Set 12 years before the first Gears of War, Gears Tactics strays away from its tried and tested all-action formula to a tactical turn-based model – and it works.
When I first received the review code from Microsoft, I was apprehensive that this would just be a X-Com variant and nothing else. A couple of hours in and I was convinced that my initial fears were unfounded.
Once again this is set a time before we ever heard of Marcus Fenix. In his place taking centre stage is Gabe Diaz, former Lieutenant Colonel and key figure in the Pendulum Wars, who has since decided that his skills would be better served as a Sergeant working the motor pool – who just so happens to be the father of Cpl. Kait Diaz from Gears 5.
You’re thrust into the events that take place from the eve of the Hammer strikes against the Locust as Gear veteran, Sid Redburn tracks Diaz down and sets them all on a collision course with the game’s big bad, Ukkon.
Ukkon is the “monster who creates monsters”. A Locust scientist that genetically engineers creatures such as the Brumak, Reaver and Corpser that will continue to terrorise the people of Sera in future/past Gears games.
From the get go, Gears Tactics comes across as a Gears game. One of the first things you actually do is take cover – a mechanic that’s been the hallmark of every Gears game and what set it apart from everyone else.
Bounding from one point to another, taking cover, and providing overwatch are key elements in the game that takes something that’s definitively Gears and adding a layer of deeper tactical play.
Setting up overwatch and key tactical decisions allow you to take on the Locust as they attempt to swarm you in waves. However, that doesn’t mean that gameplay is slow. The mechanics actually encourage a more aggressive play style rather than fortifying yourself in a slow game of attrition.
Nothing encapsulates this more than another Gears trademark – the execution by Lancer. Each character has about 3 Action Points to spend a turn which allow you to make a limited number of moves per turn. This number goes up or gets refreshed by skills or abilities you gain as you level up. Landing an execution, be it one that saws the Locust from collar to hip or a by impaling said Locust on a bayonet, allows you to refresh Action Points and chain strikes that let you take on greater numbers than playing on the defensive.
Graphically, Gears Tactics looks great and plays in 4K. Developers, Splash Damage, take the power of Unreal Engine 4 to deliver crisp graphics and amazing cut scenes that do well to immerse you into the world.
Success also depends on recruiting and maintaining a squad that’s able to adapt to multiple scenarios – especially when the story-line dictates that certain characters are unavailable for certain missions.
Each character has a variety of customization options and a skill tree that you can use to give each one an individual personality and play style. Don’t get too emotionally involved though. The death of a main character during a mission means you have to restart that mission. If you lose one of your “regular” squad members in action, you lose them permanently.
One of the aspects that Gears Tactics have simplified, or not touched, is Headquarters management. There’s no research or upgrades to be made. For some this might be a core feature, to others not so much. Instead of research, you recover gear from the mission in the form of loot caches at different parts of the map. Some are easier to get to, and some might take a bit of a detour and place you in a tactically susceptible position.
There are definite similarities between Gears Tactics and a X-Com game, but there’s definitely enough about it to fill those boots. With Gears Tactics, Microsoft, Splash Damage and The Coalition, have managed to pull of introducing a new style of play within an established franchise without breaking it or feeling too thin.
Gears tactics is now available on Windows 10 and Steam.