The Gears of War game you were not expecting to play but you should.
Describing 2020 as a series of unexpected and horrible events is a lot like calling an orange, an orange coloured round shaped fruit. A wasteful effort. So wasting no time on the obvious, there’s no time like now to sink some extra hours into gaming and Xbox dropped something unexpected (but not horrible) to massage your brain in these dire times of boredom.
Gears Tactics everybody. It’s like chess but with ugly monsters and bulky heroes. Is it any good? It’s a Gears game in its presentation but with a twist that adds sense into nonsensical killings with its turn-based strategic combat. Much like XCOM.
Spinning in a tight gap
This spin-off takes place plenty of years prior to the action happening in Gears 5. This story of Gabe Diaz is not on par with Gears’ fifth or even the fourth game from the series. Kait Diaz from Gears 5 still holds the spot for pushing a fantastic story-driven Gears game.
However, the devs did squeeze in a big budget for this spin-off. The cinematics and graphics are polished and have the same treatment like the other Gears game. You’re chasing a Locust boss baddie named Ukkon who, if and when he shows up, lacks a major sense of threat. And the lacklustre opening segment will prove that too.
Right after you’re kicked out of your bunker, the story kicks into a carrot chase of unravelling about Ukkon’s mischief. Straightforward, right? It does seem like that. Thankfully, the strategic part is amazing, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Gears Tactics zooms out and lets you have a god-like view of the map. You can control up to four characters on the field and there’s no grid system here. You’re free to move the characters in and out of cover without being forced to follow any sort of guiding grids.
Initially, it’s just Gabe Diaz and Sid Redburn that cut through enemy lines, but the game soon lets you recruit more characters to join the fight against Ukkon. Some are hero characters like Gabe and Sid and others are expendable, like soldiers in a private army. The game’s story essentially sends you across missions to recruit and rescue soldiers to fill your ranks, all the while finding out about Ukkon’s schemes.
All characters fall under one of the five categories, namely Vanguard (Assault), Heavy, Scout, Support (Medic) and Sniper, and offer an incredible amount of flexibility to missions. That’s also besides the fact that each category gets a skill tree with four corners of mastery to specialise a unit.
Locust horde is filled with addicts
We never would have thought about playing a Gears game as a turn-based strategy game, but as it turns out, that’s one awesome idea and it carries the Gears DNA perfectly. Characters thud into and peek out of cover in typical Gears fashion. Every weapon and upgrade feels authentic and true to the series. The environment, character models and the objects around the game pull you into the Gears universe effortlessly.
The gameplay also extends the narrative without ever making you feel like you would rather be holding the trigger control like its third person shooter brethren. You get three AP (action points) per character in each round. You can move, shoot, execute enemies, enable overwatch, reload, disable enemy overwatch, throw grenades, plant mines, throw healing grenades, or use skills. That’s just the basics; there’s a lot to do here.
Just like chess pieces, you move your players around to get the best possible outcome, but the fun is in managing and executing skills. I would have my sniper use a concussion shot skill on a tough enemy to stop it for one turn and then send a scout with a Gnasher (shotgun) to close in and use its skill, which grants double shots if the enemy doesn’t go down or gets splashed into pieces (very Gears like). This can work in reverse also; I can close in on a tough enemy, use a double shot skill of the scout and if the enemy is still standing up, I will use the concussion shot of the sniper to stop the enemy from killing my unit the next round. The possibilities are endless.
Executing downed enemies grants action points to every other unit besides yours. So there’s always a temptation to close in for an execution, but you could leave your unit without a cover, or worse, an easy picking for the second round when the enemies push up.
There’s a Tac-Com toggle that gives you damage and other stats on your shot, before the unit even takes it. This becomes very important as you progress in the game, because enemies start getting smarter and tougher progressively. Not all shots are within the line of sight and some enemies hunker down in cover to cut down incoming damage, just like your units would. Some enemies even start sniffing yellow juice to increase their power, or worse, bring in a support unit that reinforces their defence. That seriously adds a new dimension in the game’s tactical fun.
Preparation is key
Not all units are equal. Even if they come under the same category, the skill tree is diverse enough to entirely change a unit’s combat style. A support unit can either have incredible healing skills or amazing action point boosting skills. Having both is a very rare case because a unit’s experience points for leveling up moves at a snail's pace to unlock additional skills.
Managing inventory is a bit tedious, though. There’s too much back and forth in arranging and equipping weapons and armour upgrades. A heavy unit will show and have only heavy unit related weapon upgrades, which is fine, but armour is shared amongst all the units and it’s very difficult to sort and figure out which unit has what because that information is super important too.
You’ll also spend time creating the perfect balance between your units which you will deploy in the next mission. Units have to compensate for what the other unit lacks, whether it's through active and passive boosts granted by weapons and armours, or active and passive boosts granted from the skill tree.
Processor: AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2920X; Liquid cooled by Corsair H115i RGB Platinum
GPU: Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti
Motherboard: Asus PRIME X399-A
RAM: 32GB of Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB
CPU Case: Corsair Obsidian 500D RGB
Keyboard: Kingston HyperX Alloy Elite RGB
Power Supply: Corsair AX850
Gabe’s not alone in the fight against the piranha-looking Locusts. The hunt for Ukkon leads you to take help from outsiders and soldiers alike. The world of Gears is imagined very well in this turn-based strategy game. Oh, and we almost forgot to mention that it has boss fights as well. It’s something you should look forward to – and it’s great fun.
Yes, the game is slow paced but where have you played chess sponsored by Redbull? If you’re willing to give this a try, the tactical sense of Gears is a lot of fun and, frankly, a great escape from the gaming industry’s obsession with fast paced everything.
The story does take a backseat, but we’re hoping for another game like this in the coming years. Tactical approach to a beloved franchise wasn’t done horribly wrong, but it does have room for improvement, especially in the story telling department.