Having saved the planet (again), the protagonists of Gears of War 4 are reinstated into the Coalition of Ordered Governments’ corps as its new Delta Squad, with promotions and, presumably, solemn promises to stop with the insubordination thing. And if you guessed that those promises would be almost immediately broken, guess what? You totally guessed it. Although it seems to me that what exactly constitutes orders and duty and other standard-issue military procedure in the COG is also kind of ambiguous, so maybe that’s not unexpected. And besides, Corporal Kait Diaz has the problem of her, uh, questionable family history and those creepy headache-induced hallucinations to solve, so that’s important too, and if First Minister Jinn wants to keep reinstating the same insubordinate assholes every game, that’s on her.
After being told that they’re not, ever, under any circumstances, for reals this time, to restore the Hammer of Dawn satellite network, Delta Squad starts restoring the Hammer of Dawn satellite network, and it’s game on. Woo, baby. This my kind of shit.
And Gears 5 is totally my kind of shit, even with the “of War” drop. The franchise is a special one for me, for lots of reasons, but that nostalgia is mostly irrelevant now – this is a phenomenal game, featuring an exhilarating campaign that’s very much chainsaw-gun-Gears but also introduces a lot of innovative new things. Unlike previous games in the series, for example, some of Gears 5’s levels are immense, with an open world sprawling between its mission locations in the second and third acts. And it’s in those moments, traversing that space and otherwise temporarily unoccupied with the business of killing things dead, that the game’s characters become much more real, much more introspective than ever before – Kait and her constant companion Del talk about plot events, their friends and each other, and (gasp!) emotions. The bad jokes and big egos are mixed in too, make no mistake, but there’s an unprecedented maturity in Gears 5 that I didn’t even know I wanted until I got it.
This also extends into the game’s narrative, the turbulent politics and fragile diplomacies of post-war Sera now significant themes that more properly contextualise the COG’s precarious position in everything – and the disturbing revelations about its crimes that Kait must confront. Gears 5 is bleak as fuck at times, its gleefully absurd violence almost a respite from the abhorrent realities of Mount Kadar’s secret labs.
But the violence is as gleefully absurd as ever, and this game delivers the same visceral, sphincter-clenching firefights and cover mechanics as its predecessors, its subtleties and sophistication without equal in its genre. The pop-up Gnasher. The perfunctory THWUNK of a grenade tag. The ludicrous gibs. No other game gets this like Gears, and new enemies like the Flock and Swarm Warden bring with them the kind of unpredictable chaos I’ve missed since the Berserkers were wiped out in Gears of War 3. Other new features like Jack the robo-drone that made ad hoc cameos as a Mr Fix-It in other games, but is now an actual member of Delta Squad (and even a playable character in co-op!) with skill unlocks, and optional side missions also help to define The Coalition’s unique adaptation of the brand.
And much like the studio’s debut, Gears 5 maintains the intrepid new direction out of the brownpocalypse, with vivid colours and diverse biomes making up what must be one of this generation’s most visually impressive games. On Xbox One X (and PCs that can support it), the campaign renders in 4K at a consistent 60 frames per second, and the difference from Gears of War 4 is astounding. More than a very competent sequel, Gears 5 is a serious technical accomplishment.
A super compelling campaign, and plenty of other content to keep you occupied when that's over. And with its simultaneous launch on Xbox Game Pass for those of you who need extra persuasion, it's the R159 mega-deal of this season.