Gears Tactics Review
The announcement of Gears Tactics had me screwing my face up right away. Sure, the Gears universe has a lot in common with the XCom universe, and Tactics would presumably try to grab a slice of that pie, but would that work? Could the bombastic action of the Gears series really transfer over to a slower, more measured, and more thoughtful style of game? I had serious doubts. I was right to be concerned. While there’s a competent framework in place, Gears Tactics needlessly simplifies the genre and is laced with bizarre design decisions.
Set shortly after the Locust’s emergence on Sera, Gears Tactics tells the story of Gabe Diaz. He runs the motor pool, but it wasn’t always that way. Forced back into action by circumstance, it’s up to Gabe and an ever expanding crew of heroes and grunts to hunt down Ukkon; a Locust threatening to make humanity’s situation even more dire. While the setup had me leaning forward with curiosity, the story beats do little to connect the dots. Although Gabe and Sid certainly seem like they could be interesting characters, Gears Tactics doesn’t do enough to build a connection to their well being.
More often than not, vignettes felt like they were missing a good ⅔ of the necessary context. They’re well made, and well directed, but I wasn’t given a good reason to take interest in the party. Mikayla, who’s anti-COG, joins the squad early on, but the necessity of that union never makes sense. I wanted to see her internal struggle. I wanted to see the conflict between the Gears and Mikayla’s crew. It’s not there, though, and it’s a huge missed opportunity. Coming off the memorable cast of Gears 5, it was disappointing to have preorder bonus Thrashball Cole be the most noteworthy of the lot.
What’s particularly damaging to the weight of the story is how disjointed it all feels. The moments I should have cared about were easy enough to spot, but momentum is constantly being snuffed out by the mission structure.
There are woefully few types of missions in Gears Tactics. Soldier rescue, macguffin retrieval, and supply protection are the most common across both main and side missions. Repetition of structure is to be expected in turn based tactics games, but it’s the implementation of those structures that make subsequent missions interesting. I expected to have to evolve my play style, pick teams that synergize well, and be crafty along the way, but the game seems determined to rely on contrived circumstances for encounter variety. By the second act, I was selecting side missions based on which mission type I could do fastest.
By the third time I was tasked with gathering cases (more on those later) while running from Nemacyst bombings on the same map, I was squinting at the screen, desperate to figure out what was changing. The number of enemies, and how high their placement ranks from zero to gotcha was the answer.
Classic Gears of War bad guys like Tickers, Boomers, and Snipers do appear over time and require adaptation, but your initial adaptations will carry you in the long term as well. Instead, Gears Tactics throws volume at the problem. More waves of bad guys plopped down in more locations. That’s fine if you’ve got a real big bag of tricks to employ, but simply shooting, grenading, and overwatching is by far the most effective strategy.
Boss encounters – another thing Gears is known for – happen every so often. They’re big set pieces, and they have pretty specific win states. Forget about being clever and exploiting a weakness – how about you follow steps 1-5 in this manual entitled “Fighting a Brumak for Dummies”?
Permadeath – the hallmark of turn based games – is here, but in a limited format. Hero characters like Gabe must survive a mission you send them on, and there are honestly very few situations where using a non-hero grunt is necessary. Yes, there are 2 classes that don’t have associated heroes, but when all the characters play the same, there’s minimal motivation to build out a balanced squad. All characters get at least 3 action points per turn, move vaguely the same distance per action, can throw grenades, and shoot/overwatch with their class weapon.
Each class type has a skill tree with 4 specialization paths. You can mix and match along the way, though I found most of the active skills to be of limited value. Having my sniper reload if they kill an enemy on this shot? That’s a good one. Knocking enemies within x distance out of cover? Literally never used it.
Missions reward you with random cases of mods for your weapons and armor on the now ubiquitous common-legendary scale. It’s fine, but I quickly realized that once you find something that works, there’s little reason to experiment. Unless you happen to spawn a legendary version of the thing you already like, stat bonuses are minor, adding 5% or so to critical chance or health among others. Passive skills are more helpful, but none really more so than the others. What I’m saying here is that it doesn’t really matter which mods you have installed, and there’s no other way to customize how your characters behave.
“Bah God That Man Has A Family!”
You might think I’m really ripping on this game, and you’re right. I think making Gears Tactics into a point and click, throw grenades to win, Gears of War game was a mistake, but on a mechanical level it’s not bad at all. In fact, it’s completely competent. On the battlefield it does the things you expect from the genre. For the most part.
Because it’s determined to be something other than an XCom clone, Gears Tactics does away with using a grid for character movement. It makes fine line of sight control a useful tactic, though it also makes estimating an enemy’s effective range challenging. % chance to hit numbers feel realistic, avoiding the dreaded XCom <90% chance = 100% miss equation too. It does a great job of feeling visceral in the moment, providing the brutal impact you’d expect from the series. Yes, you can definitely chainsaw the Locust in half, and it’s nearly as satisfying as manually revving up your Lancer in 3rd person.
Occasionally though, that precision causes issues. The game has a way of indicating that you’ll have a bead on Locust 1 if you move to the spot you’re hovering over, and then not let you shoot. That’s either a bug, or a tiny movement of the mouse that removed line of sight, and I can’t say I’m happy with either of those options. Other bugginess cropped up earlier in my time with Gears Tactics where action points seemed to randomly disappear after moving to cover, but I haven’t really convinced myself that I’m not just imagining that.
It’s easy to get things wrong when the UI is clunkier than it needs to be. Key information like remaining AP blends into the sea of numbers, while the interface for equipping gear is a total nightmare and the game does a poor job of surfacing what’s been newly unlocked cosmetically.
Visually, a lot of the hard work that was done on Gears 5 seems to have made the jump. Characters look especially impressive in close ups and cutscenes, with the exception of Mikayla who falls into the uncanny valley of vacant stares. Environments and structures look and feel Gears appropriate too, though you’ll be visiting the exact same locations over, and over, and over. My Ryzen 5 and 2070 Super combo ran everything at 60fps, in 4k, with all the sliders turned up. Impressive. Looking at the spec requirements, even a several year old machine should have no trouble running Gears Tactics. There’s a lot of texture pop-in in cutscenes though. Didn’t we outgrow that last generation?
Gears Tactics tries some new things, but ultimately results in a game that’s less tactics oriented than the name suggests. It’s a competent experience, but completely whiffs on character with a lackluster story and every tool is a hammer class design. Add in repetitive mission structure and Gears Tactics is a far sight less replayable than the giants of the genre.
**PC review code provided by Xbox Canada**
- Innovative movement system
- Good looking characters
- Bare bones tactically
- Every tool is a hammer
- Disappointing story work