight. Having your wits about you and holding off on using all your explosive type weaponry will pay dividends for sure.

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Boss fights are very few and far between which means when they do occur, they feel earned and not shoe-horned in. The one fight which for those who play will know what I’m on about is downright infuriating, and yet I still enjoyed learning the enemies moves and how to counteract them that the countless deaths felt worth it in the end, like I accomplished something.

By far one of the best if not the best-looking experiences to grace the Xbox One platform, Gears 5 brings an awe-inspiring world to life thanks to both its design and visual fidelity. Each location has vastly different looks but have these underlying common traits of being barren and run-down with a severe absence of normal life. Whilst obtaining all these dark qualities, the visuals glisten with a polish not yet seen by a first-party games from Xbox this generation.

From the world to the characters to even the weapons, all have been designed to accentuate the apocalyptic setting. Ranging from dull colours to the wear and tear encountered on textures through-out, everything comes together to produce this formerly lived in world that has seen its fair share of war. What I particularly love is the evolution of the character designs not only throughout the series but even just in Gears 5, dependent on the location and time in the story there are different appearances that some of the characters go through which show the struggle of life for them.

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Quick shout-out, write-out, type-out, to the sound design of Gears 5 and I mean sound design overall. The music that accompanies those memorable moments and adds meaning to them is very much welcomed, with many pieces being evolved versions of ones that have shown up in the past. Somehow, music has always been one of the highlights of the series and whenever I hear them it sparks this recollection of the events the pieces are played over.

Satisfying sound effects are essential in making gameplay go that bit further on the addiction scale, because they make you want to continue the fight, to hear the scope in effect of the Longshot or the roar of the Lancer’s chainsaw is just, well it’s just lovely.

Laura Bailey does an outstanding job reprising her role as Kait Diaz and stepping up to the spotlight in a way that shows her vulnerability and yet her strength at the same time. Being able to show a range of emotions and take you on the journey with her. Other notable performances include Liam McIntyre, Eugene Byrd, John DiMaggio and Rahul Kohli who each bring their respective characters J.D. Fenix, Del Walker, Marcus Fenix and Fahz Chutani to life. After writing those, to be honest there are more I want to include like Fred Tatasciore and Lester Speight who return as Baird and Cole, two of my favourites of the series thus far. Needless to say, it’s a damn fine cast.

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The multiplayer offering comprises of three core areas, versus, horde and escape. The first of which has been a staple of the series, since its inception and has often been among some of the most rewarding online experiences I’ve played. Unfortunately for me two glaring omissions have been made in versus when it comes to included game modes, the lack of Wingman and Execution is disturbing. That’s not to say the other modes don’t stand on their own merits because they certainly do and offer different styles of play that allow a bit of a mix-up when needed.

Arcade is a new addition to the versus catalogue and provides a five-on-five scenario that sees characters with passive abilities do battle. It also uses a system almost akin to Counter-Strike in which players need to gain skulls in order to upgrade yourself and improve your weaponry each round, the skulls you receive depend on round-by-round performance. Variety is certainly something the team at The Coalition went for and succeeded upon, whether they’re all quality modes to jump into is the question.

Horde returns and seeks to once again improve on the formula of old, each character is now a hero that have their own abilities and roles to fill. My favourite thus far is a toss-up between Kait and her camouflage ability and Fahz with his x-ray vision. Perks are obtained throughout the game and act as a progression system whilst in each game, being able to improve your survivability by spending power obtained from fallen enemies. A second progression system comes in the form of skill cards which allow for improvements of a character whilst in between matches and are specific to them, levelling up characters will get you closer to the best cards.

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Being able to customise the difficulty and add modifiers allow for replayability and the opportunity to really test your skills, 8 levels of difficulty each one adding a modifier, the latter levels really bring the pain. An issue I find with horde is that it’s only truly fun when with human players, preferably with ones that are talking otherwise you have to put up with bots and the unique challenges they bring due to not being as talented as real players.

Escape is new to the series and allows players to test their will in a battle against both the Swarm and time itself. Fast-paced action which is straight up my alley and that’s not a euphemism. Three players go in, hopefully all come out, much like horde it offers escalating difficulty levels. The biggest inclusion perhaps of the entire mode is allowing you to create your own hives and allow the player base to have at it. The potential is there but after a few go arounds, it does get repetitive and I feel will heavily rely on player creation in the future as opposed to dev created maps. A character-based system is in effect with specific hero’s having their own loadouts and abilities along with the option to add star cards to them in order to boost their stats or net some tasty perks.

OVERALL – 8.8/10 – GREAT

A bar has been set for Xbox Game Studios releases and it’s been set by Gears 5, being perhaps the first, first-party exclusive for Xbox One that delivers a deep story with interesting characters, stunning visuals and an addicting gameplay loop. The multiplayer suite has some surprising omissions but still manages to capture much of the magic that made me stay up for hours into night in its predecessors. The repetitive nature of Horde and Escape dampened my enthusiasm for the package that is Gears 5, but with a campaign as strong as it is, thankfully I can say I highly recommend.

Written by Rhys Baldwin.

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