Release date: 28 April 2020
Developer: Splash Damage, The Coalition
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
- Just as good as Gears of War
- Immersive action
- Unexciting missions
- Unrelatable plot and characters
The line between turn-based strategy and all-out aggression is a fine one to tread, and Gears Tactics barely strikes a balance. And though it seems like a desperate attempt, it’s still a commendable effort translating the character of Gears’ combat to a new arena, albeit losing some of its spirit.
The pace is generally fast, with each of its turns defined by the amount of viscera you can pull from guts to ground. Despite that, the game play is still fairly smooth and will have you easing off the throttle of the thumbsticks. And even as manoeuvers may be executed with just the click of a mouse, you’d be thoroughly engaged. You’ll find yourself flanking routes, carving out holes in enemy lines and being in waist-high cover.
And while it’s fast, smart and aggressive, it has its slow, shallow and meek moments as well when the action subsides. That said, it’s still a Gears of War game at heart.
Fans of Firaxis’ XCOM would be able to detect its similarities at one glance. Yet, Gears Tactics does more than enough to be authentically Gears of War, setting itself apart with the pace of gameplay as well as the removal of the movement grid.
For one, by removing the movement grid, you have more freedom to experiment than you would in a turn-based strategy game. The combat is freeform, with each of your Gears equipped with a baseline of three action points that can be spent at your discretion on any combination of movement, shooting, and skills. A simple but small decision with huge potential, this makes Gears Tactics feel more like a traditional action game.
You’d find yourself weaving effortlessly between points of cover, rotating freely between your Gears in the field, and responding readily to threats as they emerge from the fog of war, airdrop into sprawling arenas, and crawl out of Emergence holes. To engage, you can choose to stand and fire until you expend all your action points, move your soldiers into advantageous positions, or just use them in any combination you’d like to command. Simply put, Gears Tactics has ironed out the kinks of the XCOM combat system, made it faster, and also more aggressive.
Though Gears Tactics has carved out its own space in the genre, there are certain aspects that are reminiscent of Overwatch, like the cone representing your zone of sight that gets triggered when anything moves within it. Except, it’s more aggressive, and can be used to thin enemy lines, as opposed to defending your position.
It’s a Gears game first and foremost, and with all its systems at play it definitely feels like one, rather than some strategy game wearing its skin. And you’d also find yourself pushing through masses of enemies during the later part of the game, which will require you to tap on the combined strength of your squad, as well as chain together skills and executions.
There are five specialised classes in all — Heavy, Scout, Sniper, Support, and Vanguard. Each with its own strengths and limitations. Plus, they can also be upgraded and heavily customised throughout the game. The trick, however, is to maintain a balanced squad by ensuring the skills learned by each unit complements the rest. Skill trees allow you to invest in any of the four combat proficiencies, giving you access to Active and Passive abilities to take on your relentless enemies.
Now here’s the fun part — gaming the game. It’s possible to create huge chains of death with a well-balanced squad, and by flanking routes. The result? Taking down your enemies in just one turn without sustaining any damage. How isn’t that fun? So if you put the ‘tactics’ into Gears Tactics, you’d be handsomely rewarded. The game is all about aggressiveness. And if you fancy a different gaming strategy, you’d find yourself losing members in your squad, and getting overwhelmed by your enemies. Unfortunately, that’s the only way to succeed in Gears Tactics, and it struggles to offer anything more than that.
Completely thrown out of gear
Though the game is much like XCOM, the way it handles downtime is pale in comparison. While it’s true that you’ll spend much of the game engaged with your enemies, there’s actually no base to grow and evolve. Instead, you’ll spend all your time devoted to levelling up your units, customising looks and going through lists of weapons and armours to create the most powerful combinations.
The good thing is, there are lots of equipment to play, especially when you hunt down storage crates amidst the chaos of combat, as well as completing mission modifiers. That said, it does get a little uninteresting after awhile, given the sheer amount of equipment available.
On the contrary, the pacing of Gears Tactics is commendable. You’d find yourself spending hours and hours on the game just because of its difficulty. And as much as it has done a great job in terms of combat, you’d begin seeing its flaws if you were to look beyond the violence. It’s essentially 20 hours of violence. And there’s a lack of heart. The focus on family that every Gears game is known for isn’t present here, making its plot and characters unrelatable.
Story-driven strategy games are never easy to pull off, and there’s much to be learned from StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty, as well as the benchmark it has set years ago. The cutscenes and character lack polish and depth compared to Gears of War 4 and 5. It’s stiff. It’s disjointed. It’s anything but a cohesive adventure you’d be excited to play all the way to the end. What’s more, the missions are repetitive and dry. And did we mention how the insipid side quests are stifling because they are forced on you so that you can try new squad compositions?
With all that said and done, there’s still a lot to love about Gears Tactics. Sure, the action may distract you from its flaws. But that doesn’t mean they do not exist.