Strategy games are a great way to test your mettle, as it pits players against impossible odds to somehow come out on top. Fans of the genre have seen the likes of XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, the recent Phoenix Point, and to some extent, the Total War series fulfilling that itch for a mind boggling good time. Now. a new challenger has risen, and with Gears Tactics, developers The Coalition and Splash Damage has breathed new life into the turn-based formula.
Published by Xbox Game Studios, the PC-only tactics game brings the acclaimed third-person shooter, Gears of War, into an entirely new realm. For fans of the series, this means more exploration of the deep lore behind the franchise. For others, prepare yourself for a bloodthirsty war unlike any you have seen in this genre.
Taking place 12 years before the first Gears game, the Locust Horde has begun their inevitable march to taking over the planet Sera. With the government in disarray, a squad of survivors is what stands between survival and destruction. Led by Gabe Diaz, father of Gears 5’s Kait Diaz, the mission is simple – hunt down Ukkon, the monster that makes monsters, and turn the tide.
There are plenty of references and lore to wade through in Gears Tactics, and for veterans of the series, this game definitely fills in some holes and sets the stage for the games to come. Discussing the many story beats would be going into spoiler territory, but there is enough here to whet the appetite. The war against the Locusts is a long one, and it all starts here.
It would have been hard even with an army, but taking a makeshift squad to face down an unrelenting army is an even taller task. One you will have to manage as you fight, recruit, outfit, and survive each and every difficult encounter. Gears Tactics pulls no punches here, blending an immersive and character-driven narrative with non-stop, aggressive combat that goes against every convention of a tactics game.
Starting out with just Diaz and one Sid Redburn, you will face off against waves and waves of the Locust. Gears Tactics does not just present you with tactical conundrums, it ratchets the tension up a notch with overwhelming enemy numbers. Bringing a full squad of four to a fight does even the playing field a little, but it will be for nought if you forgo tactics.
That is not to say turtling is a viable strategy. The sheer numbers and variety of enemies that stand in your way will force you to keep moving. While the basic Hammerburst Drones are easy to pick off, the tougher Grenadiers and eventually, Disciples, Boomers, and more will come looking for human scalps.
Throw in the melee Wretches, explosive Tickers, and Emergence Holes spewing enemies behind your cover, you will lament the fact that you are often stuck between a rock and a hard place. At least, when you take down the Boomers or Theron Guards, their powerful weapons can be yours to use against the Locust.
Of course, Gears Tactics remains fair in the sense that clever utilisation of movement, skills, and the environment will aid your cause. The enemy cannot shoot at what they cannot see, having the high ground is always advisable, and having your team cover chokepoints with overwatch will result in bloodbaths and interrupt your foes’ plans.
Rather than forcing players to choose between movement and action, Gears Tactics gives every character a starting pool of 3 actions. You are free to use them however you please, and those will increase/decrease depending on certain conditions. One of those that rewards aggressive gameplay is that of performing Executions on downed enemies. Not only do you witness a satisfying and bloody kill, every unit except the one executing gets an extra action point.
Suddenly it all makes sense, and the game-changing aspect of Executions allows Gears Tactics to throw such massive numbers at you without it being unfair. The tactical astute players will soon develop the most optimised way of approaching every fight, and stringing together Executions will be a core part of the experience.
Each of the five classes in Gears Tactics has a unique primary weapon, a secondary pistol, and a frag or healing grenade. The Scout’s Gnasher shotgun is great for chewing up foes up close, while the Sniper’s Longshot is the prime choice for a long-distance firefight. It is up to the players to decide which works best in each scenario, and how their different skills factor into your plan.
Each shot or skill you use will succeed or fail based on a number of factors, and the handy Tac-Com will give you a better picture with percentages that will make the minmaxer in you happy. Managing cooldowns, action points, cover, and more, that is the fundamental core of Gears Tactics, and it is an immensely enjoyable affair.
Gears Tactics also spices each of its different acts up with a boss fight. Forgot those grubs, these beasts like the Corpser and the Brumak are gigantic in size, and have the fight to back that up. They add interesting mechanics that will stretch your resources further, and suffice to say, these bosses bookend the different acts in exciting, thrilling ways that must be experienced.
Aside from the main story chapters, Gears Tactics does have a small variety of mission types that will come your way. These will be similar to certain story missions, but it does help to get familiar with the different mechanics.
Be it outrunning the explosive Nemacysts in a scavenging mission, or holding down control points for supplies, the variety certainly extends the fun in Gears Tactics. However, for those eager to jump back to hunting Ukkon, these side distractions can wear out their welcome.
There is also a nice selection of environments in which you will do battle, with enough elevation to keep things interesting. However, once you reach the endgame Veteran mode, the mission types will be too familiar, although maps and objectives will still differ for some time.
Outside of the constant firefights, Gears Tactics forgoes the base building aspect of other titles and takes the roleplaying aspect in another direction. Every mission will reward players with mods, and these can also be obtained from chests found on the battlefield. Ranging from the normal to Legendary tiers, they augment your soldiers with bonuses that can be lifesaving.
Gear up your best sniper with increased critical chance and damage, and let the battlefield rain with blood. A Heavy that can run low on ammo fast would benefit from the Autoloader ability on an armour piece, with a chance to recover ammo after each turn. There are tons of abilities and bonuses to consider, and it all builds towards a synergistic squad that can face up to any situation.
The soldiers will get better with time as well. Together with improving their gear, they can gain skills that branch out into four distinct paths for every class. A Support class like Diaz can spec towards being the best healer in the team, direct the battlefield with buffs galore, or simply be a jack of all trades and master of none. There are over 150 skills to choose from, and achieving the right balance will help you in the fight against the Locust.
It helps that everything looks great with the signature Gears stylings. Musclebound soldiers, terrifying monsters, and a generous helping of blood and gore that accompanies every firefight make for an appealing concoction. Of course, you can turn the gore off, but what fun is that? There are instances of clipping and occasional animation hiccups, but they are largely negligible to the whole experience.
Gears Tactics also get the customisation options right, giving players the ownership over every member of their squad. Different coloured weapons, armour, hairstyles, facial hair, and more can be tailored to your desires, and the changes are persistent even in the cutscenes. So go ahead and save the world in the most garish of colours, you definitely earned it.
To say Gears Tactics was a surprise is an understatement. By transitioning from a third-person, action-heavy genre to the tactics space, this could have been a big mistake. However, not only do you get a satisfying addition to the genre that rewards smart thinking with gratifying results, but also injects an impetus of aggressiveness that nobody thought was lacking.
The Coalition and Splash Damage have made Gears Tactics not just a competent tactics game, but one that could shake up the genre entirely. Combining it with the popular Gears series, and this is one true warrior that could stand up against the Locust Horde for years to come.
Gears Tactics will launch on Steam this April 28 on PC. Gears Tactics is included in the Xbox Game Pass, so you can sign up now for only S$1 for the first month, to experience the game right away on PC.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Gears Tactics delivers signature over-the-top action in a brand new genre that not only works, but succeeds spectacularly.
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Story - 9/10
Presentation - 8.5/10
Value - 9.5/10