GEARS OF WAR 5 (Xbox and Windows)

I must confess, I am not a huge Gears Of War fan, I have played all of the entries in the series, but the only one which consumed much of my attention was Gears 3. This game was stacked with engaging content on its release and the best elements of the first two titles were polished and expanded upon in its format.

Games such as Gears 5, or the new Doom titles are something of an anachronism these days because they aren’t ramming someone’s point of view down your throat at every turn and they rely mostly on excellent game mechanics and eye-popping graphics to move units.

Having played all five games in the series, plus the spin-off, Gears Of War: Judgement I would still be hard-pressed to tell you what the story and character arcs are all about; there is family drama, love, loss, redemption and the oppressive atmosphere of a near hopeless war against impossible odds, other than that I have not paid a lot of attention to the lore.

Gears 5 continues on with the re-booted cast from part 4, J.D Fenix, son of original series hero Marcus and flawed heroine Kait continue their personal journeys through the hellscape of a war-ravaged planet; the story is fine but I’m one of those people who habitually checks his phone during cutscenes, so I tend to miss a lot of the nuances.

Mechanically, the game is awesome, the cover-based shooting-mechanic pioneered by the franchise still works a treat, and the weapons have a visceral punch to them: mowing down charging enemies from behind a crumbling stone balustrade is as crunchy and satisfying as ever.

The only real niggles with the gameplay are the potential to get quickly backed into corners in some of the tighter sections of the maps, and dog-piled by enemies; as well as an annoying tendency to get stuck on elements of the scenery, which is a real pain in the more hectic encounters.

The level design in the campaign is tight as you would expect; burning through corridors and rubble-strewn city streets, is as exciting as you would expect from a Gears game. And stopping in cover to pop the domes of the enemies then charging forward to the next objective. One of the new features of Gears 5 are two huge semi-open levels, an arctic zone and a desert, while gorgeous to look at and fun to traverse, aside from the mission points there is basically nothing there to make it worth spending much time exploring.

Gears multiplayer has always been where it is at, as far as I am concerned, and this year we have three modes; the traditional PvP versus matches, a new scenario called Escape, and the much-loved Horde, which is where I normally spend a lot of time.

I am not afraid to admit that I always sucked at Gears team deathmatch. I found it frustrating in past games due to the overpowered nature of certain weapons, which saw players simply dodge rolling about the level, blasting away with the shotguns.

In Gears 5, however, things are thankfully more balanced; the pace is slower and more tactical and everyone seems to be making a contribution. As a mediocre player I am regularly getting around 15 kills per match and the average for the team seems to be 8 to 10; you will still get stomped if you run about out of cover like a fool, but the pace is slower and more tactical.

Escape is basically as it sounds, a team of three players has to fight their way out of an enemy hive with limited weapons and ammunition, all the while trying to keep ahead of the cloud of poison gas triggered at the start of the round.

The mode is pretty fun and there is a map editor for those who are into that sort of thing if the developers add more tilesets and modifiers to Escape it could really take off.

Horde is the jewel in the crown of any Gears game, the franchise pioneered the wave-based survival game type, and the latest addition is excellent as always.

The game launches with a good roster of characters, all with different strengths and skills, plus a handy ultimate ability and upgradable perks to unlock as the waves get harder and harder.

This all runs at a rock-solid 60 frames per second and the routine of build, slaughter, collect and repair is totally addictive, the maps are also well made with plenty of chokepoints and natural strongholds.

Gears 5 is worth checking out if you have the Microsoft Game Pass, even a one-month subscription is only a fraction of the purchase price of the game. The campaign doesn’t reach the heights of the original trilogy, but the multiplayer has the potential to attract a decent player base, and with the Christmas launch season upon us, it will likely more than hold its own against the competition.

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